This week was needed by the S.C. State football team. No, actually this week was necessary for the Bulldogs, their coaches and their fans.
Open week, bye week, off week or whatever you choose to call it, this was best for all involved — a Saturday without a game, a break to evaluate everything.
S.C. State has had very few things go its way in putting together a 2-6 record, with two games left to play. Up next is Senior Day at home on Willie E. Jeffries Field inside Oliver C. Dawson Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 11, against visiting Hampton University. Then, the final game of the season comes on Nov. 18 at Savannah State University.
Bulldogs head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough is in his 16th season leading the program at his alma mater. Without question, this has been the hardest one of them all.
Pough often smiles to keep from showing his disappointment. But, his coaching staff and players know that the coach has been bothered by it all, from the six-point loss at Southern to start the campaign, all the way through to a loss at winless Delaware State and last Saturday's eight-point home loss to Howard.
"It's been a tough go of it," Pough said. "We know we need to look at everything, but especially our offensive front and our offense in general.
"We are looking to prepare for Hampton. Right now, though, it's mostly looking at South Carolina State, who we are and what we can do to get better. Against Howard, in the first half we didn't play nearly as well on defense as we would like to. So, there are things all over that we are working on improving."
With what can be considered a new, even overhauled offense from front to back, points have been hard to come by at times this season. The Bulldogs' defense and special teams have mostly done their part. But losses by six points (Southern), five points (N.C. Central), 14 points (N.C. A&T), three points (Bethune-Cookman), three points (Delaware State) and eight points (Howard) can eat at the psyche of young student-athletes more than blowout losses where they had no chance to win.
"Even getting down 21 early this past game, I felt like our guys responded to the support of our (homecoming) crowd (of 15,000-plus) and found their way back into the game," Pough said. "We always say we just want an opportunity to be able to win at the end.
"We just didn't have quite enough umph to win it at the end."
Knowing this team battles to the end of every game, Pough expects nothing less in the final two contests this season. The challenge will be giving upperclassmen their deserved playing time, along with working in building blocks for future S.C. State teams.
"You've got all kinds of different priorities that you've got to fulfill throughout these kinds of circumstances," Pough said. "You want to try to make sure that you're respectful and you do a good job of ushering your seniors, your older guys out in a good positive way, giving them every opportunity to play.
"At the same time, we've got an obligation to the program and the future of what we've got to do. So, if you're an older guy and you're not playing well, we may start tinkering more with your spot and playing younger guys there, or maybe even put a younger guy in front of you."
All such considerations are what coaches must take into account with a bye week in the latter portion of the schedule.
"It is a time to reflect, especially this late in the year," Pough said. "At this point, we have to identify some schemes and some people and all the different reasons why a play isn't working for us.
"We'll zero in on that and try to fix it before the next game. We haven't been explosive enough in our skill areas. We haven't had enough big plays. You generally can find one big-time receiver who becomes a go-to guy. But, that hasn't worked out for us this year. We're just not quite as talented as we've been on some teams in the past. We're not as skilled as we'd like to be; we're not as fundamental as we need to be with a young offensive line."
The close games and some young talent already in house give Pough some sense of confidence that another recruiting class could make a big difference in games next season.
"It's obvious that we're not far off and that we could actually be able to turn this thing around pretty quickly with a guy here and a guy there, a better attitude here and better fundamentals there," Pough said. "If we don't get those things done, it's almost impossible to think that we're going to see any improvement in the upcoming season.
"We've got four or five schools in our conference now who are doing it the right way. So, we've got to really get after it if we are going to continue to compete with those guys."
Pough is still checking with the school administration to see what recruiting restraints will be put on his coaches throughout the current recruiting cycle, as new NCAA rules allow recruits to sign with programs as early as December.
"What we really need to do is find a guy somewhere that can help us pretty immediately, maybe a JC (junior college) guy or a transfer or two," Pough said. "We haven't taken too many transfers or JC guys the last couple of years, because we've been trying to stay in state and stay within the limits of what we can do financially.
"But, at the same time, I think this (season) has shook us all up a little bit to the point that we've got to do some real good things to get going again."
It's been obvious that opponents have been chomping at the bit for years to catch the Bulldogs off their game.
"Everybody is feasting on us right now and it's obvious they are enjoying the opportunity to see us with our slip hanging a little bit," Pough said. "But, at the same time, we are going about the task to keep our heads up and work hard to win these last two games, before the year is out.
"This team isn't that far off, though. Our coaching staff was just talking about it, that we aren't so far off that we should just throw the baby out with the bath water. We need to try to salvage the good things that we can do and not go completely off the spectrum with things we try to have this team do."