Take A Minute And Catch Your Breath

by Craig R. Turner
Published: September 20, 2019

Week 3 in the MEAC helped give an early picture of what to expect in the MEAC as things will reach the first quarter mile marker of the football season this Saturday.

#16 North Carolina A&T stretched it’s 3-year road winning streak over FCS opponents to 15 straight behind a stellar 299-yard, 2 TD rushing performance by Jah-Maine Martin coupled with a suffocating second half defense that fueled a 27-21 come from behind win over Charleston Southern (Big South) before a sell out crowd in North Charleston, SC.

Delaware State was the one of two conference teams to secure a win last week over as D-II foe as they ran rough shod over Lincoln 58-12 as true freshman QB Tylick Bethea connected on 16-28 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the Hornets’ home opener.

Florida A&M was the other as they burst out to an insurmountable 31-0 halftime advantage before subduing Fort Valley State 57-20 before a home crowd of nearly 18,000 in Tallahassee.

South Carolina State suffered 8 turnovers in their 55-16 blowout loss at the hands of FBS South Florida while Bethune Cookman could fair no better as the Wildcats were blasted by Miami 63-0 in the Orange Bowl.

Hampton laid claim to the title of real “HU” as Florida State transfer QB Deondre Francois threw for 217 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Pirates completely dominated Howard 41-20 in the Chicago Football Classic.

FCS Powerhouse James Madison dismantled visiting Morgan State piece-by-piece in crushing the Bears 63-12. Meanwhile, Norfolk State got taken to the woodshed by FBS Coastal Carolina 46-7 after committing four big turnover that were converted by the Chanticleers into easy scores.

This week there are two really big contests headlining the action. One is a key early season MEAC test and the other will be a renewal of a long standing often times bitter regional HBCU rivalry.

Howard’s (0-3, 0-0) season may well be on the line as they will travel over the bay to do battle with a vastly improved Delaware State (1-1,0-0). After a resounding thrashing at the hands of Hampton, the Bison will need to post a win here or their long range hopes for a conference title as well as a winning season would be seriously damaged. The Hornets will be celebrating homecoming so expect a capacity crowd up in Dover. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. on ESPN3.

Florida A&M (1-1) will have their hands full when a very strong Southern (1-2) club rolls into Bragg with bad intentions on their mind. This game will mark the 62nd meeting between these two programs but the first since 2012. With the possible exception of Bethune Cookman, the Jaguars are probably their most hated rival on the Rattlers’ schedule. Needless to say that if the football wasn’t enough, the halftime battle between the bands might be worth the price of admission all on its own. Game time is set for 6 pm. on ESPN3.

Morgan State will travel up the Hudson River and over to West Point to battle with powerful Army at 12 noon on CBSSN.

Norfolk State (1-2) will board a plane and wing it all the way out to Bozeman, MT with hopes of keeping things close as the Spartans tackle #8 Montana State (2-1) at 3 p.m.

Bethune Cookman will try to avoid the upset as they will travel over to Itta Bena, MS to play upstart Mississippi Valley State at 7 p.m.

N.C. Central will be looking for its first win when they host winless D-II Elizabeth City State in Durham. Kick off is set for 4 p.m.

S.C. State and N.C. A&T both have the week off.

Now that we are about a quarter of the way through the season its time to take a look around the conference and a little review of where the Aggies stand as they enjoy a well deserved first bye of the year.

Despite a absorbing a shellacking from FBS South Florida, S.C. State has gotten off to one of their best starts in years with a big opening win over what has been traditionally strong Wofford program which was nationally ranked at the time. The young Bulldogs won five of their last six games close to out 2018 and are 2-1 already and looking very much in the hunt for 2019.

Bethune Cookman upheld the end of the bargain in keeping up the MEAC dominance over the SWAC with a thumping of Jackson State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Still the Wildcats are trying gain consistency on offense as they acclimate a lot of new players into their routine and will get their first decent test of the year this weekend on the road at Mississippi Valley State.

Norfolk State started out with a lot of promise but has floundered back into a old pattern of self-inflicted wounds like unforced turnovers, missed assignments and a suspect kicking game. Playing back-to-back money games against Coastal Carolina and Montana State isn’t going to help Coach Latrell Scott’s plight as he is definitely on the hot seat in the last year of his extension.

