By Donal Ware
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — We are midway through the HBCU football season, and that means it’s time for midterm grades.
For time’s sake, I will give grades to the teams who won conference championships last year. I encourage you to hit me up on Twitter @boxtorow and give me your thoughts on my grades or give me your team’s midterm grade and I will read them on FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW.
Grambling State (0-5, 0-4) — The record speaks for itself. Now in all fairness, had the Tigers had a kicker in the one point loss to Alcorn State to open the season or the one point loss to Alabama State, their grade probably would have been better.
Still, that is not the major problem with this team. The Tigers have not gotten consistent play from quarterback as the position has completed just 49 percent of its passes with just four touchdown and four interceptions.
The running back position has not fared much better and All-SWAC running back Dawrence Roberts is out for the season with a knee injury.
Defense was a concern for head coach Doug Williams coming in and one can see why as the unit is giving up 33 points per game and 433 yards of total offense.
Any chance of the Tigers repeating as champions was all but erased after their 31-14 loss to Prairie View A&M in the State Fair Classic last Saturday.
Norfolk State (2-4, 0-3) — The likelihood of the Spartans losing their first three MEAC games to start the season was, well highly unlikely.
But that is precisely what has happened as Norfolk State lost to a surging Howard team 37-36 in overtime at home, was blanked 14-0 by a Norfolk State team that is down this year and lost Saturday at home 20-17 to a much improved Delaware State team.
Quarterback Nico Flores has not played well since the Howard game and backup Jake Basmagian has been given the starting position, while Flores has been moved to wide receiver.
Flores was more of a running quarterback, whereas Basmagian fits more of what Coach Pete Adrian has been used to from the quarterback position, a pocket passer, along the lines of last year’s MEAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Chris Walley and two years ago in Dennis Brown.
The running game has been good led by freshman Brendan Riddick (62-347-6) and senior Takeem Hedgeman (69-321-1).
While on defense the numbers would indicate that the unit is solid only giving up 281 yards per game, it’s not the same opportunistic defense from last year with only nine turnovers through six games.
The Spartans' turnover ratio is -8 which is next to last in the conference.
Midterm grade: D
Miles (5-1, 4-0) — The Golden Bears started the season off slow with a one-point loss to North Alabama and struggled in a win against Shaw.
After a 44-37 victory over West Georgia in week 3, the Golden Bears have outscored their opponents 119-20 in their last three wins including a 41-6 blowout victory over perennial power Albany State.
Preseason All-SIAC quarterback David Thomas maybe the SIAC’s midterm MVP averaging 253 yards passing per game, completing 65 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for another four touchdowns and averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Running back Jordan Lewis rushed for almost 1,000 yards last year but has been relegated to a backup role because of the play of Floyd Graves who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry with four touchdowns.
The Golden Bears have been solid defensively and are second in the SIAC in fumble recoveries (nine).
Midterm grade: B+
Winston-Salem State (6-0, 3-0) — This Rams team may be better than last year’s team that went 13-1, went all the way to the Division II national semifinals and was named Boxtorow HBCU National Champions.
While there aren’t as many marquee names, quarterback Kameron Smith is THE marquee name.
The Boxtorow preseason All-American is completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,506 yards with 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
He continues to distribute the ball well as 13 receivers have caught at least two passes this year.
Even without All-American running back Nic Cooper, Maurice Lewis has run the ball well, averaging 103 yards per game, 5.7 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, it would seem that the Rams got off to a slow start, but they were playing tough level competition.
The defense has settled down and is holding opponents to less than 14 points per game and 286 yards of total offense per game, led by linebacker Carlos Fields.
Midterm grade: A
Boxtorow National Games of the Week (Yes, there are two to watch this time!):
North Carolina Central (3-2, 2-0) vs. Morgan State (3-2, 2-0)
When the season began if you were to say that Morgan State, North Carolina Central and Howard would be on top of the MEAC, while Norfolk State and South Carolina State would be near the bottom, someone would have thought you were crazy.
But that’s exactly where the Eagles and Bears are.
NCCU is coming off a surprising 40-10 victory over South Carolina State in the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis last week.
The Eagles took advantage of five South Carolina State turnovers.
The Eagles entered the Boxtorow media poll for the first time ever this week at No. 10.
Head coach Henry Frazier has called quarterback Jordan Reid “the man” since coming into the game against Duke after being beat out as the starter to begin the season by transfer Matt Goggans.
In his last two games he has completed 30-of-49 passes for 334 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. Reid has been aided by a strong running game led by Andre Clarke (48-305-7) and Arthur Goforth (61-299-2).
