The MEAC race heads into the final three weeks and the championship is Florida A&M’s to win or lose. The Rattlers easily dispatched Morgan State last weekend 38-3 and can clinch the Celebration Bowl berth with a win this Saturday at Howard.
N.C. Central not only suffered a very disappointing 28-13 loss on the road against winless Delaware State but also lost starting quarterback Chauncey Caldwell for the rest of the season with a broken foot. Caldwell had been one of the top dual threat offensive performers in the league and appeared on his way to all-conference honors.
Bethune-Cookman made a last minute hastily scheduled 2,000 mile trek out into the heartlands to take on Big Ten member Nebraska in what could only be described as a quick chance at a big payday. The Wildcats didn’t disappoint as they got slammed 45-9 and collected a $800,000 check for their trouble.
Savannah State continued to pile on the woes of Norfolk State by crushing the punchless Spartans 32-3. South Carolina State put together a punishing ground game while its defense intercepted quarterback Caylin Newton twice in a 27-21 upset of the Bison to spoil their homecoming in Washington. DC.
This week FAMU (6-2, 5-0) will be heading to Washington looking to wrap up at least a share of the MEAC title and a certain Celebration Bowl bid as they do battle with up and down Howard (3-4, 3-2) at 1 p.m.
17th-ranked N.C. A&T (6-2, 3-1) will be celebrating homecoming before an expected capacity crowd of 23,000 plus as free falling Norfolk State (3-4, 1-3) comes to Greensboro for a 1 p.m. kickoff.
It will also be homecoming in Durham as the NCCU Eagles (3-4, 2-2) will host Division II Edward Waters (4-5) at 2 p.m. while Bethune-Cookman (4-5, 2-2) will travel north to Baltimore to tangle with Morgan State (2-6, 1-3) at 4 p.m.
Either Savannah State (2-5, 1-3) or Delaware State (1-7, 1-4) will be sporting a two game winning streak after this weekend as the Tigers go up to Dover to face the Hornets for what should be a highly competitive game slated for a 2 p.m. kickoff.
What is the deal with the Norfolk State football? Picked to be one of the up and coming programs and as high as third in some preseason conference polls, the Spartans started out with some promise with 3 early season wins but have nose dived in recent weeks being outscored 75-9 in three consecutive lopsided losses.
Coach Latrell Scott is coming up on the end of a 4-year contract and there are questions being raised on whether he will be retained after going 16-25 during his tenure thus far. The Spartans have good experienced size up front and have a few play makers in its backfield but have struggled mightily in trying to move the ball consistently and to score points, especially in the red zone. NSU has piled up yardage, like they did last week against Savannah, but their execution has been lacking and they are one of the more heavily penalized teams on that side of the ball.
Quarterback Juwan Carter (6-0, 175, So.) has thrown for 1196 yards on 100-176 attempts for just 5 touchdowns against 8 interceptions. Carter can be slippery out of the pocket as well having rushed for 126 yards and two scores. He likes to get the ball out quickly to his favorite receivers in sure handed Chuma Awanna (6-3, 210, Jr.) and deep threat Marcus Taylor (5-8, 160, Sr.) as much as possible.
The backs for NSU aren’t exceptionally fast but are hard nosed power runners. Camderyn Brent (5-8, 200, Jr.) and Aaron Savage (5-9, 210, Jr.) will carry the bulk of the load. They will run behind the likes of Ian Williams (6-2, 290, So.), Marquise Mincey (6-1, 290, Sr.), Josh Culberson (6-3, 295, So.) and Kenny Kirby (6-5, 280, Sr.)
The defense has been on their heels in the second half of the year because of the lack of depth beyond the starters and staying on the field far too long because of stagnant offense. The Spartan front four is the heart of the unit featuring tackles Deshaywn Middleton (6-2, 305, Sr.) and Walter Brantley (6-2, 345, Jr.) and veteran ends Nigel Chavis ( 6-2, 230, Jr.) and Ricky Thomas (6-2, 240, Jr.).
Its GHOE and thousands of A&T alumni, family, and friends will descend on East Greensboro over the next few days for the biggest party that this city will see all year long. For many it will be a time to reunite with old friends and classmates spanning countless generations of Aggies for the most identifiable and unique once a year school reunion in the nation.
With some 40 thousand plus people filtering in and around the A&T campus all during this weekend, you can expect an overflow crowd for Saturday’s big game against old time rival Norfolk State. And while a bowl bid is becoming less of an option, A&T’s postseason hopes remain very much alive as the Aggies are definitely on track to receive an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs if they sweep these last three games of the season beginning with the Spartans on Saturday.
A&T had the week off after its impressive 35-10 thumping of Bethune-Cookman on the road two weeks ago. The big win had its down side however, when it All-American cornerback Frank “Mac” McCain suffered a torn ACL midway through the first quarter and will miss the remainder of the season. Red shirt freshman Amir McNeill will step into his spot and hopes to continue to perform as he did last week with six tackles and a pass breakup.
The bye week also gave A&T a chance to heal the various walking wounded and mostspecifically quarterback Lamar Raynard who did not play in the second half of the Bethune game because of back spasms. Having a healthy Raynard in the lineup the rest of the way is an absolute must if the Aggies hope to win their way into the postseason.
So what can fans expect to see in this week’s game versus Norfolk? The Spartans haven’t been able to generate anything meaningful on offense over the last month and going against the conference’s number one defense doesn’t bode well for them entering this match-up.
A&T will need to keep an eye on Juwan Carter and his ability to tuck and run when under pressure. And while perhaps not as explosive a playmaker as BCU’s Akevious Williams or Howard’s Caylin Newton, he can still extend plays with his feet and is more than accurate enough with his arm if given adequate time. A&T must limit or neutralize the athleticism of this quarterback as they did so effectively against BCU’s Williams two weeks ago.
Defensively the Spartans often stay in soft zone and often shy away from man coverage to protect themselves from the big vertical pass play. That decision has allowed for effective second half yardage to be made by opposing teams against a very good but thin defensive line. That scheme should also provide some additional opportunities for the A&T offense in the short to intermediate passing game.
Every game from here on out is literally a sudden death scenario in determining A&T’s postseason future. Generally teams don’t play up to their potential in homecoming games because of the distractions leading up to the contest but A&T might be an exception this week with playoff positioning riding on the outcome. A big win Saturday could propel the Aggies back into the Top 15 and a much better selection position as the 2018 season enters its final month.
See you Saturday and Happy Homecoming!
N.C. A&T – 31
Norfolk State – 7