The South Carolina State Bulldogs face off against the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats this weekend.
It’s Week Two of the 2011 football season, and most coaches are still trying to sort out what type of squad they have.
However, Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins and Buddy Pough of South Carolina State, two of the three teams that shared the 2010 MEAC championship, don’t have that luxury. Their teams face each other Saturday in Daytona Beach, Florida in this season’s first “game of the season.”
The MEAC arguably had the tightest race in all of college football last season, as Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Florida A&M finished as tri-champions. It’s far too early to declare the winner of the South Carolina State-Bethune-Cookman contest the prohibitive favorite to win the title. But it is safe to say the loser will have very little wiggle room the remainder of the season.
“We could be done in Week Two of the season,” Pough says. “We have to take it as just another regular season conference game and let things play out. There are enough good teams (in the MEAC) that nether one of us will come out unscathed the rest of the season, even if we win this game.”
It is the first conference game of the season for both teams. Bethune-Cookman opened the season with an impressive nationally televised 63-14 victory against Prairie View A&M in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge; South Carolina State, the preseason pick to win the MEAC crown, played up a level in its opener and suffered a 21-6 loss to Central Michigan of the FBS.
Bethune-Cookman defeated South Carolina State 14-0 last year in Orangeburg, S.C. It was the first the time in 38 years that the Bulldogs have been shutout at home. Pough watched the first-half of the Wildcats’ demolition of Prairie View, and it left him in awe of their aggressiveness.
“They played about as good as I’ve seen a team play in this league in a long time,” Pough says. “Both sides of ball played in a way that lets you know they understand exactly what they want to do.”
The Wildcats forced six turnovers, including two fumble recoveries that they returned for touchdowns, and they rang up 500 total yards on offense. Senior quarterback Jamarr Robinson, a transfer from the University of Maryland, passed for 250 yards and a touchdown in a little more than a half of action.
Pough is concerned that the Wildcats could have another effort like that in store for his team.
Jenkins, on the other hand, is trying his best to downplay the lopsided nature of their victory, and he says he doesn’t expect a similar margin of victory against South Carolina State.
“We went out and played Wildcat football,” Jenkins says of Bethune-Cookman’s performance against Prairie View. “If we play Wildcat football, victory is obtainable. The score doesn’t matter as long as we come out on the winning end. The only thing I want to repeat is a victory. We’ll continue to do things the Wildcat way, stay in the moment, prepare for the moment and work for the moment.”
Despite his team’s dominant performance, Jenkins says the Wildcats’ play wasn’t as crisp as he would have liked. Among other things, he was not pleased that his team was penalized 12 times for 132 yards.
“In a game that’s a lot closer, penalties could hurt you,” Jenkins says. “We’ve definitely got to get that corrected. We made a lot of mistakes. I’m pleased to have the victory, but I’m not satisfied. Like I said before, we’re a work in progress. We got to get these things worked out if we want to continue to win. If we perform the way we performed in certain areas, we’ll have sad faces Saturday. I don’t want to have a sad face.”