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After resounding win, S.C. State enters bye week with lingering issues
A 41-point victory should inspire confidence for the winning team’s fan base and raise concerns for future opponents.
Instead, South Carolina State may have accomplished the opposite with its overall performance against Division II Benedict College Saturday at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. The Bulldogs won handily despite another anemic effort in the passing department, continued untimely special team miscues and a possible vulnerability exhibited in the young secondary.
Nevertheless, the players and coaches firmly believe to a man they will perform when the time comes to begin full-fledged Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play on Oct. 2 at Florida A&M.
“There are some things you can take advantage of,” S.C. State head football coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough said. “Whether you have the will and ability to do that is another story. There are some things out there that we’ve still got to do better at, but at the same time, you’ve got to make that happen.”
“They can (think we’re vulnerable), but we’re going to go out there and perform,” said running back Chris Massey, who rushed for a career-best 148 yards and two TDs. “We’re going to play like MEAC champs because I know we have the target on us. So we’ve got to perform like we’re the champs.”
S.C. State (2-1) did not look like two-time MEAC champions the early part of the first quarter against winless Benedict (0-4, 0-3). The first four offensive plays all went for zero and negative yards and the defense had already allowed 13 less yards in the first six minutes than in the entire game a week earlier against Mississippi Valley State, which was held to 44 yards.
And then there was special teams, an area the coaching staff has increasingly prioritized since the “Bad Snap At The Rock” last November, once again getting burned for a touchdown. This time, a botched assignment enabled the Tigers’ Marquez Gibson to block Blake Erickson’s punt and the football was caught in the air and returned six yards for a touchdown by Domenic Sivera to put S.C. State in a 7-0 hole with 6:20 left in the first quarter.
“(Benedict) has always shown signs of the fact that they do some pretty good things,” Pough said. “Our snap was a little bit off and with a little bit of a timing mishap, you get a block. It’s a little bit embarrassing, but at the same time, it’s a good lesson to learn now so that we can clean it up and don’t start to deal with it later.”
To S.C. State’s credit, it withstood the Tigers’ early strike and responded with 24 unanswered points. The rally was ignited by the running of both Massey and running back Asheton Jordan, who rushed for 126 yards and two scores, as their ground efforts compensated for a passing offense which managed only 8-15 passes for 44 yards and an interception from starter Malcolm Long and backup Derrick Wiley.
Long in particular was not helped by an offensive line which gave up three sacks.
“The protection hasn’t been as good,” Pough said. “We’ve got to clean that up. We’ve got some work to do, there’s no doubt about that. We still want to be able to throw the football down the field better. We’re taking sacks, too. We can’t find anybody, we can’t get rid of the ball.”
On the opposing side, Benedict’s offensive line managed to limit S.C. State’s pressure upfront and gave quarterback Pat Riley time to make plays when he did not lose the football. The Tigers’ offensive highlight came in the first half when Corey Gardhigh managed to race past redshirt freshman Mason Harris to catch a 77-yard touchdown reception.
The Bulldogs’ defense did step up when needed, forcing five turnovers, four on fumbles, sacking Riley twice and holding Benedict to 22 total yards in the second half.
“That’s the mark of a pretty decent team,” Pough said. “As long as you can stay out the way, we won’t necessarily mess with you. But you ought to let a sleeping dog lie.
“We didn’t play as good as we want to, but played as good as we could.”
The bye week has served S.C. State well the past two seasons in the form of a 13-1 mark (the lone loss was last season to the University of South Carolina) following the break. It’s a trend the Bulldogs hope to continue this season.
“(The bye) is going to help us a lot,” Massey said. “We’ve got a lot of time to rest, get our legs back and have a lot of time to plan.”
Bulldog Bites II
The 20 points scored by Benedict was the most it’s scored against S.C. State since a 48-30 loss in 1959 … Marquez Gibson led all defensive players in tackles (9) Saturday … Penalties continue to be a problem for S.C. State as it was flagged 10 times for a season-high 114 yards … Bulldog quarterback Malcolm Long now solely owns the school career record for passing attempts with 715. He’s 142 yards shy of breaking Reese McCampbell’s school career record for passing yards (5,324) … Former Blackville-Hilda running back Joe Thomas scored his first collegiate touchdown after fielding Richie Straggers’ block of Benedict punter Anthony Foster … S.C. State still leads all Football Championship Subdivision teams in passing defense, allowing 59.3 yards per game.
By Thomas Grant Jr., The Times and Democrat