After week of trepidation and angst brought on by Hurricane Florence, the college football world along the Atlantic Coast hopes to get back into the swing of things this coming weekend. The majority of games in the Carolinas and Virginia were canceled but there were four non-conference games that involved MEAC teams that were played with not very results for the favorite sons.
The Florida A&M faithful are still scratching the heads over the final 16 seconds in the Rattlers 18-16 loss to Jackson State (SWAC). After hitting a big pass play to the JSU 4 yard line and no timeouts remaining, FAMU coach Willie Simmons opted to call a run/pass option instead of spiking the ball and getting his field goal unit onto the field. The run was stopped for a 2 yard loss and time ran out before FAMU could reset before another play could be run. Needless to say its been a rough week between the first year head coach and the FAMU fan base.
Morgan State had its best offensive showing in recent memory rolling up over 400 yards of offense but the all too familiar bugaboo of turnovers, 3 fourth quarter fumbles, proved to be their ultimate undoing as the Bears fell to Albany (CAA) 30-27.
Bethune Cookman spotted Florida Atlantic (CUSA) 29 early first quarter points and never recovered as FAU rolled to a 49-28 win over the Wildcats. Delaware State fulfilled the role of sacrificial money game lamb to Western Michigan (MAC) as the Hornets were blasted all the way back to Dover 68-0.
This week marks the beginning of conference play for most of the MEAC teams with the headliner game of the week taking place at the annual Circle City Classic in Indianapolis between major contenders Howard (0-2) and Bethune Cookman (1-2).
Another important early season barometer contest will be going in Orangeburg, SC as Norfolk State (1-1) takes on S. C. State (0-2) in what be match up of a pair of dark horses who hoping to crash the party and challenge the league favorites down the road.
FAMU (1-2) will be trying to rebound and get off on the right foot in conference play as they will be hosting feisty Savannah State (0-2). NCCU (1-1) will try to reverse years of frustration against high riding Duke (3-0) (ACC) in final chapter of the cross town brawl in Durham.
Even though they are longtime MEAC combatants, Morgan State’s (0-3) visit to North Carolina A&T (3-0) this weekend will be a non-conference game due to Hampton’s untimely early departure and move to the Big South back in May. The Aggies come into this game the consensus #4 ranked team in the country in all the FCS polls while riding the nation’s longest winning streak at 15 and the longest road winning streak in the FCS at seven straight.
Morgan State football is an enigma. Blessed to be one of the great HBCUs in the country, MSU is a growing thriving urban based institution that has both a long and rich academic and athletic tradition.
The Bears have storied football history that truly dominated black college football through four straight decades, 14 undefeated seasons, a combined 23 CIAA and MEAC championships all under the master of Xs and Os in the great Eddie Hurt and the storied legendary Hall of Fame Coach Earl ” Papa Bear” Banks. They produced some of the truly iconic players in NFL folklore like Leroy Kelly, George Nock, Willie Lanier, John “Frenchy ” Fuqua, Raymond Chester, and list goes on and on.
For our younger readers who may not know of those days but it used to be that when Morgan State showed up on the schedule, opponents literally went ahead and marked that game down as an automatic loss. No joke. They were just that intimidating. They were just that good.
So what happened to the Bears that were once so feared and revered. Morgan football has floundered badly for the last 30 years and there have been a lot of theories that have been attributed to their long fall from grace. The more obvious ones that are encountered by most HBCUs don’t seemingly apply in this case.
They have some of the finest facilities in all of the FCS while sitting in the middle of some of the most fertile recruiting areas on the east coast. Morgan, a designated research university of nearly 8,000 students has always shined academically with a host of outstanding graduates with more than 45 undergraduate, 32 master’s, 16 doctoral, and 9 online programs that should be highly attractive to a lot of recruits. Morgan is not struggling by any stretch so why is there such distress for this once proud program?
Sure integration and the recruitment of top black players by predominately white institutions, the huge influx of cash and TV revenue associated with those same institutions was large part of it. No HBCU financially could not compete with all that head-to-head but I think that what happened to Morgan is what happened to a lot of HBCU programs.
