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Norfolk coach says MEAC trying to catch up to S.C. State
If head coach Buddy Pough is playing down his 22nd-ranked South Carolina State football team’s credentials, his opposition Saturday afternoon is doing the complete opposite.
Norfolk State head football coach Pete Adrian had nothing but praise for the Bulldogs during Tuesday’s weekly Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference teleconference, while insisting his team faces an uphill battle at Dick Price Stadium.
“South Carolina State’s the three-time defending champions and they’re playing very well,” Adrian said. “They have a lot of depth on both sides of the football. They’ve got just about two of everything that we’re seeing. They play with great passion. They always play really hard and everybody in the conference is trying to catch them. I don’t know if they’ll ever get caught or not, but it’s a typical South Carolina State team. They’re going to hit you in the mouth and smile at you and play hard and see how you respond to it.”
The Bulldogs (2-2, 2-0) have won 15 straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference road games. However, it was the Spartans (3-1, 1-0) who handed them their last conference road loss in double-overtime 20-13 on Oct. 6, 2007.
Coincidentally, that was also the last time Norfolk State started 3-1 overall, although Adrian sees no comparisons between the two teams.
“Things are so different,” he said. “Different offenses on both sides of the football. The defenses might still be similar, but that’s back then and we’ve just got to play right now. I mean, what happened yesterday we’re not going to worry about it. It’s what’s going to take place today and we’ve just got to be ready to play. We know it’s going to be a very physical football game and we just hope that we can stay up with it.”
In Norfolk State’s three victories, it has allowed a combined total of just 15 points. This past weekend at Charleston Southern, the Spartans’ defense allowed just 141 total yards and collected four sacks - something Adrian believes will be difficult to accomplish against a versatile Bulldog offense coming off a 660-yard performance against Delaware State.
“A lot of challenges,” he said. “You’ve got 11 players on the field and all their skilled guys can punch the ball in. You certainly worry about (quarterback Derrick Wiley) running the ball and throwing the football. But probably the biggest thing is their balance. I think they’re close to 400 yards a game - closing to 200 passing and 200 rushing. So, any time you’ve got a team with a balanced offense makes it extremely difficult to defend.”
Adrian expressed even more concern about the Bulldogs’ defense, which he called “relentless.” He said it compares favorably with Division I West Virginia, which handed the Spartans their lone loss this season.
“This will be the best defense we’ve faced throughout the year here,” he said. “We played well against West Virginia for the first half (leading 12-10 at intermission). And of course, the second half they took it to us (winning 55-12). But I’ll put them in that caliber.”
Spartans’ offensive coordinator Joe Blackwell and wide receivers coach Howard Feggins, who joined the staff in April, are quite familiar with the Bulldogs’ personnel as former Pough assistants. Since Blackwell took over the play-calling duties late last season, Norfolk State is 7-1. Quarterback Chris Walley (915 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT) has completed 73 percent of his passes this season.
“He’s playing very well,” Adrian said. “We’re doing a lot of dink-and-dunk things. The best thing he does is he takes what the defense gives him and hopefully, he’ll continue to do that.
In last year’s 34-13 loss at S.C. State, Walley was sacked three times and completed only 10-24 passes for 55 yards. Keeping Walley “off his back,” according to Adrian, in order to give him time to find top wide receivers Xavier Boyce (25 receptions, 267 yards, 2 TDs) and Victor Hairston (18 catches, 281 yards, 3 TDs) is a priority for Norfolk State.
“For us to compete against South Carolina State, we have to be hitting from all cylinders,” Adrian said.
Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 4 p.m.
By THOMAS GRANT, The Times and Democrat.