South Carolina State football has long been associated with strong defenses, not so much with explosive offenses.
Names including Harry Carson, Deacon Jones, Donnie Shell, Willie Holman, Robert Porcher, Dwayne Harper, Chartric Darby, Rafael Bush, Joe Thomas Jr., Javon Hargrave and Darius Leonard highlight the storied history of "stop" units the Bulldogs have had through the years.
However, with this past Saturday's 62-21 home win against Howard, the 2019 offense for SC State is averaging 32 points per game in a season where the team is 6-3 overall, 4-2 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play.
As many as 62 points in a single game had last come for the Bulldogs in a 63-0 shutout of Benedict to open the 2014 season. Since then, the top totals for SC State had been 59 points against Savannah State in 2014, 49 points against Howard in 2015, 52 points against Savannah State in 2015 and 48 points against Florida A&M in 2016.
This weekend, the Bulldogs could use as many points as possible to get a win at North Carolina Central. The Eagles from Durham, N.C. are 4-6 overall, 3-3 in MEAC play.
Central's record might not impress many. But, SC State head coach Buddy Pough knows all too well that the Eagles are the lone MEAC program with a winning record against his Bulldogs' teams in this his 18th season at the helm of the program. However, despite losses to Central each of the past two seasons, Pough's teams are 3-3 against the Eagles.
"Central is about as good as anybody in this league," Pough said earlier this week. "That record hasn't shown it, so it's a little bit of a trap for you.
"Their quarterback is a tall, rangy, athletic guy. He has really played very well almost the entire year. They've got one of the top defenses in the league, ranked about 2 in most of the categories. It's a tough place to play and it will be a hard game for us Saturday."
By the same token, the Bulldogs' quarterback play was good early in the season and has looked even better in recent games. Offensive coordinator Bennett Swygert has been able to dial things up and give the defense a cushion on several occasions.
On October 5, redshirt junior Tyrece Nick passed for 5 touchdowns in a win at Delaware State. This past Saturday, in the Howard win, redshirt freshman Corey Fields passed for a program-record 7 touchdowns.
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Keeping Fields in as the starter behind center the past four games has paid off greatly for Pough and the Bulldogs. In 8 games played, Fields is 77-of-145 passing for 1,324 yards, 14 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions.
"I think Corey has earned it (starting quarterback job)," Pough said. "He's playing at a level right now where he gives us the chance to strike at any time.
"It's been a lot of fun watching that young man be in the game on a full-time basis. We're still continuing to play (former starter) Tyrece (Nick) almost every snap too.
"That's been a neat deal to see them work together, the camaraderie they have in our football group, in a situation where we've actually made a change in our starter. Corey is a freshman and it will be nice to see him here at South Carolina State for a long time to come. When you start talking about the level of play he is showing at this point; it's pretty far along. It's neat to have him and I'm glad we've got him here."
Senior wide receiver De'Montrez Burroughs, with a program-record 5 touchdown receptions this past Saturday, leads the team with 39 receptions for 783 yards and 12 touchdowns. With one more touchdown reception, Burroughs would tie Freddie Solomon (1994) with a program-record 13 in a season. Redshirt freshman Shaq Davis is second on the team with 25 receptions for 537 yards and 6 touchdowns.
"This gives us a dimension that we haven't really had here in some time," Pough said. "South Carolina State is mostly known as a running team. We still would like to run the football a little bit better than we have.
"But, we have the talent at the quarterback position and you've got to dance with the ability that you have in this situation. The fact that these guys are doing what they are in our throw game is something that we'd like to continue to see develop."
Central head coach Trei Oliver has seen enough development of SC State's offense on game film to be concerned.
"They present a lot of problems," Oliver said this week. "Those two quarterbacks they have are outstanding athletes. Both of them can run the ball and it's just a dual-headed monster out there when both of them are on the field at the same time.
"They're having an outstanding season, an outstanding receiving corps, and a future draft pick on the offensive line. South Carolina State is one of the traditional programs that has been great defensively. Now they have come into their own offensively, which is going to make this a tough task for us. We will have to be physical, limit their run game, run the ball ourselves and limit their explosive plays."
Although Pough and the Bulldogs don't know what the future holds, they got a glimpse of upcoming challenges in recent days.
"We got to watch both teams on (game film from) Saturday, both Central and Norfolk at the same time, because they played each other and they are our next two opponents," Pough said. "We've got our work cut out for us, we go to North Carolina Central on Saturday, and we want to try to see if we can hang in here.
"Any time you've got an opportunity to be a part of a possible conference championship, I think it adds a big piece of excitement to your overall process. We put those (MEAC championship year) numbers up on our press box, and we look up there all the time to see the years that we had the kind of success we are having right now. But, we've got two big, hard games left on the road."