Marching Into Atlanta – Round 2

By Craig R. Turner
Published: October 2, 2014

Football is an extremely hard sport on one’s physical being and rarely does any team manage to get through a season without injuries and A&T is no exception. The Aggies traveled up to Washington, DC last week to take on a tough Howard squad led by their all world senior quarterback Greg McGhee.The 7,230 fans in attendance had their mouths all set to fest upon a offensive slugfest between McGhee and A&T running back Tarik Cohen but low and behold that battle never materialized.

Nursing a ankle injury from the week before in limited action against Chowan, A&T decided that Cohen was just too valuable to put him at risk with a major showdown on the horizon with SCSU. Rod Broadway chose to give true freshman Marquell Cartwright a chance to prove why he was the only running back that the Aggies went after during last winter’s recruiting wars. He didn’t disappoint.

The 5-9 190 pound former High Point Andrews star performed like a seasoned veteran racking up 139 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries – a blue collar effort that was necessary after quarterback Kwashaun Quick was held out in the second half with a leg injury late in the first half. Up until then Quick was well on his way to having a career day hitting on 14-23 passes for 200 yards and 2 TDs, and catching another one himself.

So what did Broadway do when his number one QB went down? He turned to another true freshman in backup Hassan Klugh. The Central Cabarrus product performed reasonably well after overcoming a fumbled exchange at his own one yard line that gave Howard a easy score.

After that, Klugh settled down, and with good reads out of spread option, went about engineering two solid drives that resulted in ten points that essentially put the Bison away and sealed a 38-22 victory in one of the toughest places to win in the conference.

So two true freshmen stepped up when the starters could not go for A&T and managed the offense well enough to put up 10 second half points and probably should have had more if it had not been for a deluge of penalties. And while that speaks to a certain level of talent on offense, it will be the unheralded defense that will have to step this coming weekend to keep the winning momentum going just as they did in the fourth quarter against one of the best offenses out there in Howard with McGhee.

The A&T brain trust has been very tight with security this week both on the practice field and with the media access in preparation for SCSU and the status surrounding both Cohen and Quick.

Broadway was quite adamant that if anyone wanted to know what their status was they would need to wait until game time.

No matter who takes the field this week, these Aggies proved they will be mentally prepared to play through any adversity that they may encounter and that is half the battle in playing a game of this import.

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The fans of both N. C. A&T (4-1, 1-0) and South Carolina State (3-2, 1-0) have been pointing to this rematch for well over year after last season’s 29-22 win by S.C. State in the Atlanta 100 Black Men Classic.

The live nationally televised battle (ESPN3 – 3:30 pm, ESPNU tape delay at 10 pm) will go a long way in establishing a prime front runner In the MEAC race.

Just a brief recap of last year might be in order. The Aggies jumped out early and held a surprising lead heading into the fourth quarter against the heavily favored Bulldogs that was when SCSU’s superior depth and defensive dominance took control.

After solving the A&T attack with a deluge of blitzes, State hit gold on a long scoring pass aided by a missed open field tackle at the beginning of the final stanza. They then salted away the win shutting off a final A&T drive on downs just inside their red zone in the closing minutes.

The Bulldogs came into that game as the senior dominated MEAC kingpin loaded with seasoned veterans at all the skill positions and depth oozing out their ears expecting to win as well they should.

A&T was just getting its ground legs under it although the Aggies were sporting a shiny 3-0 record. Rod Broadway’s group was extremely young, having some talent among its 40 scholarship players but not much depth after that.

The Aggies were a game bunch but with limitations in personnel, untimely penalties, and weary legs on defense, their solid first half performance could not hold up.

But that was then and this is now. So far in the 2014 season, some important factors surrounding these two teams have indeed changed, significantly so for one in particular.

As far as SCSU is concerned, Coach Buddy Pough hasn’t tinkered much over his 13-years at the helm with what he does and why should he. He recently picked up his 100th win against Hampton, has won or shared in five conference titles, four NCAA playoff berths and is the longest tenured coach in the MEAC.

His philosophy is simple enough. Recruit the best athletes available and have a truckload more of them than anyone else, maintain a “lights out” defense, and nurture the ability to run the football down the opposition’s throat.

Oh sure, occasionally he’ll entertain visions of unleashing a potent passing on his adversaries but that dream usually vanishes quickly after a couple of three and outs.

The Bulldogs aren’t very well equipped to keep pace in track meet settings but are built for physical wars of attrition and endurance.

This outcome will be determined by how well the A&T defense plays against a SCSU team that loves to exclusively run the ball as its bread and butter.

Injuries or not, A&T is still very explosive and is capable of putting up a lot of points and can do it in bunches when they get into a rhythm.

SCSU is dependent on its running game and they pride themselves on an offensive line that bullies most teams. But against A&T, running the football on a consistent basis isn’t likely so the Bulldogs will have to show far more balance in their offense than they have so far.

A&T scores at a 38-point per game clip but just as importantly the Aggies lead the MEAC in scoring defense at 14.5. The Bulldogs have struggled mightily in this first half of this season in trying to muster points.

Throw out Benedict (D-2) and Clemson (FBS) and SCSU, with all of their bravado, has not done much in the way of scoring against FCS competition in Coastal Carolina (3), Furman (17), and Hampton (17).

It’s fairly simple, if the Aggies hold the Bulldog offense to somewhere in the neighborhood of their own FCS average of 12.3 points, A&T most probably wins this game outright. If not, then the whole thing goes up for grabs in a “last team with the ball” type scenario in what would likely be a fierce defensive battle.

Either way it plays out, the Aggies still hold the proven offensive advantage.

PREDICTION

N.C. A&T – 24

SCSU -16