There’s a clear distinction between a Bulldog and an Aggie.
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary describes a Bulldog, the mascot for South Carolina State, as a “short, strong muscular dog with short hair, short legs and a wide square head.”
It also describes an Aggie as a term used to describe a student who attends an agricultural school. According to North Carolina A&T school lore, the nickname applies to a shepherd dog, a bulldog, that was kept on campus.
Aside from school affiliations and geographic locations, there’s little that differentiates South Carolina State and North Carolina A&T on the football gridiron.
The two teams enter today’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference matchup in the Atlanta Football Classic at the Georgia Dome riding the momentum of winning streaks. North Carolina A&T (3-0, 1-0) has won seven straight games dating back to last season, while the Bulldogs (3-2, 1-0) have rebounded from a 0-2 start with three straight wins by double digits.
Defense has played a role in both teams’ success this season. The Aggies are ranked first in the MEAC in scoring and run defense (83.3 yards per game allowed) and have not given up a rushing touchdown since the second quarter last season against Delaware State — a span of 31 consecutive quarters.
“They remind me a bunch of ourselves,” S.C. State head football coach Buddy Pough said. “It’s a whole team filled with guys that can run. They do a good job of keeping a lot of eyes on the football, so they break and run to the football extremely well. So they’re a tough team to deal with on defense.”
The Bulldogs are ranked first in sacks (22), interceptions (9) and pass defense efficiency (93.8). They also rank second in total defense, rushing defense (97.6 yards per game allowed), scoring defense and have allowed just one touchdown the past three games.
Offensively, the Aggies and Bulldogs will rely on senior quarterbacks to manage the game. North Carolina A&T’s Lewis Kindle (34-60, 428 yards, 2 TDs) has yet to throw an interception, while S.C. State’s Richard Cue (50-97, 640 yards, 5 TDs, 3 INTs) is fourth in the MEAC in pass efficiency (117.8) behind category leader and teammate TeDarrius Wiley.
Each quarterback also targets a big-play wide receiver in the Aggies’ Desmond Lawrence, who leads the MEAC in receptions per game (6.3) and the Bulldogs’ Tyler McDonald, who tops the conference in receiving yards per game (87.8) and needs 14 receptions and 300 receiving yards to break Oliver “Trey” Young’s career school records in those categories.
Each team is also depending on young running backs to carry the football behind offensive lines still seeking continuity. While North Carolina A&T has freshman Tarik Coleman, the Bulldogs will look toward the Dondres/Browns backfield for a second straight week.
In last week’s 30-6 win over Hampton, redshirt sophomore Dondre Lewis-Freeman had a career-best 140 yards and a touchdown in his first career start to earn MEAC Offensive Player of the Week honors. Freshman Dondre Brown served as the “Thunder” to Lewis Freeman’s “Lighting” with 86 yards and two touchdowns. When either needs a respite, the Bulldogs still have senior Charles Brown, who contributed 39 rushing yards against the Pirates.
“It was a big concern last week at this time when we had lost down to where we are now that these guys might not necessarily be able to carry the load the way they did, the way they have,” Pough said. “For them to have come in here and done what they did this past weekend was extremely, extremely exciting to see. So, I’m looking forward to seeing where these guys can go from here because it gives us the ability to make sure that those guys that we do have out we don’t rush them back any quicker than we need to because these guys have shown that they can play.”
For all the similarities, each head coach believes the contest will come down to which team avoids critical errors. Last year’s 17-7 loss to the Aggies not only clinched the first losing season in 12 years for S.C. State, but was a defining game highlighted by two blocked field goals, both by All-MEAC defensive back D’Vonte Graham, several penalties on the offensive line for false starts and a lack of offense.
Despite snapping an 11-game losing streak, A&T head coach Rod Broadway still believes they are the conference’s gold standard.
“Look at the last 10 years in this league,” he said. “They’ve been up there and they’re where we want to get with our program because you’re talking about continuity. You’re talking about winning. You’re talking about championships. You’re talking about stability. They’re all the things that you look for in a program and I say this. I think they’ve done an outstanding job down there. We want to be in the same ballpark those guys are in as far as wins and championships.”
This is the first of two games in five games for S.C. State, which travels to Raleigh, N.C., for a Thursday night game against North Carolina Central. Both games for the Bulldogs can be seen live on ESPN3.com, while today’s game will air via tape delay on ESPNU.
Victories in the next two games would keep S.C. State in the MEAC title hunt with an Oct. 26 road trip to Daytona Beach, Fla. against defending MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman on the horizon. According to Pough, it would also keep the Aggies out of the driver’s seat for the championship since it does not face Bethune-Cookman the next two seasons as part of the MEAC’s rotating schedule.
“It’s in an 8-9 range,” said Pough when asked about the level of urgency in today’s game. “You don’t necessarily want to try to put so much emphasis on a game that you kind of lose sight of the fact that it’s a football game. You’ve got to be relaxed enough to be able to play. I don’t think tight teams can play, so I think you’ve got to give them a chance to relax. At the same time, it’s a pretty high level as far as the urgency level is concerned.”
Furman, Clemson on 2014 schedule
The Bulldogs will get a healthy dose of the Upstate the next two seasons.
During Thursday’s S.C. State Board of Trustees meeting, it was revealed S.C. State will head to Death Valley a second straight year to face Clemson. It’s the third meeting since 2008 between the two schools with the Tigers paying the school $275,000 plus revenue from on-campus tickets sold each time.
About two weeks ago, Furman University announced it had reached an agreement with S.C. State on a home-and-home series starting next season. The Paladins would visit Orangeburg next season for the first time since 1997, with the Bulldogs heading to Greenville in 2015.
School officials have yet to confirm Furman’s announcement or address how it affects tentative games next season against Coastal Carolina and Alabama A&M. S.C. State is still reportedly attempting to fill its Aug. 30 season-opening date.