Getting Back To The Norm

by Craig R. Turner
Published: September 14, 2019

Week 2 of the MEAC was another feeling out process with out of conference games against a menagerie of non-conference opponents as a half of the league was idle last weekend. FAMU, Morgan, Delaware State, all had byes while Bethune Cookman had a early cancellation its game because of the threat presented by Hurricane Dorian.

North Carolina A&T made quite a game of it leading 10-7 for most of the first half against Duke before a costly late turnover helped trigger a 21-point blitz in the closing five minutes of the first half as the Blue Devils rolled to a 45-13 win over the Aggies in Durham.

Howard, despite missing injured wide receiver Jequez Ezzard, may have found its offense against Youngstown State but surely left it’s defense back in Washington, DC. The Penguins ran and ran and may be still running at this moment by racking up some 454 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground in a 54-28 win over the Bison.

A young North Carolina Central team knew it would be facing an uphill battle at #9 Towson State and that is exactly what happened as the Tigers jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead and never looked back in dispatching the Eagles 42-3 in Baltimore.

South Carolina State gave starting quarterback Tyrece Nicks along with most of the other regulars the day off, as the Bulldogs used Lane College pretty much as a punching bag. Coach Buddy Pough instead went with his reserves almost the entire day in coasting to a easy 34-0 shutout of the Dragons.

Norfolk State showed that they are going to be a major factor in determining the MEAC champion as they used 4 touchdown passes by junior quarterback Juwan Carter as the Spartans pummeled cross state rival Virginia State 44-21 in a game that wasn’t that close.

This week the out of conference crusade continues with a big one taking place in Chicago at Solider Field when Howard (0-2) looks to get its first win of the year when they face Hampton (1-1) in the “Battle of the Real HU” at 4:30 p.m.

S.C. State (2-0) will travel down to Tampa and try to remain unbeaten as they tangle with FBS South Florida (0-2) on ESPN3 at 6 p.m. Delaware State (0-1) should get its first win of the year when they host struggling Lincoln (0-1) at 4 p.m.

Bethune Cookman (1-0) will try their hand at taking down a ACC program when the Wildcats kick off at 4 p.m. on the ACC Network against winless Miami (0-2).

N.C. A&T (1-1) returns to FCS competition as the #15 Aggies venture down to Charleston Southern (0-2) in a key MEAC-Big South match-up at 6 p.m. (ESPN+).
In another MEAC/Big South clash, N.C. Central (0-2) will invade Boiling Springs, N.C. at 6 p.m. to do battle with an improved Gardner Webb (0-2) (ESPN+).

Morgan State (0-1) will test their mantle on the road against #2 ranked FCS powerhouse James Madison (1-1) at 4 p.m. Norfolk State (1-1) has been in a good place these first couple of weeks and they really hope to make big splash against FBS Coastal Carolina (1-1) on ESPN3 at 2 p.m.

And finally Florida A&M (0-1) comes off a bye week will be a prohibitive favorite as it entertains D-II SIAC member Fort Valley State (0-1) at 6 p.m.

The Aggies played hard last week and gave plenty of effort against Duke but if we’re really being honest, the outcome wasn’t all that surprising. The reality is Duke is a very rich Power 5 school that belongs to one of the truly elite conferences in all of college athletics. They were bigger, stronger, and far deeper than A&T. That’s the truth.

The 22 additional scholarships in the FBS may not seem all that daunting on paper until you really take the time to stop and consider that’s another potential starting lineup on both sides of the ball placed at their disposal. The Blue Devils have become a yearly FBS bowl bound program under Dave Cutcliffe, powered by a football budget of $24 million which literally dwarfs that of A&T’s entire athletic department.

Those kinds of dollars can afford you the luxury of recruiting the very best high school players on a national level, lavish training and medical facilities that rival some pro franchises, and a infrastructure that leaves nothing to chance when it comes to player retention or need.

Fans can debate the X’s and O’s and the what ifs of last week’s game all they want but lets face facts. When there is such a huge disparity of resources of that magnitude between the combatants on a football field, 99% of the time, with all things being equal, the results are going to be pretty much predictable. It’s a different level.

Way different.

Charleston Southern is undergoing a lot of transition in its football program and it hasn’t been easy for the Buccaneers. Just five short years ago CSU was part of the FCS football elite reaching the most wins in a season (10) in 2013, a win over national FCS power Appalachian State, back to back Big South Conference championships in 2015 and 2016 with the highlight being taking then 5-time reigning FCS champion North Dakota State into over time before falling 24-17 in the ’15 quarter finals.

All that success disappeared literally overnight beginning in 2016 when the program was cited by the NCAA for lack of institutional control over the misuse of leftover scholarship funds intended for school books being used as personal cash resulting in 30 players serving a one game suspension. The following year things were compounded as players demanded that the university food system be overhauled after lodging a formal complaint over poor food selection and abbreviated operating hours.

