SAVANNAH, Ga. — If you look at the numbers, today’s contest at T.A. Wright Stadium has “letdown” written all over it for South Carolina State.
For 16 days, the Bulldogs were preparing for a first-place matchup in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference against defending champion Bethune-Cookman. Now, after suffering a disappointing 14-3 loss in Daytona Beach, Fla., the team has to rebound against the MEAC’s last-place team in Savannah State.
It’s also a Tigers’ team which has lost 20 straight conference game since earning membership and is 1-11 all-time against the Bulldogs. The lone win took place in Orangeburg back in 2001.
Yet when it comes to showing full effort, S.C. State head coach Buddy Pough does not seem worried about the Bulldogs, who are seeking to put last year’s disappointments to rest with a victory to clinch a winning season.
“To be perfectly honest with you, I think we’ll be fine,” Pough said earlier in the week. “These guys seen to be more resilient about that kind of stuff than some of the adults are in the program. I think we’ll be fine that way.”
S.C. State (5-3, 3-1) is hoping for a better performance from its offensive line, which was overwhelmed by the Wildcats. The inability to run the offense resulted in three turnovers, two on interceptions thrown by quarterback Richard Cue.
In addition, the Bulldogs were a walking wounded team with running backs Xavier Quick (shoulder) and Dondre Lewis-Freeman (knee) among the players sidelined with injuries from the contest. Both are not expected to see action, leaving the Bulldogs with Justin Taylor, Dondre Brown and Charles Brown available out of the backfield.
Wide receiver Tyler McDonald was also nicked up in the contest as he stands 83 yards shy of surpassing Oliver “Trey” Young’s school record for career receiving yards (2,156). Other injured Bulldogs include defensive end and MEAC sack leader Andrew Carter.
Despite the Bulldogs’ success against the Tigers, the last two victories have not been as lopsided as the past and Pough sees glimpses of potential in today’s opponent.
“Savannah’s got some fast guys,” he said. “They throw some dink-and-dink kind of stuff and they’ll take that to the house on you. I saw one of their guys go maybe 60, 70 yards against Bethune on a ball that was thrown maybe 2 or 3 yards down the field. It’s a concern, but at the same time, we’ll get ourselves prepared to be able to deal with that, that particular style of attack.”
Motivation should not be a problem for Savannah State (1-8, 0-5), which is playing on Future Starts of Tomorrow/Senior Day. According to first-year head coach Earnest Wilson III, he sees this as another opportunity to see where the Tigers measure up against an elite MEAC opponent and what they need to do in order to reach that level.
“My attitude is that we get better each week we build our program,” he said. “I’m trying to use this as more as a rebuilding season to see what I need to do for these young men. We want to be around in the fourth quarter, give ourselves the opportunity. We’ve been around every MEAC game in the fourth quarter. We just haven’t had the playmakers to win the game. But ... we know Coach Pough is a great coach. He’s been a winner. We want to see what we need to do in order to win.”
As a team, Savannah State is ranked ninth in total offense and last in four defensive categories (total, scoring, and rushing and pass defense efficiency). They also rank last in sacks allowed (44) and face the FCS leader in that category.
A bright spot is senior quarterback Antonio Bostick, who’s ranked second in the MEAC in passing (114-214 passing, 1,292 yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs) and total yards. Wide receiver Simon Heyward (27 receptions, 407 yards, 2 TDs) is ranked in the MEAC top 10 in two receiving categories.
Defensively, linebackers Justin Dixon (91 tackles) and Marquis Smith (88) are third and fifth, respectively, in tackles and defensive back John Wilson is tied for the lead in interceptions (4).
Regardless of the outcome, Wilson’s not officially ready to call this a rivalry game.
“We’re 1-11? That’s not a rivalry, that’s a butt-kicking every week, every year,” he said.
Kickoff for today’s game is 2 p.m.