After 14 practices in 25 days, mostly in the early morning hours, South Carolina State will close out spring football workouts this afternoon at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
This year’s Garnet and White game will serve as a “rubber match” given the two sides have split the past two matchups. Last year’s contest saw the defense (White) jump out to a 16-0 lead before the offense (Garnet) rallied behind a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs by quarterbacks Richard Cue and Tedarius Wiley to take a 26-25 victory.
Both Cue and Wiley are expected to take center stage again for the offense, which will wear the White colors this year, as they battle for the starting position. Head coach Buddy Pough said the two quarterbacks have competed closely during spring workouts as they have looked to quickly adapt to the changes made by returning offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joseph Blackwell.
Throughout the spring, Pough has harped upon improving a running game which was among the weak areas of last year’s 5-6 squad. Julius Pendergrass, Dondre Lewis-Freeman, Dondre Brown (who’s out with a concussion) and Charles Brown have taken the bulk of the carries while last year’s leading rusher Jalen “Scoot” Simmons is still recovering from shoulder surgery. In addition the Bulldogs are counting on Blackwell to revive an offensive line which also struggled in run blocking last season.
Fans can also look to see if the tight ends, particularly Temarrick Hemingway, as expected, will get involved in the passing game. The Bulldogs return starting wide receivers Tyler McDonald and Caleb Davis and seek better production from the reserves.
At the same time S.C. State was looking to re-establish the run game, the defense’s ability to stop the ground game was also addressed this spring. Freshman nose tackle Javon Hargrave emerged as a breakout player on the defensive line for the Bulldogs, who also return juniors Marquis Parks, Andrew Carter and Curtis Hill.
There’s also experience at linebacker with junior Joe Thomas of Blackville Hilda and Justin Hughes back and last season’s preseason All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference selections Darius Drummond and Steven Murphy returning in the secondary.
For all the attention the offense and defense has received, Pough has kept a close eye on the secondary. Placekicker Nick Belcher will look to improve on last year’s 8-15 effort and will also handle punting duties.
The Garnet and White game will take place over four 15-minute quarters with points awarded to the offense in the conventional way (touchdown — 6 points; field goal — 3 points, PAT — 1 point). The defense can earn points off touchdowns and safeties (two points), as well as forcing 3-and-outs (2 points) and stopping an offensive drive (1 point).
Admission to the 1 p.m. game is free and fans can participate in an autograph/picture session on Willie Jeffries Field with the players and coaches. In addition, the radio-syndicated show “From the Press Box to Press Row” will make a stop on its annual Boxtorow Spring Football Road Tour at the stadium.
Show host Donal Ware will conduct interviews with Pough, players and other special guests, including retiring sports information director Bill Hamilton, during a live broadcast that gets underway at noon. It can be heard on WSSB (90.3 FM).