Joe Blackwell has fond memories of his first stint as South Carolina State offensive line coach/offensive coordinator when he mentored future NFL players like James Lee and Johnny Culbreath and oversaw the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s most consistent performing group.
It’s a high level he believes the Bulldogs can reach once again under his stewardship. Despite losing the first two games to nationally ranked opponents Coastal Carolina and Clemson, Blackwell believes the offensive line is very much on track to reach its goal of becoming an effective group before Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play begins Sept. 28 against Hampton.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’re about where I thought we would be. We’re learning from our mistakes. We’re coming along nicely. We’re still better than we were two weeks ago.”
Despite amassing only 155 total yards against the Tigers and missing starting guard Devin Flowers and tight end Temarrick Hemingway, Blackwell said the offensive line graded higher than it did against Coastal Carolina. He saw a group that made plays, that while they did not always result in productive yards against Clemson, still showed signs “getting better” in completing blocking assignments.
Among the pleasant surprises for the Bulldogs is redshirt freshman Eric Dickerson, who made his first career start against Clemson. He, Flowers and “Shaq” Harrison share time at guard, demonstrating the improved depth on the offensive line.
Senior center Tristan Bellamy has also performed at a high level, according to Blackwell, and his departure in the fourth quarter against Coastal Carolina was a major factor in the offense’s struggles late in the 27-20 loss.
In an effort to keep a fresh group on the field, Pough said the Bulldogs hoped to increase the number of offensive linemen utilized against Clemson. SCSU ended up utilizing nine players, including redshirt freshman Javarius Leamon and redshirt sophomores Charles Henderson, Avery Grant and Raheim Barr.
Both Flowers and Hemingway will return for Saturday’s non-conference matchup at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium against Alabama A&M, providing another opportunity for the offensive line and offense overall to further gel and develop into a championship-caliber group.
“We’re getting better every day,” Blackwell said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re getting there.”
Jeffries’ ‘Coaching Tree’
on display this Saturday
It’s only fitting that S.C. State’s Pough and Anthony Jones of Alabama A&M meet Saturday on the playing field named in honor of their mentor and former head coach Willie Jeffries.
Pough was an offensive lineman for the Bulldogs the last time they faced Alabama A&M in 1974 and succeeded Jeffries as head coach in 2001. Jones played tight end for Jeffries at Wichita State, where he earned All-Missouri Valley Conference honors and served as his offensive coordinator from 1993-98 at S.C. State.
“One of the things he always talked about was caring for the student-athletes and that’s what he did even when my playing career was over,” Jones said in a Monday interview. “He stayed in contact. When I decided to get into this business, there was no hesitation in him hiring me and that meant an awful lot to me and it still does. He was one of those guys that kind of practices what he preaches. Brought somebody in coming from the bottom and gave then a chance to work his way up. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably wouldn’t be where I’m at today. It meant an awful lot to me for him to do that.”
Both Pough and Jones are the second-winningest head coaches at their respective schools. Pough (88-41) is 34 wins behind Jeffries (122), while Jones (80-50) trails only the late Louis Crews (93) in Huntsville, Ala. For his college coaching career, Jones is two wins shy of 100 victories after going 18-13 in three seasons at Morehouse College.