Instead of reinventing themselves and branching out to appeal to young black kids in this modern era not born of the civil rights years, they drew inward, a most black folk do, to their comfort zone of which does not require any hard work, additional investment nor a commitment to a future filled with uncertainty and no guarantees. Complacency breeds stagnation. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Without vision, without a crafted plan, without real leadership any institution or organization will bounce from point to point, never moving forward because the focus will always be looking backward and rationalizing the failure by blaming a set of systemic social realities that you can not and will most likely never control in the first place.
The time to stop lamenting about what HBCU programs don’t have is long past. Take the assets we do have, and they are many, learn how to nurture and expand those to work to our advantage and then.
Excellence is only achieved through the time honored process of trial and error. Don’t be ever be afraid to compete. If you play the game you will lose on occasion. The key is to take heart from the lessons learned from your past mistakes and not repeat them over and over again. Then and only then will you change the culture and the mindset. After that the winning will take care of itself.
“They may be the best 0-3 team in the nation”, so said A&T ‘s Sam Washington in describing Morgan State. The Bears will invade BB&T (Aggie) Stadium this Saturday night at 6 p.m. in a non-conference affair. MSU coach Ernest Jones enters his first full year as head coach after serving as defensive coordinator last year. Jones was formerly the head coach on the junior college circuit with ASA Miami for two years with a 10-15 career mark.
The Bears will bring an offensive philosophy of run first and will have their hands full with an A&T squad that is allowing just 54 yards per game which is 6th in the nation and 1st in the conference after three weeks. Morgan’s ground game is centered around running backs Josh Chase (5-11, 215, Jr.), Jordan Riggins (6-0, 200, Fr.), and junior quarterback Deandre Harris (6-4, 215). The trio have combined for 307 yards on the season thus far.
Harris is a fine runner who will not hesitate to take off if an opening presents itself. When staying in the pocket, Harris is completing just 49 percent of his passes accounting for 305 yards and 2 touchdowns over three games. He’ll have a big experienced offensive line to operate behind with Adrien Allen (6-3, 290), Stefan Touani (6-4, 310), Josh Mikes (6-6, 310), Matt Thompson (6-4, 335) and Bruce Trigg (6-4, 300).
Morgan likes to bring plenty of pressure and play a very unconventional defense often referred to as a “Cover 0” which in essence places as many a nine players within three yards of the line of scrimmage focused on stopping the run by blitzing nearly every play.
Cornerback Donte Small (6-0, 195. So.) is being touted as one of the best defensive backs in the nation after picking off three passes with one being a “pick six” in last week’s loss to Albany. He is arguably their best individual talent. He’ll have some help from safety Darius Johnson (6-1, 175, Sr.).
Linebackers Rico Kennedy (6-3, 215, Sr.) and Demare Whitaker (6-1, 230, Sr.) are legitimate all conference candidates and are the team’s leading tacklers while massive nose tackle Antoine McCray (6-3, 345, Sr.) commands the line.
The Bears live by the “high risk = high reward” style of play so expect them to come after the Aggies with plenty of aggression pushing the envelope on both sides of the ball. They won’t do anything all that different than they did a year ago when they were handled by A&T 49-17 up in Baltimore. It’s clear that the Bears have a few more athletes and a lot more experience than they did then.
Jones made it clear in his earlier pressers leading into this game that his Bears are now gaining confidence in their unusual system and need to concentrate on not shooting themselves in the foot with constant penalties and turnovers to take the next step in learning how to finish games.
That will be easier said than done against an A&T team that is extremely deep and extremely fast on the flanks. The Bears Cover 0 setup is going to allow for a lot of man-to-man match ups with A&T’s fleet receivers in hopes of stopping A&T’s vaunted ground game.
Big play opportunities will abound for an A&T offense that seems to be now getting into gear after a 28 point second half explosion against Gardner Webb. The Aggies will need to be patient against the Bears constant pressure, recognize those favorable match ups, and then take full advantage of their superior skill athletes.
Look for quarterback Lamar Raynard, his backs, and receivers to have a good day as A&T shakes off some early rust and then rolls past the Bears in an impressive return to action after hurricane week.
N.C. A&T – 42
MORGAN – 10