Simplicity Has Its Rewardsby Craig R. Turner
Published: October 3, 2018
It was a demonstrative week in the MEAC as some teams came to the forefront while others took a step backwards, while still others are already just playing out the string even before hitting the mid-season mile marker.
Florida A&M made a big statement as they exposed and blasted N.C. Central right out of the water by routing the Eagles 55-14 in Durham. The Eagles scored first but the Rattlers quickly countered with 48 straight points of their own along with 509 yards of total offense against a nonexistent NCCU defense.
Norfolk State’s Juwan Carter had a big day against struggling Delaware State throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns as the Spartans cruised to a easy 54-27 victory over the Hornets.
Bethune Cookman stayed right in the middle of the title hunt by outlasting Savannah State 35-20 on the road as quarterback Akevious Williams ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. N.C. A&T started slow but finished fast as they overcame a 16-3 first half deficit and exploded past S.C. State in the second stanza enroute to a 31-16 win in Greensboro.
This week will bear some outcomes that should clearly define the conference front runners as we reach the mid way point of the college football season. The Howard Bison (1-2, 1-0) will be looking to effectively end all title aspirations for N.C. Central (1-3,0-1) as they take on the floundering Eagles in Durham (4 p.m.).
South Carolina State (0-4, 0-1) will be looking for their first win and Morgan State (1-3, 0-0) will be looking to prove that their upset of N.C. A&T a couple of weeks ago was no fluke as they will butt heads in Baltimore (1 p.m.).
Bethune Cookman (2-3, 1-1) will step outside the league one last time this season to entertain on Mississippi Valley State (0-3) of the SWAC for a non-conference affair in Daytona Beach (4 p.m.).
Norfolk State ( 3-1, 1-0) versus FAMU (3-2, 2-0), set for Tallahassee this Saturday (4 p.m.), will be a huge game in more ways than one. This will be an early meeting of a pair of unbeatens in MEAC play and will it also be the Rattlers homecoming.
11th ranked N.C. A&T (4-1, 1-0) will travel north in hopes of staying undefeated in conference play as they tangle with winless Delaware State (0-4, 0-1) in Dover in the night contest (7 p.m.).
Big South member Charleston Southern (1-2) dispatched Hampton in short order a week ago and will be looking for a like result as they go across the sound to Savannah State (0-2, 0-4) for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Delaware State Head Coach Rod Milstead has been a winner pretty much everywhere he’s been throughout his career both as a player and a coach. He was a 3-time All-MEAC and All-American offensive lineman during the Hornets glory years from 1988-91,
He was vital member of those epic San Francisco 49er Super Bowl squads in the mid-90’s, an outstanding high school coach in the state of Maryland, plus the former offensive line coach at NCCU and so it was no surprise that DSU made him the number one choice to revive a DSU program that once was among the nation’s best FCS programs.
The first thing that Milstead will have to change is a culture of losing and it won’t come overnight. Over the last five years the Hornets are a dismal 6-49 with their last winning season coming way back in 2012.
Until Milstead gets a chance to bring in two or three recruiting classes of the type of athletes needed to run his multiple system, it will probably be a couple of more years before DSU will see enough improvement to factor into the conference race in any meaningful way.
The Hornets aren’t that bad offensively as they do a good of running the football with a variation of the read option with a tad of the old Veer offense mixed in. Senior running backs Brycen Alleyan (5-6, 165), and sophomore Mike Waters (5-8, 210) are the big guns in the backfield. Quarterback Keenan Black (6-0, 190, Jr.) is a legitimate dual threat as the team’s third leading rusher while hitting on 28-56 attempts for 324 yards and two TDs on the year.
One thing DSU does not lack is size along the line as the Hornets are one of the larger teams in the conference. They will be counting on senior Kaiden Crawford (6-5, 310), Anetelea Moli (6-2, 310, Jr.) and Liki Seu (6-3, 335, So.) to open up the running lanes.
the big play man in the receiving corps is Trey Gross, a very talented 6-4, 200 pound sophomore who has 15 catches for 209 yards and 2 TDs.
If anything that has really failed DSU this year it has to be, putting it gently, a porous defense that is giving up over 400 yards and unimaginable 53.8 points per game. Most of the damage is being done via the airways (251.2 ypg.) against a very young defense that replaced eight starters with mostly sophomores or true freshmen. There’s just not a lot of depth beyond that point.
While the overall unit hasn’t raised any eyebrows with its play this season, there are some promising individual talents in the group. Linebacker Brian Cavicante (6-1, 220, So.) covers a lot of ground and is solid against the run as is safety Devin Smith (6-0, 190, Jr.). If the Hornets expect to slow down A&T’s big play backs, they must have big games out of seniors Christian Johnson (6-2, 250), Jason Smith (6-3, 295), and Caleb Hebron (6-4, 270).
The Hornets have a tremendous kicking game because of 2017 All-America and All-MEAC pick Fidel Romo-Martinez (6-1, 200, Sr.)who averages 46.8 yards per punt but who is also just 1-3 on field goals so far in 2018.
The Aggies played one of the worst halves of football imaginable for the first 28 minutes against S.C. State last Thursday night. Then they played 32 minutes of some of the best football they had played since the middle of last season by exploding for 28 points and nearly 500 yards of offense in a complete role reversal in overwhelming the Bulldogs 31-16 in the second half on national TV.
What was it that finally got A&T out of its six quarter funk that dated back a week earlier to it’s upset at the hands of Morgan State? Well a large part of it was the frustration that now boiled out along the sideline as players went at each other just after SCSU stretched its lead to 13 points with just 1:28 remaining in the second quarter.
That whole episode seemed to slap not only the players into consciousness but gave the coaching staff a bit of a swift kick in the butt to quickly get a grip on a season that was quickly slipping away. So what did the Aggies do to turn what was looking like a repeat performance of offensive ineptitude of the week before into a truly dominating display of balanced power football.
The answer was as plain as the nose on your face. Simplify the playbook and get back to the basic elements that has made A&T a FCS power. Run the football and stop the run or as its so commonly referred to Greensboro by the iconic phase coined all while back – “We Do Chicken.”
A&T junked the intricate passing game and instead went back to what it has always done best and that is running the football directly down the throat of the defense. Nothing spectacular, no style points, no gaudy “RAC” stats. Just line it up and put a hat on a hat. Mine against yours. As basic as the game of football could possibly get.
The Aggies reaffirmed their identity that has served them so well over the last decade and the wise money says that A&T will probably not deviate from that formula any more this season. Why should they? The win-loss record and championships speaks volumes to just how effective their style has been.
This week the Aggies will be facing its third winless team in a row when they tee it up against Delaware State. A&T is a better team than Delaware State and by all accounts should handle the Hornets on the road. But then again much the same thing was said about Morgan State. The difference this time is A&T now knows who they are and what they are. Identity crisis solved.
N.C. A&T – 38
Delaware State – 9