How Will We Measure Up?by Craig R. Turner
Published: September 5, 2019
Week 1 of the college football season was a mixed bag for the MEAC as a majority of the conference got manhandled across the board in non conference games on the road. But as night fell, the late starters not only completed but captured a couple of key out of conference victories over nationally ranked FCS opponents. Sunday was a wrap as The MEAC once again bested the SWAC in ESPN’s MEAC?SWAC Challenge down in Atlanta.
There were some really rocky starts for three MEAC squads that they would just soon forget as soon as the final gun sounded. N.C. Central journeyed over the border to Clarksville, TN and got waylaid 41-10 as the Governors used a balanced attack to explode for 24 second quarter points enroute to rolling up 563 yards in total offense.
Maryland showed no mercy in a 79-0 bludgeoning of Howard as the Bison never really showed no semblance of resistance as they barely scrapped together 68 yards of offense while giving up 59 first half points and a whopping 623 yards on the day. Do everything Bison quarterback Kaylin Newton was ineffective against the Terps, mainly due to poor protection, and was pulled at halftime once it became clear that the contest had gotten completely out of hand.
Florida A&M badly misfired as well as the Rattlers fell victim to 17th ranked UCF 62-0 in another lopsided affair against an FBS team as did Morgan State who never made a game of it against Bowling Green in the Bears 46-3 loss.
Delaware State had the Blue Hens of Delaware on their heels for most of the first half but a combination of youth and costly miscues deep in their territory in the second stanza were too much to overcome as the Hornets fell 31-13.
Norfolk State almost pulled off the upset over cross town FBS rival Old Dominion before succumbing to the Monarchs late touchdown in the fourth quarter 24-21. S.C. State Coach Buddy Pough showed that his new contract was more than warranted as the Bulldog defense picked off 4 interceptions and dominated 8th ranked Wofford 28-13.
N.C. A&T ‘s place kicker Noel Ruiz knocked home a school record tying 52-yard field goal with no time remaining to give the 19th ranked Aggies a hard earned 24-21 victory over 20th ranked Elon before 16,358 fans at BB&T Stadium.
Bethune Cookman shook off an uninspired first half and turned three second half Jackson State turnovers into quick touchdowns as they pulled away to a comfortable 36-15 win in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge.
So its on to Week 2 and the MEAC’s task outside the conference doesn’t get easier with the competition or with the massive Hurricane Dorian lurking along the eastern seaboard heading into Saturday.
Bethune Cookman (1-0) has already canceled its game with SE Louisiana (1-0) in what would have been the marquee weekend match-up in Daytona Beach, Fl.
S.C. State (1-0) will be entertaining D-II foe Lane (0-0) down in Orangeburg at 4 p.m. weather permitting. The same will hold true in the Tidewater area as Virginia State (0-0) makes its annual trek to Norfolk State (0-1) for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Those teams playing their games inland should have no ill effects to worry about. At least not from Dorian. N.C. A&T (1-0) will travel down I-40 to Durham to step up a level and take on a real tall order in ACC opponent Duke (0-1) at 6 p.m. (ACCNX).
Howard will be looking to rebound quickly but they will have to do it against tough Youngstown State of the Missouri Valley Conference (ESPN+). Kick off is set for 2 p.m.
N.C. Central (0-1) lost its most experienced quarterback when junior Chauncey Caldwell called it quits and entered the transfer portal the day after the Eagles loss to Austin Peay. New head coach Trei Oliver will turn to Micah Zanders to take over as the Eagles will travel to Baltimore to face 9th-ranked Towson State (1-0), slated for a 6 p.m. start.
Saturdays’ contest between A&T and Duke will be the first ever meeting between the two schools on the football field. The Blue Devils are members of the Coastal Division of the ACC and have been picked to finish fifth in the seven team race.
Coach David Cutcliffe enters his twelfth year at Duke and has amassed a 67-73 record with five winning seasons over the last seven years while going 3-3 in post season bowls. Prior to coming to Duke in 2007, he served as the head coach at Ole Miss (1998-2004) , and later as offensive coordinator at Tennessee under Phil Fulmer.
The 2019 Blue Devils are having to replace NFL 1st round quarterback Daniel Jones and fifth year senior Quentin Harris ( 6-1,200) , who played very sparingly behind Jones over the last two seasons, is an outstanding athlete who is capable of making big plays with feet when pressured out of the pocket. Cutcliffe expects Harris to greatly improve his last week’s opening day numbers of 12-22 for 97 yards and two interceptions in his first outing ever as Duke’s starting quarterback.
