NCCU counting on special teams against S.C. State

Oct. 09, 2013 @ 07:27 PM

S.C. State coach Buddy Pough is not just another skipper blowing smoke about how dangerous his opponent is when he bemoans N.C. Central’s ability to score both in bunches and in a variety of ways.

The statistics back him up.

NCCU went on the road last Saturday and beat Howard on the strength of two special teams touchdowns.

The Eagles’ special teams scored 17 unanswered points, starting at the end of the second quarter when Oleg Parent put his foot into a career-long 48-yard field goal.

NCCU had a 10-7 halftime lead before Adrian Wilkins returned a third-quarter Bison punt 89 yards for a touchdown.

Still in the third, NCCU’s Sayyid Muhammad blocked a Howard field-goal try and had the presence of mind to swat the ball away from the Bison, allowing Tim Thaniel to scoop it up and score from 50 yards out.

“We’ve got to figure a way to kind of control the football and maybe handle the football, because Central is phenomenal at taking the ball away from you and scoring in all kinds of ways,” Pough said.

Either NCCU (3-2, 1-0 MEAC) or S.C. State (4-2, 2-0 MEAC) will absorb its first league loss of the season after tonight’s nationally televised meeting at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium (7:30, ESPNU).

S.C. State will show up with both the No. 2 offense and defense in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs have the league’s No. 1 scoring offense, putting up 30.5 points per game. The Eagles will have to deal with that.

But NCCU’s special teams have given teams fits.

Going back to the 2012 season, the Eagles’ special teams have scored touchdowns on six punt returns, two kickoff returns and two blocked field-goal attempts. Four of those sores came this season.

In the Howard game, Muhammad said he told teammate Ryan Smith that he’d block the kick that Thaniel ended up taking to pay dirt. Muhammad said he’d been getting close to getting his hands on one all afternoon.

Blocked kicks and kicks returned for scores are game changers. Those plays can suck the air out of teams.

“That’s the point of special teams — momentum,” Muhammad said.

Blocked kicks and scores on special teams are rare, but the Eagles script them and expect them, NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said.

“We do. Our mentality is if we have an opportunity to exploit something, we want to take advantage of it,” Foster said.

Before the Howard game, the Eagles gathered for a team meeting, and the conversation turned toward what NCCU could do to gain an advantage on the Bison. Foster said he told his guys that blocking a kick or returning one for a score wouldn’t be a bad idea.

“It’s a huge part of the game,” Foster said. “If you’re not sound in it, it certainly can exploit you.”

Something seemingly as routine as solid defensive coverage on kickoffs becomes a really big deal when assignments are blown and field position is sacrificed, Foster said.

S.C. State is coming off a win against N.C. A&T, which had been playing really good ball.

Special teams made the difference.

“The thing that really, really hurt us is that blocked punt which led to points for them and really changed the course of the game,” A&T coach Rod Broadway said.