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CSN MEAC Review: "Shock and Awe"

floated rightBy Paul L. Thorpe, CSN MEAC Review Columnist

Last week’s MEAC scores would appear normal to the casual viewer outside of our conference. For me, however, I am in shock with the teams ranked below No. 2 in the conference. Winston-Salem finally won a game, Morgan State gives up its tie for best record in the MEAC with a loss to Delaware State, and North Carolina A&T gets its offense rolling against a decent Howard defense.

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North Carolina A&T – 30 at Howard – 19 10/24
The Aggies traveled to our nation’s capital and messed up a nice Homecoming party for Howard. North Carolina A&T took a clear advantage in the turnover battle with two interceptions thrown by Howard’s QB Floyd Haigler to the one fumble lost by NCA&T. Aggie cornerback Justin Ferrell secured both interceptions for A&T.
This helps make up for the 1993 loss to Howard at A&T’s Homecoming. Yeah, I know I have issues. I will let it go one day …

Morgan State – 22 at Delaware State – 35 10/24
Morgan State has a good football team with a great defense. The problem last Saturday was that unfortunately the team does not always have an offense to score when needed. The unpredictable and inconsistent Del State decided to be a touchdown-scoring team last week (who knows what type of team it will be next week) and simply gave Morgan State a field goal (or safety) for every touchdown it scored. This lack of scoring by MSU combined with a late fourth-quarter DSU interception for a touchdown by Avery Grant sealed the victory for the Hornets.

South Carolina State – 21 at Hampton –9 10/24
The Bulldog football victory machine rolled onto to Hampton, Va., this week. SC State did what it needed to do to capture a convincing triumph against another conference opponent. South Carolina State coach Pough took another weekend to feature his quarterback Malcolm Long, as he passed for 234 yards and all three Bulldog touchdowns. Standout SC State runningback Will Ford averaged 4.9 yards a carry for 44 yards on nine attempts. I understand that Coach Pough is intentionally holding Ford back with the understanding that he will be heavily used in the playoffs, but as a smash-mouth football fan, it is hard to see a guy with such a high per carry average get so few attempts. The Bulldog defense held tight as well, not allowing Hampton to score in the first half and kept Hampton’s total score to my predicted nine points (thanks, guys).

As for the Hampton fans, there are plenty of positives to take away from this game. First, the Hampton defense played solid by allowing only three touchdowns. The Pirate defense picked off SC State’s quarterback twice and shut down the Bulldogs’ wide receiver Oliver “Tre” Young. In the end, SC State just had too many weapons to be stopped by Hampton.

Norfolk State – 20 at Florida A&M – 34 10/24
FAMU took care of business last week with a victory against Norfolk State. Florida A&M’s QB, Curtis Pulley, did just about everything on offense but block for himself and throw himself the ball. Mr. Pulley ended the day with 173 yards passing, two touchdowns, and his 185 yards rushing was more than half of the running yardage that the entire FAMU team got. The Rattlers got back to what appears to be their theme for this year of scoring early and often and then cruising to victory. In order to have a shot at the FCS playoffs the FAMU recipe for success is simple: Win the rest of its games in an impressive fashion. The Rattlers do just that by covering my prediction of winning by two touchdowns.

Norfolk State played well, however, it got punished by its mistakes. The two interceptions thrown by Norfolk’s quarterback, Dennis Brown, were lost opportunities that just can’t be given away to a team like FAMU. In addition, FAMU’s Curtis Pulley took advantage of the way his spread offense creates rushing lanes and simply tucked the ball and ran all over the Spartans. At the end of the day, the NSU offense played well, however, it got sucked into the twisted game of trading one Norfolk score for two FAMU scores.

Winston-Salem State – 16 at Bethune-Cookman – 10 10/24
The Rams finally earn a victory in a tough campaign in their last year of Division I competition before they return to their Division II comfort zone in the CIAA conference. Neither team has displayed much of a passing game this season, but Winston-Salem State used a superior running attack to walk away with a triumph. This was not the prettiest game to watch with only 11 combined completed passes from both teams and five fumbles. To make matters worse, the 7,000 faithful Bethune-Cookman fans that came out to this game had to watch their team lose to the worst team in the MEAC.