Delaware State is a young talented team that has now bought into second year Coach Rod Milstead’s system and the early results are beginning to show up on the field. They have a opportunity to take a huge step this weekend as one of the preseason favorites in Howard comes to Dover. A win Saturday will give the Hornets supreme confidence heading into next week’s Thursday night ESPN game at defending champion N.C. A&T.

As for Howard and Morgan? Well lets just say they’ve had better days. Howard still has a pretty substantial offense with player of the year Caylin Newton at quarterback, running back Dedrick Parsons, and wide out Kyle Anthony but they haven’t been nearly as explosive or productive under new coach Ron Prince as they were under Mike London, the guy who recruited them to D.C.

They certainly aren’t anywhere near as good defensively as in the past. To be frank they haven’t even put up much a fight against anyone or anything through the first three games. Being undersized on both sides of the football doesn’t help the situation.

Picking Michigan great Tyrone Wheatley as coach was supposed to be the answer for Morgan State and it might very well be before its all said and done. But old habits held over from the last regime are hard to break and continuously losing so big in the early season against teams that are completely out of your league is a disastrous recipe for re-enforcing the loser mentality.

There’s not much Wheatley can do at this point about a schedule that was set before his arrival. All he can do to try to get his team to focus on conference games ahead because without some kind of divine intervention they will continue to lose big before getting a legit shot at a win against N.C. Central at home by the end of September.

Trei Oliver was very upfront with the NCCU faithful about having to tough it out in 2019 when he took over the reigns back in January. Central fans will need to show patience but NCCU is going to be better by the end of the year than they are at this very moment if they can weather the early setbacks, establish a stable quarterback, continue to put together creditable line play with 28 freshmen and 16 sophomores on the roster. They’ll beat someone they aren’t supposed to before this MEAC race is over with.

For the hometown team, it been as good as one could reasonably expect for team with 14 new starters. A&T is an established winner, a championship program with a championship coaching staff. They’ve done what they intended to do for the most part which is get the new people to hit the ground running and establish both the offense and the defense.

Now both units still have lot of work to do during this bye week, no question. The secondary will need to work on being far more physical with the outside receivers and in keeping everything in front of them.

Both against Duke and through the first half against Charleston Southern they did a poor job in executing that very fundamental part of the coverage allowing receivers to get behind them time after time. Getting All-American Mac McCain back into the lineup next week will be huge in that regard even if its for a only a quarter or two.

The clear positives are that preseason question marks that might have surrounded the defensive line and linebackers have been answered. Both units have been outstanding together allowing just 92 yards rushing per game and just 33.5 yards against FCS competition. They’ve also accounted for seven sacks and contributed to three interceptions for a plus 4 turnover margin. They are as solid as ever.

Offensively, the A&T passing attack has had a moment or two but for the most part its has been inconsistent with far too many dropped balls by the receivers, attempted catches into the body rather than with the hands and too many immediate attempts at going for 50-50 balls deep inside the red zone. Once again the redundancy of fundamentals will be a must do during this first off week.

What the passing game has shown is that there is an ability to make positive plays on the edges off the short game coupled with a power running game for a good deal of balance between the run and pass.

Speaking of the run, last Saturday’s rushing performance is about as positive as it gets. This revamped offensive line with three new starters was superb in springing Jah-Maine Martin for an eye popping 299 yards and two touchdowns which garnered him national player of the week honors. The Aggies once again have picked up where they left off leading the MEAC in rushing through their 3 contests with 5 yards per carry and 187.7 yards a game.

Besides working on the fundamentals and refining the small things, A&T needs to try to get healthy with the three extra days of rest gained from the bye. These first three games were extremely physical, perhaps more so than in previous years. The Aggies expect to have McCain ready to play against Del State and hopefully deep pass threat Ron Hunt will be available which would really bolster the vertical stretch.

In any event, a lot of the Aggies will be watching ESPN very closely this weekend and taking a lot of notes on the events up in Dover and to a lesser extent those down in Tallahassee as well. I know I will.

Enjoy the games.