The run defense for the Eagles is tops in the MEAC and they will need it, going up against the Bears, who are ranked third in rushing.
While the Bears place more emphasis on running the football, they may try to exploit the Eagles pass defense which is giving up 223 yards per game.
It’s homecoming in Baltimore and homecoming wins for the Bears over the last 30 years have been few and far between.
Two-straight wins for the Bears have them feeling good. Plus MSU is coming off four-straight road games.
But the Bears have been down this road before, getting off to the fast start and fading late.
A win against the Eagles, coupled with a lighter back stretch of games, could put the Bears at least in the upper echelon of the conference, somewhere they haven’t been in quite sometime.
The Bears running attack is led by Travis Davidson who is averaging 103 yards rushing per game, 5.2 yards per carry and seven touchdowns.
The Bears have gone with two quarterbacks in Seth Higgins and Robert Council. Don’t be surprised if Council plays the entire game against the Eagles. He is completing 54 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while Higgins is completing just 38 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Defensively, MSU is giving up a bunch of yards (464) per game, but part of that is misleading, having played FBS opponents Buffalo and Akron in back-to-back weeks. What is not misleading is that even in the last two victories over North Carolina A&T and Savannah State, the Bears have not been good against the run and they must improve quickly, going up against the 1-2 combination of Clarke and Goforth.
Saint Augustine’s (4-2, 2-1) vs. Winston-Salem State (6-0, 3-0)
Saint Augustine’s has given Winston-Salem State fits over the last couple of years.
In 2010 when the Rams were 6-0 the Falcons tripped them up 40-35 in a shootout in Winston-Salem.
Another loss that year in the last game of the season to Shaw and the Rams finished 8-2 with no postseason.
Last year was a down year for the Falcons yet they gave WSSU all it could handle before falling 35-28.
Where defense has been the staple of the program for 11th year head coach Michael Costa, it’s the offense that is making the most noise.
Quarterback Teddy Bacote is completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,209 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
His leading receiver is Brian Richards who has caught 40 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns.
But Bacote’s big play receiver and one of the most dynamic players in the CIAA is Tyron Laughinghouse. Laughinghouse is this week’s Boxtorow National Player of the Week after catching seven passes for 109 yards and three touchdowns, returning two punts for 59 yards and one kickoff for 37 yards in a 32-27 win over Livingstone.
Not only is he a dangerous receiver who commands a double team, he also averages 50 yards per kick return and 24.4 yards per punt return and has returned three kicks for touchdown this season. The Rams will need to figure out a way to stop him.
On defense the Falcons are trying to get back where they used to be as a top five defense in the country.
They are young, led by junior linebacker Chaz Robinson who has 62 tackles. One of the more interesting and dominant players for the Falcons is defensive end Javarous Faulk.
Faulk, who is deaf, leads the conference with 9.5 sacks and will need to get to Rams quarterback Kameron Smith to get him off rhythm.
Winston-Salem State has been susceptible to the pass this year giving up 194 yards per game.
Their run defense is much better, only yielding 92 yards per game. The Falcons average less than 110 yards rushing per game and they will look to shutdown the Falcons leading rusher Roderick Davenport who averages five yards per carry and has rushed for seven touchdowns.
Offensively, Smith possesses big play weapons in wide receivers Jameze Massey (18.9 yards per reception), Jamal Williams (16.8 yards per reception), Jahuann Butler (18.1 yards per reception), and Tehvyn Brantley (16.0 yards per reception). The four have combined for 82 receptions and 18 touchdowns.
The Rams also like to spread teams out and the Falcons, who have struggled against the pass this year giving up 231 yards per game, will be forced into a lot of nickel coverage.
As deadly as WSSU’s passing game is, its running game is very productive averaging 195 yards per game led by Maurice Lewis’ 103 yards per game.
Something will have to give as the Falcons only allow 82 yards rushing per game.
For all of this week’s games visit www.boxtorow.com/scoreboards
HBCU PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Howard LB Keith Pough, 6-3, 240, r-Sr., Orangeburg, S.C.
17 tackles (12 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the Bison’s 17-10 victory over Florida A&M
Saint Augustine’s WR/RS Tyron Laughinghouse, 6-2, 175, Sr., Greenville, N.C.
Caught seven passes for 109 yards, 3 TDs; two punt returns for 59 yards; one kickoff return for 37 yards in the Falcons 32-27 victory over Livingstone.
Editor's Note: Donal Ware is one of the leading voices in Historically Black College and University football. His Boxtorow.com website, popular articles for such publications as Jet magazine and regular radio shows for such networks as Sirius/XM have given him a high profile in the college and professional sports world.