Coming off two straight losses, NC Central football uses its bye week to self-reflect

N.C. Central went into its bye week on a two-game losing streak.

The Eagles (2-5, 1-2 MEAC) dropped a 28-21 road game against FAMU and a 27-13 home contest to Bethune-Cookman before getting a week off. First-year head coach Trei Oliver said the time off gave the team a chance to rest. The Eagles started the year with five of their first seven games on the road. So, the team has been working non-stop since summer camp.

N.C. Central returns Saturday with a conference game against Delaware State (1-6, 0-4). Last season, the Hornets snapped a five-game losing streak in a 28-13 win over the Eagles.

Here’s a look at N.C. Central as it heads into its game against Delaware State.

Scouting their own team

During the week off, Oliver used the time to scout his own team. During three days of practice last week, the team focused on NCCU. The staff watched film of themselves as if they were scouting another team and looked for what their opponents might see when they scout the Eagles.

“We do have some tendencies,” Oliver said. “We looked at defense and the explosive plays we have given up in the run game as well as the pass game. We were trying to see if that was schematics or fundamental technique errors or if they just made plays on us.”

The longest running play NCCU gave up was for 65-yards against Garner-Webb. The Eagles also surrendered a season-long 54-yard pass play to Bethune-Cookman.

“Offensively, we were trying to see what we were doing out of what formations,” Oliver said. “What worked, what didn’t work and how to get our guys in the best situation so they can be successful.”

The Eagles have been balanced on offense with 246 pass attempts and 252 rushing attempts.

Highs in the first half of the season

When asked about highs from the first half of the season, Oliver singled out freshman quarterback Davius Richard, junior running back Isaiah Totten and the emerging offensive line.

“I think Davius was a high,” Oliver said. “It’s good to see what he’s accomplished. I think Isaiah Totten has done outstanding things and has been consistent and steady for us.”

Through six games, Richard has completed 50.5 percent of his passes for 1,115 yards and six touchdowns. He took over the starting job before the second game of the year, and averages 6.2 yards per carry.

Totten has one rushing touchdown in seven games, but averages 4.3 yards per carry. The offensive line, Oliver said, is also coming along after shuffling lineups.

“We’ve had a whole lot of trying to piece things together with injuries and with young guys,” Oliver said. “It’s coming together.”

The Eagles have rolled out three different offensive line combinations in the first seven games. They’ve only started the same five linemen in consecutive games once.

Two rookie QBs

Like NCCU, Delaware State also has a freshman quarterback. Tylik Bethea has started all seven games this year for the Hornets. He’s passed for 1,025 yards and six touchdowns and four interceptions. Oliver said Bethea reminds him a lot of Richard.

“He can throw the ball and beat you with his legs,” Oliver said. “He can extend plays and keep drives alive with his legs. We have to do a good job of keeping leverage on him and keeping eyes on him in the backfield.”

As a former defensive coordinator, it would be easy for Oliver to be tempted to put all the pressure on Bethea, but he knows he has to pick his spots.

“You have to pick and choose when to bring pressure, I think,” Oliver said. “You can sit back in zone and hopefully he’ll throw some bad ones and you can catch the bad ones. When you’re in man coverage it’s a lot harder to pick off a pass. We’ll change up some looks and mix up the pressures on him.”

Enjoy winning

When asked what he’s learned about himself after seven games as a head coach, Oliver smiled and said “don’t ever take winning for granted.”

The Eagles are 2-5, and 2011 was the last time Oliver was a part of a team with five losses in one year. That season, Oliver was an assistant on the N.C. A&T team that went 5-6.

“Sometimes you win and I would come home and my wife would be like what’s wrong with you and I’d say ‘we didn’t play well, we could have done this better, done that better,’” Oliver said. “For so many years you take winning for granted, but I’ve learned to just embrace it and enjoy winning.”

History lesson

The last time Delaware State won in Durham was 1977. Oliver didn’t think that win streak would put extra pressure on his team, but said the Hornets are way better than their record indicates.

“Their record is not who they are. They are a very physical football team,” Oliver said. “They have two good running backs, they are very physical and they play extremely hard. They’ve been in some games and let a couple get away from them, but we can’t sleep on this team. Whatever happened the last however many times doesn’t have anything to do with Saturday. Those guys weren’t born in 77. I think I was one.”

NCCU has dominated its last two home games against Delaware State. The Eagles outscored the Hornets 42-14 in 2017 and 43-10 in 2015. In 2012, the game went into double overtime, with NCCU winning 23-20. The Eagles have won nine of the last 11 games and lead the series 18-7.

Oliver, though, doesn’t care about the past.

“We talk about winning the day,” Oliver said. “Let’s practice like a champion today and that will carry over to Saturday and let’s win Saturday. You have to stay in the moment and stay in today.”

Delaware State at NC Central

When: 2 p.m., Saturday

Where: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Durham,

Watch: ESPN3

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.