Despite at times showing signs of a productive unit last season, SC State’s offense was inconsistent and ranked near the bottom of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in offensive efficiency. The Bulldogs were ninth in both total offense (293.4 ypg) and pass offense (109.9 ypg), ahead of only Savannah State in both categories. Pough’s team, however, showed some signs of a good offense, finishing third in rushing offense (183.5 ypg), sixth in scoring offense (19.5 ppg) and tied for second in sacks allowed with just 18.
“We sometime reached the level of play on offense that demonstrated we could be a decent team, but that didn’t happen often enough,” said Pough “But, we should be better this season. Our quarterbacks are a good bit ahead of where they were last year this time. They’ve had a year working in our system and have a better understanding of the style of play, the different calls, what we are trying to do, and understanding the nuances of the offense.”
In addition to improved play at the signal-calling position, Pough and his offensive staff are looking to get a better performance from the Bulldog wide receivers and running backs, as well as a better performance from an offensive line that underachieved in 2018.
“We’ve also added a few key ingredients, especially in our wide receiver crops,” noted Pough. “And we expect our running game to be improved. Last year, most of our big runs came from our quarterback (Tyrece Nick) and it concerns you a bit when your running backs are not contributing big plays. We think we will see some positive changes in 2019.”
The Bulldogs list six quarterbacks on their 2019 camp roster, however, Nick (6-0, 170 r-Jr., Johnston, SC) and Cory Fields (6-0, 188 r-Fr, Hollywood, SC) will carry the load at the position this year. Quincy Hill (6-2, 165 r-Fr., Columbia, SC) could also be in the mix.
Nick handled most of the duties at quarterback last season, connecting on 86-189 passing attempts (45.5 pct.) for 1163 yards and five touchdowns, while suffering four interceptions. He was also the team’s top rusher and finished second in the MEAC in rushing with 903 yards and 12 touchdowns. Fields, who is more of a pure passer, was used in only two games, attempting just one throw.
“Nick was the guy at quarterback last season,” said Pough. “He was a huge threat as a runner, didn’t do as well in the passing game, but we need him to be more consistent as a passer. Fields is a good passer and there will be times when we can use his skill set to get us down the field. The third guy is Quincy Hill of Spring Valley High School in Columbia. He’s a tall guy and has put on a few pounds since last season.”
The Bulldog receiving corps, despite the loss of Quan Caldwell and Jermaine Baxley, two of the top four receivers from a year ago, is loaded with potential and should be more explosive this season due to the addition of Shaquan Davis (6-5, 210 r-Fr, Summerville, SC), a dazzling pass catcher who can stretch the field and transfer Juwan Moody (5-10, 160 r-Fr., Conway, SC), the brother of former SC State athlete Mykal Moody, who was used at running back, wide receiver and quarterback during his Bulldog career, along with Rodrigues Thomas (6-3, 185 r-So., Anderson, SC), who adds quality depth. They join returning starting wide receivers Will Vereen (5-11, 205 r-So., Little River, SC) and De’Montrez Burroughs (6-2, 200 Sr., Charlotte, NC), who ranked first and third, respectively, in catches last season, and Tra’Quan Dubose (5-10, 175 r-Sr., Darlington, SC ), the top punt returner last year, who was among the team’s top receivers in 2017.
“We expect our wide receiver corps to be vastly improved with the addition of Shaq (Davis) and the development of Rod Thomas, who played some last year and has gotten bigger and stronger,” Pough said. “Vereen is back, Burroughs is finally able to go full speed and Dubose is having a good camp. I’m excited about our potential there.”
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Pough has stated his concern about the Bulldog running game, however, with a bevy of talented runners returning, SC State rushing totals should go up, that is if they get the push up front from the offensive line which Pough said came up short of expectations in 2018.
“The running game was not what it needed to be last year,” Pough said. “And, some of our problem was that the offensive line underachieved. We have to get more from that group this season as we need for the line to grow up, work hard and have a better drive off the ball upfront.”
Right tackle Alex Taylor (6-9, 310 r-Sr., Moncks Corner, SC), one of the top National Football League (NFL) prospects in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and first-team 2019 All-MEAC first-team preseason selection, anchors the line. He will have plenty of support from center and All-MEAC performer Mike Terry (6-0, 255 r-Sr., Duluth, GA), guards Tison Gray (6-4, 300 r-So., Columbia, SC) – the most improved – Patrick McNeill (6-1, 290 Jr., West Columbia, SC) and Jalen Page (6-2, 285 r-Jr., Florence, SC), tackles Malik Mickle (6-4, 25 r-Sr., Winnsboro, SC) and Jerrelle Moore (6-3, 285 r-Fr., West Columbia, SC) as well as reserve Francois McFall (6-4, 285 r-Jr., Bennettsville, SC) and redshirt Shamari Williams (6-6, 280 r-Fr., York, SC).
A talented backfield will be bolstered by the return of one-time leading rusher Labron Morris (5-10,185 Jr., Decatur, GA), who was redshirt last year after leading the team in rushing in 2017. Returning from last season are Datron James (5-10, 205 r-Jr., N. Charleston, SC), the 2018 second-leading rusher (343 yds.) and Omar Cummings (5-9, 187 r-So., Beaufort, SC) who also galloped for over 300 yards and Tyshawn Baines (5-9, 200 So., Covington, GA), who was the team’s top kickoff returner but saw occasional duty in the backfield.
“I expect our rushing attack to be running back by committee,” beamed Pough. “We have so much talent at the position and I suspect whoever gets off to a solid start or a quick start will be the guy we go with. They all play pretty well and can be explosive, but it also gives us an opportunity to have a fresh back in there all the time.”
The final area Pough and the offensive assistants will look to is the tight ends/fullbacks, a youthful group with loads of talent, great versatility and outstanding potential.
Last year’s starter Austin Ruger is gone, however, returnees DePrince Haynes (5-11, 220 r-So., Columbia, SC) and Devontre “ Buss” Hamilton (5-11, 215 Sr., Moncks Corner, SC) will be joined by the very talented Yancy Washington (6-2, 230 r-Fr., N. Charleston, SC) and Orangeburg’s Zack Felder (6-3, 215 So.), a converted wide receiver from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High.
The placekicking was solid last year with freshman Dillon Bredesen (5-10, 160 So., Cantonment, FL) handling most of the duties. The then-freshman connected on 5-8 field goals, with a long of 46 yards, and converted 20-25 PATs, with one block.
The Bulldogs have had some high-scoring and explosive offensive teams in days gone by, and Pough is hoping his team can revive the magic of the past. Fans and supporters throughout the land would welcome such. (We will look at the Bulldog defense next week).