The Charleston Southern Buccaneers put together their most complete game in two years to beat visiting VMI on Saturday afternoon at Buccaneer Field, 32-14.
CSU emphatically ended a seven-game Big South Conference losing streak and an eight-game home losing streak with a dominant effort on both sides of the ball. CSU rushed for 307 yards and tossed four touchdown passes to put together its best offensive effort over a year. Defensively, the Bucs stifled VMI, holding the Keydets to 187 total yards.
With the win, the Bucs move to 2-4 on the year and 1-1 in Big South play, while VMI falls to 2-4 and 1-1.
Junior quarterback Malcolm Dixon led CSU's balanced attack with three TD passes and 50 yards rushing, leading an impressive team effort which caught CSU head coach Jay Mills attention.
"I'm really proud of our guys and what we've been seeing the last few weeks of practice," Mills said after the win. "You'd never know these guys had a losing record when you see their enthusiasm, the way they worked together--it's good to see it come together all at once. All three phases of the game really came together today."
Dixon completed 5-of-6 passes for 88 yards and three touchdowns. He also guided CSU's option attack to 307 yards rushing, its highest total since last season against Jacksonville and its third-highest total since 2005.
The Bucs defense kept Dixon and the offense on the field, holding VMI to five drives of 10 yards or less and coming up with three sacks.
"Defensively we've gotten better and better against the run," Mills said of his defense. "I'm very proud of our defensive staff and two true freshmen that played corner today. We stopped the run and put pressure on the quarterback and those things were keys to the win."
The win comes on the heels of a three-game, 4,200-mile road trip for the Bucs. CSU will follow its first home win with since 2010 with three home games in the next four weeks.
"We're going to enjoy tonight and tomorrow, and in football you get very limited opportunities," Mills added. "Even if you win every game, that's 11 out of 365 days so we want to enjoy those wins when we get them. If people could have seen what attitude and work ethic was like during the week, these guys are champions regardless of our record. They've shown that their character is high."
The Bucs started their home stand with a level of sharpness and intensity CSU had failed to show in the first quarter all season long, roaring to an early lead, 13-0.
CSU put together its best drive since its season opener to burst out to a 6-0 lead to start the game. The Bucs took the opening kickoff 67 yards in eight plays jump to score first in a game for the first time this season. Quarterback Malcolm Dixon found running back Zac Frazier on a slant for the 15-yard touchdown. Dixon added a 12-yard run and running back Michael Cirino added runs of six and eight yards as the CSU's option attack opened the game running downhill.
The Bucs faked a punt on fourth-and-short near midfield to jump start their second scoring drive, then took advantage of a VMI offsides penalty to build their lead to 13-0 late in the first quarter. Frazier, the upback in the punt formation, took a direct snap and rambled eight yards on fourth-and-1 as CSU converted from its own 44. Dixon would find Larry Jones III on second-and-short five plays later for the CSU touchdown to extend the lead. Dixon caught the Keydets in the neutral zone on the play, and found an open Jones III streaking down the right sideline for the first touchdown catch of his career.
VMI would answer to put some pressure on the Bucs. A 3-yard Jabari Turner run capped a 10-play, 69-yard drive as the Keydets cuts the CSU lead to 13-7, but a missed field goal and a three-and-out forced by the Buc defense gave CSU just enough opportunities to grow its lead before the half.
The Bucs turned to a trick play to add to their lead. On third-and-short at midfield, CSU's Chase Jones found Jones III on a halfback pass for 51 yards and the Bucs' final touchdown of the half. Jones III shook off two tacklers at the 10, as he came back to make the catch, before fighting his way into the end zone.
The Bucs defense forced a punt on Keydets opening drive of the second half and Bucs' offense went back to work.
Dixon found tight end Nathan Prater open on the backside for an 18-yard completion and followed with a 19-yard run to move the ball inside the 10. Two plays later Teddy Allen scored for the first time this season on a 2-yard run to give the Bucs a 26-0 lead, capping a 9-play, 76-yard drive to open the half.
Dixon threw his third TD pass of the day on the Bucs' ensuing possession after buying some time with his legs. Dixon avoided a rush from his left and rolled back to his right to find Chris Theodore, who came back to the goal line, to make his first catch of the season, a 12-yard TD catch.
VMI's John Washington returned a fumble by CSU's Gabe Johnson 70 yards early in the fourth quarter for the game's final score, but CSU held the ball for over seven minutes on the ensuing possession to end any chance of a Keydet comeback.
Despite the 307 yards rushing, no Buc ball carrier eclipsed the 100-yard plateau. Johnson led the way with 63 yards on 15 carries, while Dixon and Allen each had 50 yards.
Turner carried the load for the VMI offense, rushing for 55 yards on 13 carries, but could not find enough room to slow down a relentless CSU pass rush and a defense which controlled the game.
The Bucs sacked VMI quarterback Eric Kordenbrock three times and held him to 15-of-33 passing for 113 yards.
Linebacker Zack Johnson led the Bucs' defense with 10 tackles, while Cornelius Sterling added fives tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Charleston Southern returns to action against Presbyterian College next Saturday at Buccaneer Field. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. in Charleston, S.C.