It all came to a head last October as the NCAA handed down 2-year probation It reduced the number of football scholarships by six over the next two years and fined the school $5,000, plus one-half of one percent of the school’s total athletic budget.

In that aftermath, several key players began leaving the program to seek more stable surroundings coupled with the sudden inability to attract no where near enough quality high school recruits or transfer athletes necessary to maintain a championship culture.

CSU quickly parted ways with coach Mark Tucker in late December and named former Notre Dame running backs coach Autry Denson as the new head man in mid-January. Denson is the all time leading rusher in Notre Dame history and spent 4 seasons in the NFL before entering the coaching ranks with time spent at his alma mater along with previous assistant stints at Bethune Cookman , Miami (OH), and South Florida.

Denson has decided to junk the Bucs patented wishbone attack that fueled their offensive success of previous years in favor of a pass heavy spread attack. He is betting that his new team will be able to eventually make that transition by conference time despite some early rough going through its first two games.

The new offense is centered around sophomore quarterback Jack Chambers (5-10,170). chambers is adequate passer and a excellent runner who is dangerous when he can hit the edges and break containment.

Ronnie Harris (5-10,205, R-Sr.) is a north-south running back and a tough customer to bring down in between the tackles. Blocking for them up front will be All-Big South selection Zach Evans (6-2,285, R-Sr.) and tackle Stephen Haralambis (6-3,285, R-Sr.).

The primary targets among the Bucs receivers are Geoffrey Wall (5-9,170,Sr.) who has ten catches through 2 games for 99 yards, slot man Garris Schwarting (5-10,160), and tight end Kameron Brown (6-3,220).

Defensively CSU hasn’t been able to do very much against the run in this very early season allowing a staggering 431 yards per game, 13 touchdowns, and 11 yards per carry through two games against South Carolina and Furman. The pass defense has been only marginally better giving up 211 yards on average.

The Bucs were vastly outmanned up front in their first two games but defensive end and co-captain Nick Salley (5-10,225, Sr.) plays all out on every play. Tackle Eishaun Funnye (6-2, 295, R-Sr.) and nose guard Jahid Beamon (6-1,295, Sr.) provide plenty of bulk in the middle.

Senior linebacker J.D. Sosebee (6-0,215) is another returning all conference pick and leads the team in tackles and he will be seeking additional run support from defensive backs Darin Smalls (5-11,185,Sr.) Lawson Cook (6-0, 200, Jr.) and Kye Syvarth (6-0, 210, LB, Jr.).

Now that the money game is out of the way, North Carolina A&T will settle back into the FCS ranks for the rest of the season and can now concentrate on defending its MEAC title and a return back to Atlanta for a shot at winning its third straight HBCU national crown.

This week’s game at Charleston Southern will be the last tune up opportunity before the Aggies take the first bye of the year before they open MEAC play with a nationally televised Thursday night home contest against Delaware State on September 26th.

The Buccaneers and the Aggies have never met on the football field so this game will have a feeling out process early on. A&T will get a key part of it’s defense back for the first time this season with the return of all-American cornerback Mac McCain some 10 months after suffering a ACL tear last year at Bethune Cookman.

Don’t expect McCain to play major minutes Saturday but if the Greensboro junior’s knee proves to be reliable under contact without complications, it could easily change the dynamic of the secondary in a very positive way for the rest of the season.

When looking at tape on Charleston Southern’s first two games, there appears to be some vulnerabilities that A&T should be able to take advantage of. CSU is a fairly undersized defense that has had major trouble in stopping the power running game. They try to counter that size disadvantage by putting a lot of speed in and around the box, much like Elon did to plug the gaps. The pass defense hasn’t really been tested because teams have exploited them with big plays so thoroughly on the ground.

On offense the Bucs have skill people who can run so A&T’s linebackers and secondary have got to be aware of the whereabouts of fleet footed QB Jack Chambers along with his smallish but exceptionally quick slot receivers. A&T should have an easier time in putting pressure on the quarterback this week but they still need to hold containment especially on third and long, something they failed to do against Duke.

The Aggies are coming into this game as a two touchdown favorite but they can’t go into this game assuming a win. CSU has some very capable athletes that can present a myriad of problems if A&T takes them lightly. Don’t expect that to be the case against CSU as the mindset in practice this week has been one of atonement for the less than stellar performance of a week ago.

Look for A&T to try to strike quickly and get off to a big start by using its muscle and speed against a team that is searching for its own identity in a new system with a new coaching staff. If the Aggies come out swinging early they’re not likely let up off the gas anytime soon with another large contingent of A&T fans making the trip southward to show their support this weekend.

Redemption is always good for the soul.


N.C. A&T – 41

Charleston Southern – 17