JONESBORO — Arkansas State has never entertained a guest quite like the 2021 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers.
Coastal Carolina will be the highest-ranked team in the Associated Press poll to ever play Centennial Bank Stadium. The Chanticleers are ranked 15th as they prepare for Thursday night’s game against the Red Wolves.
ASU head coach Butch Jones considers the Chanticleers worthy of their lofty national perch.
“They’re very deserving of their national ranking,” Jones said. “I want to say in their last two games they’ve outscored their opponents 112-9. Dominating in the line of scrimmage, athletic, can run, and they pose so many challenges for you just from a preparation standpoint.”
Coastal Carolina, which has won 16 of 17 games since the start of the 2020 season, is in the Top 25 for the 17th consecutive week dating to October of last year. The Chanticleers were ranked as No. 9 in the AP poll and 11th in the Amway Coaches Poll last year.
Nineteen of 22 starters returned from last year’s team that won the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division and suffered its only loss in overtime to Liberty in the Cure Bowl. Ranked 22nd in the preseason AP poll, the Chanticleers (5-0, 1-0 Sun Belt) were threatened only once in their first five games, escaping Buffalo with a 28-25 victory. They routed The Citadel (52-14), Kansas (49-22), UMass (53-3) and Louisiana-Monroe (59-6) in the other four games.
Jones said Coastal Carolina is especially difficult to prepare for in a limited amount of time because the Chanticleers’ offense is essentially three schemes rolled into one.
“In a short work week, it’s a challenge and not only do they challenge you there, they have really good players performing those skill sets,” Jones said. “There’s no secret, good players win a lot of football games and that’s the reason they’ve won a lot of football games there. They’ve got really talented football players.”
Coastal Carolina features the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, completion percentage and yards per pass attempt in sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall.
McCall, the 2020 Sun Belt Player of the Year, has completed 80.2 percent of his passes (69 of 86) for 1,113 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Last year he completed 69 percent of his passes for 2,488 yards and 26 touchdowns, with three interceptions, in leading the Chanticleers to an 11-1 record.
“I think the thing that he does is, one, he gets us in the right plays. We always feel like we’re in a good position to execute at a high level because he gets us in a good play,” Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said. “And then, two, he knows what to do with the football. I think any time that you’re leading in efficiency, that means you have a good understanding of what you’re doing and where you should go with the football. Our team has confidence that he’s going to put us in the right play, or the check or whatever it may be, and also wherever the ball should go, typically he puts it in that position.”
McCall completed all 13 passes he attempted in last Saturday’s rout of ULM. He suffered a lower leg injury when rolled up in the first half, but Chadwell said his quarterback is ready “to rock and roll” on Thursday.
Coastal Carolina is No. 6 nationally in total offense, averaging 528 yards per game, and is No. 16 in total defense at 286.6 yards per game. The Chanticleers are the only team in FBS that has yet to yield a passing touchdown. They’ve blocked three punts, returning two for touchdowns.
“When you play Coastal, it’s a great challenge because they play team defense. They understand their defense, they’re always in the right places, they’re physical,” Jones said. “When you’re trying to game plan red zone, you have barely even any video to look at. They’ve not been challenged all year and rightfully so. You can tell this is a veteran group.”
McCall was one of seven Chanticleers to make the preseason All-Sun Belt first team, a list that also included tight end Isaiah Likely, wide receiver Jaivon Heiligh, defensive linemen Jeffrey Gunter and C.J. Brewer, linebacker Silas Kelly and cornerback D’Jordan Strong. Four more Coastal Carolina players were on the second team.
The Chanticleers have won 10 consecutive Sun Belt games, a streak that began when they beat Texas State in 2019. They routed ASU 52-23 last season.
Coastal Carolina has also won six consecutive road games dating to the start of the 2020 season.
“We’ve never won in Jonesboro, we’re 0-2, so we’ve got a great opponent we’re playing and a big opportunity for us,” Chadwell said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a quick turnaround like this, so we have to make sure we’re ready to focus on that and go up there and be able to execute at a high level. We’re looking forward to traveling up there and competing on national television.”