Time Now For Big Boy Pants?

By Craig R. Turner
Published: September 5, 2014

It’s been one heck of a week for the North Carolina A&T football team. There was the excitement of opening the season in Orlando, FL in the shadows of Disney World last Sunday morning as the conference representative in the 10th Annual MEAC-SWAC Challenge.

The Aggies didn’t disappoint their fans. After a feeling out process in the first quarter, it took A&T’s high octane ground game about ten minutes to unleash a 31 consecutive point blitz to completely knock Alabama A&M out of any meaningful contention in route to a 47-13 bludgeoning of the Bulldogs.

Junior quarterback Kawshaun Quick opened the scoring with touchdown runs of 26 and 59 yards out of the Aggies new read option attack while cornerback and return specialist Tony McRae sandwiched in a 95-yard return score between Quick’s two big early plays.

All conference running back Tarik Cohen showed why he was named a preseason All-American candidate as he rushed for 162 yards on just 10 carries with 2 scores including an electrifying display of pure speed on 80-yard TD scamper off a quick opener to completely break the back of the Bulldog defense midway through the second quarter.

The Aggies fielded a new offensive line for the first time that included a red shirt freshman Josh Mattocks and two sophomores, Brandon Parker and Wes Cole playing alongside seniors Willie Ray Robinson and R. J. Canty. This athletic unit looked as though they had been together a lot longer than just the four weeks of fall camp as they paved the way for 415 yards of total offense with 307 of that coming on the ground.

The 2014 A&T defense is probably the youngest unit that coach Rod Broadway has had in his four seasons in Greensboro and it showed at times. The A&T secondary is completely new and the youth was evident as the unit experienced several blown coverages and four pass interference calls through much of the first half. They gave up an uncharacteristic 212 yards on 14-33 in passing attempts last week.

Fortunately an extremely stout front seven led by All-MEAC end Danny Pinnix created enough pressure up front that there were no serious consequences to be paid in this particular game. A&T also played 24 freshmen on its traveling squad and while there were some anxious moments in the first quarter, the defense settled down the rest of the way to hold the AA&MU ground game to just 132 yards on 39 carries for the day.

The A&T special teams play was on point all day. Besides McRae’s kickoff return, Cody Jones knocking down a perfect six PATs and a 37-yard field goal. Punter Dominic Frescura was his usual self, nailing 3 punts inside the 15-yard line. Freshman Kris Gardin would have had another long kick return for the distance if not for a mistimed late block in the back.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad opening day for the Aggies. Certainly there is plenty of work to do in shoring up the secondary and doing a better job in stretching the vertical passing game. But the basic elements seem to have come together a little ahead of schedule – line play, the running game, run defense, and special teams. Spring practice sure did make a difference.

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So now with game under their belts, A&T went back to work this week to prepare for their biggest challenge yet under Rod Broadway as fourth ranked Coastal Carolina comes into town Saturday night for the Aggies home opener.

The Chanticleers made it to the quarterfinals a year ago before hitting a brick wall against national champion North Dakota State. CCU has dispatched MEAC champion Bethune Cookman for straight years in the playoffs and has had South Carolina State’s number as well in head to head matchups which are always closely contested games.

A&T and CCU teams did not play in 2013 and 2-3 of the previous three wins by CCU over the Aggies came during the NCAA probation period. The last time the two teams met in 2012 with CCU coming out with a 29-13 win as the Aggies fielded just 29 scholarship athletes and were limited to three days of full practice each week during that season.

This is not to say that magically the tables have suddenly been turned. They haven’t. CCU is every bit as legit as their national ranking would suggest, one of the better teams in the FCS. With that being said, CCU is far from being considered in the unbeatable category like a North Dakota State.

The team from Conway, SC is a 12-point favorite in the game which is about the same margin of victory that they had against A&T in 2012. Every year is different and so is every football team. This one will come down to who will convert big plays and defends with discipline and purpose.

My head tells me it will be CCU because they have been there before. But A&T has surprised people in the past against some huge odds. If you don’t believe it, ask Appalachian State.

The Chants are better than they were two years ago and the Aggies are showing they are on the path to being a much better team in 2014 than fans ever thought. Just how much better? Enough to take this matchup into unchartered waters by the fourth quarter and make it interesting against the fourth ranked team in the nation.

I’ve been wrong before on prognosticating. Let’s hope I’m wrong again.

PREDICTION

Coastal Carolina – 28

N.C. A&T – 23