It might be more fun to focus on what a team wants, but a team getting what it needs can help the season turn out so much better in the long run.
The South Carolina State football team wants to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship this season, getting the program's first title since a shared MEAC title in 2014.
But, before the Bulldogs (2-1 overall record) begin conference play on Saturday, Oct. 5, at Delaware State, they are in the middle of two open weeks on the schedule.
The last game for SC State - a 55-16 loss at American Athletic Conference member South Florida - helped out the needs of both programs. The Bulldogs returned from the guarantee game with a reported $400,000 boost to the athletic department budget. The Bulls and head coach Charlie Strong got their first win of the season, after being shut out by Wisconsin (49-0) and dropping a 14-10 game at Georgia Tech.
"He (Strong) needed us worse than we needed him at that point of the season; and he was smiling after the game (a win before USF's bye week), like I was Santa Claus or somebody like that," Pough said in his Monday, Sept. 16 weekly press conference. "But, it was one of those situations where I was really hoping we would play better.
"I told Charlie that after the game - I thought we were going to play them closer. But, the couple times recently that we have played Central Florida, we actually played them closer than we played South Florida (losing 38-0 to the Knights in both 2016 and 2018). We did move the ball more effectively on South Florida, but it is what it is. If you give up 55 points, you give up 55 points."
Lessons learned and adjustments made from the USF game should help the Bulldogs as they enter conference play, which will be eight games in eight weeks, without another break. Pough's weekly in-season press conference was canceled on Monday, as the team and coaching staff catches its collective breath and prepares to take on the MEAC schedule.
"If there was anything that I thought was an issue, I thought we tried to do too much against South Florida; I think we tried to make a play or two that we probably shouldn't have," Pough said. "We had some situations where, on defense, we got out of position some with guys just trying to do too much.
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"On offense, we had some plays changed or called that didn't necessarily fit within what we actually desired from the sideline. It was a situation where I thought our team needed to be reeled in a little bit. In this business, you have to take the bitter with the sweet, and that was not very sweet."
With time now to make adjustments and get in better conditioning for the full conference slate, Pough and the Bulldogs are realizing they might have needed back-to-back bye weeks at this point of the season more than they previously considered.
"These two bye weeks are about trying to be smart and get our guys back in top condition, and then on top of that keep them as healthy as we possibly can," Pough said. "The last thing I want to do is get into a big scrimmage during an open week, get somebody hurt and at that point you've got another issue you have to deal with.
"We want to keep them healthy, but also get them in the best of shape so they are ready to go."
That focus for the Bulldogs has led to a full week of practice at SC State last week and this week, followed by rest days set up across this past weekend and this coming weekend.
"Delaware State came down here last year and played us on homecoming, and it was a tough, tough football game," Pough said. "They are in a very similar defense to the defense that we played at South Florida.
"That concerns you, apart from the fact that we were able to move the ball pretty effectively against them (USF Bulls)."
What might help SC State is the schedule Delaware State is playing. Having lost their homecoming game to the visiting Howard Bison this past Saturday, 24-9, the Hornets are now 1-2 heading into this Saturday's game at two-time defending MEAC champion North Carolina A&T State (2-1 record, coming off a bye week last week).
"Delaware State having already had their open date and playing these two games while we have bye weeks will give us a chance to see them some more on film before we play them," Pough said.
Access to what you need is often more important than access to what you want.