Quarterback play is key to winning in college football, just ask SC State head football coach Buddy Pough.
This past Saturday, he watched from the sideline as graduate student Kylil Carter used his legs and his arm to lead North Carolina A&T to a 22-20 win against the Bulldogs on Willie E. Jeffries Field in a key Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game.
Pough watched Carter find senior receiver Elijah Bell on 11 receptions for 107 yards, while passing for 267 yards and a touchdown in a 21-of-38 performance. Carter also led the Aggies in rushing, gaining 73 yards on 19 carries.
But Pough also saw his redshirt freshman quarterback from Baptist Hill High School, Corey Fields, pass for even more yardage, connecting on 14-of-30 passes for 284 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
So, after the game, Pough said his mind was made up about his quarterback situation, which has included both redshirt junior Tyrece Nick and Fields. Both have played in seven games this season. Nick is second on the team in rushing, with 343 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. But Fields has passed for 991 yards and Nick has passed for 805 yards. Both quarterbacks have seven touchdowns and two interceptions to their credit this season.
"He's the guy," Pough said of Fields. "I'm allowing these guys to do all this experimenting, where they've got all these highfalutin ideas about what ought to be.
"But I'm going to step in and he is going to be the guy next time we play. I can tell you that now."
Facing a 1-8 Howard team on Saturday that is 1-4 in MEAC play -- and lost their head coach to suspension this week -- should give Fields and other young players a chance to make plays and build up their game and their confidence for the future, as the Bulldogs (5-3 overall, 3-2 in MEAC) look to win their final three games.
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Pough was asked what made the decision for him about starting Fields against Howard and, according to plan, in the final two games on the road against N.C. Central (11/16) and Norfolk State (11/23).
"He's better; I mean, I can come up with all kinds of reasons and all kinds of statistics, but let me tell you what the situation is," Pough said. "He's better.
"Now we can do some things with the other guy, things that he can't do. But Quarterbacking 101, what we've got to have done in the game today, he's better."
Fields got his first college start at quarterback three games ago in a rainy homecoming contest against Morgan State. He led the Bulldogs on offense in a 24-10 win, earning himself shared playing time with redshirt junior Tyrece Nick in the win at Bethune-Cookman and in Saturday's loss to N.C. A&T.
"This game slipped through our hands, we had some mental mistakes, but we have to learn from those," Fields said after the loss to the Aggies. "Compared to last year, I've built a lot of confidence. My coaches believe in me, so that's another thing that helps.
"I just have to be more vocal, making sure everybody is on the same page. I don't have to do too much, just do my job. There are some big-time players on our team, and I believe in them, like they believe in me. I've learned to be able to get rid of the ball faster and do my job as I should. As the game goes on, that gets easier."
Fields led a second-half comeback against the Aggies that could have garnered a win, except for perhaps his one glaring mistake of the game. It was an overthrown pass to senior wide receiver De'Montrez Burroughs (eight receptions for 168 yards on the day) that was intercepted on a drive that could have given SC State the lead late.
"It's between two guys and it's not a little boy throw, but the ball floated on him a little bit," Pough said of the play. "He tried to make a hot throw in there on a vertical ball that was a little bit above his ability at that point, I guess."
Although losing to N.C. A&T was tough to take, Pough realized in his postgame press conference what the next step for the season's focus will be in the final three MEAC contests.
"We can relax now and just play," Pough said. "It'll be fun to see what we can do with these young guys."