In the backfield with him will be backs Deon Jackson (6-0, 215, Jr.) and Brittan Brown (6-1,205) as Duke showed a propensity last week against Alabama to use more of a RPO running game over their traditional spread pass oriented offense.
Duke has plenty of speed on the outside at the receiver positions with Jalon Calhoun (5-11, 185, Fr.), Scott Bracey (6-2, 205, Jr.) and Aaron Young (6-4,210, Sr.).
Blocking up front will be a young offensive line featuring two new starters in Casey Holman (6-4, 295, R-Fr.), Jacob Monk (6-3, 305, Fr.) along with upperclassmen Rakavius Chambers (6-3, 315, Jr.), Jack Wohlabaugh (6-4,305) and Zach Baker
Defense is where the Devils will stake their success this year with a unit that is both big and quick at the point of attack. Duke plays a defense (3-2-6) that is very similar to what the Aggies faced against Elon last week but with bigger and stronger personnel.
Tackles Derrick Tangelo (6-2,286) and Edgar Cerenord (6-1, 305) are load inside while ends Tre Hornbuckle (6-4,250) and Victor Dimuke (6-2, 265) will protect the edges. Cerenord, a sixth year senior, will miss the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for kicking a player on the ground in the Alabama game.
Linebackers Shaka Heyward (6-4,230) and Koby Quansah (6-1, 230) will patrol the middle and will not hesitate to provide a lot of pressure with the occasional blitz. These two combined for 20 tackles and a sack in Duke’s opener against Alabama.
The corners will be manned Len Johnson (6-0,200) and Josh Blackwell (5-11,175) while a trio of experienced safeties will provide additional run support in Dylan Singleton, Mike Carter, and Marquis Waters (6-0,200, Jr.). This group of safeties led the Blue Devil defense with 27 tackles between them last week.
Now that the afterglow from one of the more memorably dramatic wins in Aggie Stadium has finally begun to die down, N.C. A&T now turns their attention to what has now become almost a yearly ritual in taking on a in-state FBS program.
This time the Aggies will more than just take the one step up but will take quite a few more when they venture into the world of the Power 5 and ACC territory to do battle with Duke in Wallace Stadium this Saturday night.
Duke is coming off 42-3 drubbing at the hands of second ranked Alabama. The blue Devils were in definitely fight and held their own in the first half trailing 7-3 in what was a defensive struggle for the first 30 minutes. However, Coach Lou Saban had his Crimson Tide refocus at halftime, settled into their offense, upped the tempo of its passing game, and methodically began to dismantle Duke in short order with 35 unanswered points.
Duke is a very heavy favorite going into this game and rightfully so. They are bigger, deeper, and they have the kind of team speed, especially on defense, that A&T is not used to seeing on the FCS level and will find that to be troublesome in trying to move the football.
A&T will have to show a lot of discipline on both sides of the football, be aggressive but not overly so by losing track of their assignments and not get caught up in pressing too hard too fast. The key factors in A&T’s success over the last three years against FBS opponents has been matching intensity, being solid in the kicking game, maintaining ball security, and displaying patience under adversity while not turning the ball over.
Sure A&T is in a decided underdog role, but Duke is not invincible. They have struggled in preseason with numerous injuries, trying to establish consistency in their passing game and showing some difficulty in handling isolation routes in their secondary. Still the level of play in the ACC and the disparate numbers in scholarship athletes between the FBS and the FCS does not bode well for upset possibilities.
A&T isn’t Alabama by a long shot – a team for all intents and purposes has a NFL roster on both sides of the ball. But what A&T does have are some very talented individuals who are without a doubt FBS level players and a team chemistry that has shown the perseverance and the will to compete against anyone.
Duke should win this game but it won’t be along the lines of the humiliations that were seen across a lot of FBS/FCS match ups of a week ago. Don’t expect the Blue Devils to take A&T lightly given A&T’s penchant for defying the odds when playing FBS programs. For A&T this will be measuring stick to see where this program is and where we need to go.
The Aggies will keep it interesting for a while but the differences between the upper tiers of the FBS and the FCS will be apparent by game’s end.
Still, it sure would be something that if on any given Saturday………
N.C. A&T – 21