If the South Carolina State football team was beginning to believe all the hype surrounding its 2-0 start to the season, it was collectively brought back to earth with Saturday's 55-16 loss at South Florida.
Whether it's losing to a previously-winless Bulls team (1-2 record), turning the ball over eight times (five lost fumbles and 3 interceptions), or giving up 55 points, the Bulldogs (2-1 record) have plenty to work on during the next two open weeks before preparing for their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opener at Delaware State on Oct. 5.
"We're going into bye weeks, and coming out of the South Florida game we are beaten up pretty badly," SC State head football coach Buddy Pough said at his weekly press conference on Monday. "It was not quite the results that we had intended; we really thought that we would be able to play with these guys.
"Up through the last drive of the game, we had outgained them, and I felt like we belonged in a way that we actually competed against them. But, we gave up too many big plays and made to many mistakes. That's totally out of character for us with the turnovers. I think we just tried to do too much."
There might have been a bit of overconfidence and perhaps a lack of focus before the trip to Tampa.
"You know that you've gotten a little big big-headed in some of the kinds of ways that we were handling ourselves," Pough said. "We didn't necessarily feel like we did a good job of actually doing the mental side of the game.
"We made so many mental errors that we can use those as teaching moments. I think we'll be fine and we'll get back to playing good football, like we were before this game."
Losing to the only Football Bowl Subdivision team on the schedule is nothing to be ashamed of, especially since the Bulldogs have never won against a team on the highest level of NCAA Division I play. But, Pough sees a need to refocus during the two bye weeks so the big picture is still in sight - winning another MEAC championship.
"It was a tough game, but hopefully we will get through these next two weeks and get into our conference and be better because of it," he said. "We will emphasize the fact that, coming out of this 3-game stretch, we are 2-1.
"It's the best start that we've had in years, so that's a positive for us. Getting a good start gives us a chance to go into our conference and not necessarily have any lingering effects of that sort. We'll look at it as an outside kind of distraction, an anomaly, not the normal game for us."
Pough even mentioned that the three weeks ahead of workouts, preparation and rest could be seen as another preseason camp, of sorts.
"We've got to secure the football and do all the little things," he said. "If we take some of the easy completions, we will be much better off on offense going forward.
"I think we'll get most of that stuff figured out. You've got the fundamental process and the concept process. We've got to work on both. The fact that we got all of this (non-conference games) out of the way just helps so much. It's a strange scenario having two weeks back-to-back off. But, I'm kind of excited that we get a good long break here and, from there, we go straight on through."
When the Bulldogs take the field for their next game, it will be eight straight weekends with a game on the schedule, and each one will count in the MEAC standings.
That fact alone makes it important for players who are nursing minor injuries to use this break to heal and return to practice, if possible.
Bye week plans are for the Bulldogs to have practice during the week, lift weights on Friday and get some rest during the weekends, up until a Sunday, Sept. 29 practice that will begin game plans for the Delaware State game on Oct. 5.
"The last thing we want to do is have a big scrimmage during an open week and get somebody hurt and not have them for the conference schedule," Pough said. "I think we've got most of the pieces in place - depth on the offensive line, tight ends and fullbacks which are positions we haven't had filled in a few years, ... and then we've got 3 or 4 running backs, ... and 2 or 3 quarterbacks who have us playing with depth, along with enough defensive linemen to go 2 deep, and then our linebackers where we are close to it, and we have enough people in the secondary.
"I think we can be a rock 'em, sock 'em spread-you-out and throw-it-around offensive team. From what I've seen, I get a real feel that this team has the desire and the work ethic that they'll get after these teams on our schedule and play really hard."
INJURY UPDATE: Redshirt freshman starting SAM linebacker B.J. Davis has a foot injury that will receive rest and treatment, both redshirt junior starting defensive end Demingus Wilson (wrist and sophomore starting tailback Tayshawn Baines (ACL) are scheduled to have surgery this week. Wilson could be back on the field in October, while Baines will redshirt this season.
2019 BOXTOROW FCS HBCU Football Coaches Poll Week 3
(Records through September 14, 2019)
No. Team W-L Pts. Last Week
1. North Carolina A&T (18) 2-1 180 1
2. Bethune-Cookman 1-1 136 2
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3. Alcorn State 1-2 131 3
4. Southern 1-2 120 4
5. South Carolina State 2-1 104 5
6. Prairie View A&M 1-2 75 6
T-7 Alabama A&M 2-1 49 NR
T-7 Grambling 0-2 49 7
9. Jackson State 1-2 37 NR
10. Arkansas-Pine Bluff 2-1 35 NR
Others receiving votes: Hampton (2-1) 33, Florida A&M (1-1) 17, Tennessee State (1-2) 11, Alabama State (1-2) 7, Norfolk State (1-2) 3, Norfolk State (1-2) 2, Delaware State (1-1) 1.
(1st place votes in parentheses)
2019 BOXTOROW HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll Week 3 (Records through September 14, 2019)
No. Team W-L Pts. Last Week
1. North Carolina A&T (16) 2-1 160 1
2. Bethune-Cookman 1-1 111 2
3. Alcorn State 1-2 110 3
4. South Carolina State 2-1 105 4
5. Southern 1-2 76 6
6. Prairie View A&M 1-2 71 5
7. Arkansas Pine Bluff 2-1 42 10
T-8 Bowie State 2-0 37 NR
T-8 Grambling 0-2 37 T-7
10. Alabama A&M 2-1 33 NR
Others receiving votes: Hampton (2-1) 19, Florida A&M (1-1) 18, Miles
(2-0) 14, Alabama State (1-2) 12, Virginia Union (1-1) 11, West Virginia State (2-0) 5, Tuskegee (1-1) 4, Norfolk State (1-2) 3, Virginia State
(1-1) 3, Jackson State (1-2) 3, Tennessee State (1-2) 2, Lane (1-1) 1.
(1st place votes in parentheses)