Time to Send a MessageBy Craig R. Turner
Published: September 23, 2013
Since all of the big props have now all but died down around east Greensboro over opening wins against SoCon opponents Appalachian State and Elon its time to get down to the real business of the MEAC race.
The Aggies had the weekend off, a few days of rest, and a full ten days to get ready for the its conference opener against a baffling Howard University Bison team this Thursday night in a live nationally televised game on ESPNU.
A&T has been relatively unscathed in the injury department in its first two outings and much of that is due to the increased depth on this year’s squad. It was never more evident in the game clinching 80-yard fourth quarter drive against Elon where the Aggies just physically manhandled a Phoenix defense in a 14-play drive with only two passes thrown.
According to head coach Rod Broadway, while still not fundamentally sound to satisfy his taste, the Aggies improved significantly on offense especially along the offensive front that exerted itself in racking up 466 yards of total offense against Elon while allowing quarterback Lewis Kindle plenty of time to throw for 288 yards and a touchdown and no interceptions.
Defensively, A&T is doing exactly what they want to do which is to completely shut down the run and force their opponents to put the ball in the air as much as possible and let their speed dominate and create turnovers and short fields. Add in special teams play that has been superb in every phase and the Aggies have been able to control tempo and field position throughout both games.
The Aggies have productive putting up 24 and 23 points respectively in its first two games out of the gate which in itself is rather remarkable for a team in a brand for a team in a totally different offense with a new offensive coordinator calling the shots without the benefit of any spring practice. These early tests have been a testament to a remarkable job of masterful preparation and a lot of hard work put in from a young team carrying 70 freshman and sophomores on the 85-man roster.
The Aggies have given up more yards passing this season than a year ago but their rushing defense is under 50 yards rushing allowed per game thus far against two quality teams and the points allowed is down to 15.5 which ahead of last year’s pace given this season’s much tougher early schedule.
Now this week A&T will take on a Howard team that has been a mystery through three games. The Bison sport a talented offense led by quarterback Greg McGhee and statistically they have matched their opponents in yardage battles and shown the ability to hit big plays.
However, stats alone will not tell you the entire story unless you look a little closer behind those numbers. Where the Bison have fallen behind has been in the first and fourth quarters offensively in all three of their games, being outscored 31-6 in the first and 31-6 in the fourth which equates to starting slow and finishing slow which is not a good place to be against teams that are fast, physical, and have superior depth.
But what has been the real Achilles heel for Howard has been the disappearance of defense which is strange given interim coach Ray Petty has been a long time head coach a prime defensive coordinator for several successful MEAC teams.
Howard has given up a whopping 126 points in a three-week span, and just under 500 yards in total offense with 300 of that through the air. Until the Bison find a way to stop the run and the pass or at least one of the two, or the Aggies manage to shoot themselves in the foot, which they haven’t shown any indication of thus far, then the Thursday game that many folks speculate will be a battle may not materialize.
Given the comparative hands that have been dealt, you really don’t want to give Rod Broadway a full ten days to prepare for any opponent. A&T will be looking to send a clear message to the rest of the MEAC that the SoCon sweep was no accident but also an indication of what this team is actually capable of as they work to improve each time out game by game.
Look for Broadway and defensive coordinator Sam Washington to remind this A&T squad and especially the defense of what happened last year when they lost to Morgan State on ESPNU on the last play of the game in a true heartbreaker which began a three game tailspin against Morgan, BCU, and Del State and knocked A&T out of the MEAC chase.
You can believe that tape was probably been run so much this last week that it has be running in a loop in the sleeping minds of the Aggies at night like a bad recurring nightmare.
History will not repeat itself this coming Thursday. We’re in it to win it.
N.C. A&T – 31
Howard – 13