COMMENTS ON THIS COLUMN

This was a relaxing weekend for me. I did not do my “Roving Reporter” impersonation this week and just stayed home and watched little league football. I did, however, do some contemplation on my “interview” with Will Ford literally seconds after being crowned all-time leading rusher for South Carolina State. After being pulled out of the FAMU game to rest for the next week’s action, I asked him: “What was the key to breaking the school rushing record?” All he talked about was patience. I had only a few seconds with him because he started celebrating a successful outing with his teammates, but I have been shocked and awed by his perspective. The guy, who is in his early 20s, spoke with the wisdom of an elder statesman. His numbers this year have been lower now that the SC State quarterback and receivers are starting to gel. Last year, Mr. Ford had to carry the team on his back for the greater part of the season, and he gained close to 1,500 yards. This year, Pough is doing only what is necessary to win games, rotating second-string players in to get them experience and keeping everyone fresh for a long FCS playoff run.

I would be frustrated if I was in Will’s shoes coming out of games with a decent per attempt rushing average but only getting 50 or 75 yards total for the day. Reading the press on Pough and Will Ford, however, they seem to be on the same page of showing patience so the team can achieve greater things. Their approach makes sense because my guess is that the NFL is more interested in the runningback that played on the FCS championship team as opposed to the guy who just led his conference in rushing yardage. As men (old and young), I think we can all learn something from this example of patience.

THIS WEEK’S PREDICTIONS

The game to watch this week is the matchup between Florida A&M and Morgan State in Baltimore. Morgan State has the type of scoring defense that could potentially trip up the Rattlers. All the games will have MEAC teams competing against one another with the exception of Hampton playing Winston-Salem State. The WSSU Rams already have started their move out of Division I and consequently the MEAC as well. On a positive note for the Rams, my North Carolina connections tell me there are potential changes in the WSSU administration that might help them win more games. Expect more on this as it develops …

Howard – 11 at Norfolk State – 21 10/31 @ 1300
Norfolk State has three victories, losses against the top two teams in the MEAC (if you haven’t figured it out by now that’s FAMU and SC State), a loss against a decent North Carolina A&T team and a loss against William & Mary. Howard, on the other hand, has only a triumph against Winston-Salem State and the winless Georgetown Hoyas. Expect Norfolk State to win by at least 10 points.

Bethune-Cookman – 10 at North Carolina A&T – 22 10/31 @ 1330
The Aggies are clicking not only defensively but also running and passing the ball well on offense. The team is still extremely sensitive to turnovers, but this shouldn’t be too much of an issue against B-CU. For Bethune, it will be smarting from an embarrassing loss to the MEAC’s worst team (by record). A&T wins this by 10 points.

Delaware State – 14 at South Carolina State – 25 10/31 @ 1330
South Carolina State is just too strong this year to be challenged by anyone in the MEAC. What is even more impressive is that it looks equally menacing at home or away. Taking care of business on any field makes it potentially dangerous in the playoffs. Expect the “crabs-in-the-barrel” syndrome to kick in now as every MEAC team has the added incentive to play just that much harder and spoil SC State’s season. The Bulldog death march to the postseason begins this week with DSU and continues with increasing intensity onto Howard, Morgan State and North Carolina A&T.
Expect an “inspired” Delaware State team to show up and challenge the Bulldogs for three quarters, however, SC State should have no problem winning by at least 10 points.

Hampton – 31 at Winston-Salem State – 9 10/31 @ 1400
Hampton should not have too much trouble against the Rams. Expect WSSU to come out of the gate a little “peppy” since it just won its first game of the season, however, the Pirate offense should be able to score at will from the middle of the second quarter until the end of the game. If Hampton can keep the mistakes to a minimum, then it can have the game under control by the third quarter. Hampton wins this game by a few touchdowns.

Florida A&M – 27 at Morgan State – 14 10/31 @ 1600
The spoiler potential in this game is extremely high. The cornerbacks in the Morgan State defensive backfield are a greedy group of young men that prefer to receive and rarely give. This sets up a potential concern for the FAMU quick strike offense that is so dependent upon the pass game. While Morgan State does not have an outstanding offense, it has an extremely athletic defense that can take risks, recover and swarm to the ball. The South Carolina State defense made FAMU’s Curtis Pulley pay for mistakes such as not looking off the defender and stepping out of the pocket too early. Having said all this, I believe Florida A&M can rise to the occasion and win by 10 points.