When it comes to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, Buddy Pough is a true team player.
The South Carolina State head football coach has every reason to pull for top rival Bethune-Cookman to lose one of its two final games. Such a scenario would give the Bulldogs the outright conference championship, the 15th in program history, and an automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs should they defeat Norfolk State Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Instead, Pough took a surprisingly diplomatic stance when asked if he thought the Wildcats would feel the pressure to win this past Saturday against Hampton after S.C. State’s 39-3 win over Morgan State 48 hours earlier gave the Bulldogs a temporary half-game lead in the MEAC standings.
“I don’t think they care that much about that kind of stuff,” he said. “Bethune will be fine. I’m kind of pulling for them too. I’ve got no reason to pull against them, except for the fact I want a championship and I want to go to the playoffs. I just like to see us do all we can.
“I like Bethune. I like to see all the schools in the league play well. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to them. But at the same time, I think they’ll be fine.”
Bethune-Cookman routed Hampton 42-12 in Daytona Beach, Fla., to move back into a first-place tie with the Bulldogs heading into Saturday’s Florida Blue Classic against Florida A&M. The Rattlers hold a 48-15-1 advantage in the series but have dropped the last two meetings.
Should both teams finish tied in the conference standings, the Wildcats would receive the automatic berth based on the 14-3 win on Oct. 26 and the Bulldogs would have to hope to receive an at-large playoff berth for the second time since 2010.
Breaking into the top 25 polls of either The Sports Network or FCS Coaches Poll would help S.C. State’s cause. They currently stand 31st and 33rd, respectively, in both polls, but could move closer as a result of losses by ranked teams Delaware and Wofford and unranked James Madison.
The future is now
Spring practice 2014 is apparently not soon enough for another quarterback controversy to begin at S.C. State.
Up until this past Thursday’s game, reserve Adrian Kollack saw more action with the practice squad than in any college football game. This all changed with the Spartanburg native’s four-touchdown (3 rushing, 1 passing) performance in which he thrived in the “Wildcat” like attack and actually replaced starter Richard Cue on the first two scoring series by the Bulldogs.
Meanwhile, presumptive top backup TeDarius Wiley did not attempt a single pass and was sacked once for minus-25 yards.
In earning the nod over Wiley and Joey Copeland, Kollack apparently impressed the coaches with his confidence and ability to quickly find a niche in the offense.
“We were looking for one of those quarterbacks in the bunch and he’s the guy who’s the odds-on favorite right now,” Pough said. “He’s a little bit ahead of the other guys as far as leadership qualities and some of the other kinds of attributes. He’s a hard-nosed guy. He runs the ball more downhill, so it’s hard to find a quarterback guy that actually will put his nose in there and kind of do what that guy’s got to do. I think we used Kollack because he showed himself to be the guy that seemed to have the best ability that way right now.”
Meanwhile, junior wide receiver Dennis Rowe continues to make the case for being the heir to record-setting senior Tyler McDonald. The former W.J. Keenan wideout had caught touchdowns in two straight games.
“Dennis Rowe can run,” Pough said. “One of the things that you get with a guy like that is you get a speed merchant of sorts. He kind of reminds you of a (Oliver) “Trey” Young kind of guy. He’s a big, tall lanky kid that really can run and he’s made some plays here.”
Making his case
With another 10-tackle performance against Morgan State, senior linebacker Joe Thomas continues to strengthen his credentials as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the nation’s best defensive player on the Football Championship Subdivision level. The former Blackville-Hilda All-State running back leads the MEAC in tackles for loss (18), tops the Bulldogs in tackles (108) and third in sacks (7.5).
“I don’t know what you could say to actually give Joe Thomas his just due,” Pough said. “He really has been as good a player inside as anybody I’ve seen in a long, long time here and he leads us by example. Joe is not a big talker. He’s a big doer and you see what he does out on the field by his actions, so he continues to be a special, special player for us and it’s fun watching Joe, along with our entire defense, play because those guys do still run and strike you.”
A tale of two coaches
Both S.C. State’s Pough and Morgan State head coach Donald Hill-Eley started at their respective schools in the same year (2002).
It’s from that point that their coaching histories have headed in opposite directions. While Pough has led the Bulldogs to a 96-42 record, including four MEAC titles and three FCS playoff appearances, Hill-Eley has failed to build upon his 2002 MEAC Coach of the Year season with a 57-76 record.
Lights, camera, victory
S.C. State completed a four-game sweep of its ESPNU games aired this season. The Bulldogs improved to 26-2 in nationally televised games against HBCU opponents, 19-2 on ESPNU and 5-0 in Thursday night games.
MEAC road warriors
S.C. State owns a 31-10 record in conference road games under Pough and is 5-3 all-time at Norfolk State. Those three wins in 2000, 2007 and 2011 are the only victories in 17 all-time meetings dating back to the 1976 Bicentennial Bowl won by the Bulldogs 26-10.
The Spartans (3-8, 3-4) are coming off a 24-13 road loss to North Carolina Central a week after upending Bethune-Cookman 27-24 on the road.
S.C. State currently leads all FCS teams in three defensive categories – sacks (55), rushing defense (79.6 yards per game allowed) and pass defense efficiency (92.1). Defensive lineman Andrew Carter leads the MEAC in sacks (10.5) and Javon Hargrove is tops in forced fumbles ... S.C. State improved to 87-7 when leading at halftime ... Pough will hold his weekly press conference at noon today at Rowe Hall.