Optimism is one of Buddy Pough’s biggest character attributes during his 11 seasons as South Carolina State head football coach.
Even after crushing setbacks, Pough has kept upbeat about the Bulldogs’ prospects and turned those moments of negativity into positives.
Over the next two weeks, those motivational skills will be put to the test. With Saturday’s 27-14 loss to Bethune-Cookman, the Bulldogs not only find themselves behind the proverbial 8-ball in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title race, but face the prospect of experiencing Pough’s worst nightmare — a three-game losing streak.
“That was a big issue that I was really concerned about during the entire offseason,” Pough said. “The fact that we could lose one of these two games and the worst of the two is the one that we lost. It was a big thing not to lose to Georgia State, but it was a bigger thing not to lose to Bethune.
“But it’s like anything else. We’ll lick our wounds. I told our guys our season is young still and if you’re running a marathon and you’re on mile 3, you’re not thinking about mile 23. You’re thinking about mile 3, trying to get through mile 3. And once we get through mile 3, then we’ll try to get through mile 4 and we’ll assess ourselves at the point once we get to the fourth game and try our best to figure out to get a good, solid effort for the Norfolk (State) game (on Sept. 29).”
The Bulldogs (1-1, 0-1) have back-to-back games against Division I opponents Arizona this Saturday and Texas A&M on Sept. 22. And while teams like Youngstown State and Appalachian State have shown a Football Championship Subdivision team can take down a Football Bowl Subdivision “Goliath,” S.C. State showed little in the effort against the Wildcats that it could become the latest “David.”
For openers, there’s the perplexing issue of the offensive line. Through two games, what was considered strength in the preseason with all but one starter returning to the fold, the offensive line has been flagged 20 times.
Inexplicable penalties for false starts, illegal formations and delay of games had the Bulldogs facing 2nd-and-15 downs on nearly every second-half possession. Whether it’s because of an inability to hear quarterback Richard Cue’s low-pitch cadence by the lineman or as Pough hinted of trying to do too much outside of their ability, the penalties are now more than a minor concern.
“We’ve got to get in practice this week and fix this because penalties are killing us,” Cue said.
The offensive line was not alone in areas of concern following the loss. A week after dominating Georgia State, the Bulldogs’ wide receivers could not seem to get a hold on quarterback Richard Cue’s passes.
Potential game-changing passes to Trey Williams, Tyler McDonald, Lennel Elmore and Caleb Davis eluded their hands constantly Saturday evening and made it an even more difficult night for Cue, who threw two interceptions and had 231 less passing yards (69) and 11 less completions (8) than the previous game.
“Maybe I messed that up,” Pough said. “I praised them for their play last week and ... I don’t know,” Pough said. “It started raining a little bit and it seemed like from that point on we really just couldn’t seem to find our way and ... it was awful.”
And then there were the special teams’ mistakes which resulted in 10 points. A fumbled snap by Nick Belcher opened the door for the Wildcats’ 27-point rally as Tyrone Bouie recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter, while the other on an errant snap resulted in a Sven Hurd field goal.
As the Bulldogs left Willie Jeffries Field, it could find inspiration from their opponent. After losing to S.C. State last year, the Wildcats rebounded to finish tied for second and handed eventual MEAC champion Norfolk State its lone conference loss.
“If we are worthy of being a team that has the ability to get back in the race, then it’ll happen,” Pough said. “We’ll work hard and we’ll make it happen. If not, then we’ll go on the way of people who kind of just lick their wounds and don’t try to fight back. I think this group will fight back.”
“It’s only Game Two,” Cue said. “We can’t let this loss get us down.”
Perhaps S.C. State should rethink its promotions which encourage fans to wear certain school colors to games. Last year’s 27-24 loss to Florida A&M followed a similar promotion as Saturday’s “Whiteout.”
Saturday’s victory by the Wildcats was their fifth win in six appearances at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. It was also the fifth straight win by the road team in the series ... S.C. State dropped to 8-28 in games in which it trailed at halftime. The Bulldogs were also outscored 7-0 in the fourth quarter. In the 23 games lost since 2005, they have been outscored 141-20 in the final quarter and have been shut out in 20 of those games ... S.C. State still leads the all-time series 30-20-1, but Bethune-Cookman now holds a 9-8 edge dating back to 1996.
Bethune-Cookman head coach Brian Jenkins improved to 20-5 in three seasons and is the only MEAC head coach with a winning record over Pough at 2-1 ... After winning its first 22 games which were nationally televised, the Bulldogs have now dropped two straight on ESPNU ... Darius Drummond, a preseason College Football Performance Award “Watch List” selection on special teams, had two punt returns of -9 yards ... Pough will hold his weekly press conference at 9 a.m. Monday at Rowe Hall.
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (803) 533-5547. For more information about S.C. State athletics, please read his blog “Following the Bulldogs” at www.thebulldogzone.com. Follow him on Twitter@TandDSports.com.