ORANGEBURG — After the worst season of his coaching career, South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough looked to his team’s recent past to improve its future.
The Bulldogs had gone 29-8 and won three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles from 2008 to 2010. The team’s fallen off the past two seasons, the Bulldogs finishing 5-6 last fall for the first losing season in Pough’s 11 seasons in charge.
“There is some change from last year and that’s generally what you see when you go through a year like we did,” Pough said.
Pough acknowledged the offense struggled to move the ball the past two seasons, in large part due to a lack of consistency running the ball. Top rusher Jalen Simmons had just 512 yards and four touchdowns. So Pough re-hired his offensive coordinator from that successful stretch in Joe Blackwell, who left in 2009 after the second of South Carolina State’s three conference titles and NCAA playoff appearances.
Blackwell says he’ll get the Bulldogs back to the business of strong running, although, who’ll get the call is still up for grabs. Simmons is out with an injury with no timetable for his return, meaning South Carolina State will have to lean heavily on fifth-year senior quarterback Richard Cue.
Who’s carrying the ball?
Blackwell says South Carolina State hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since FCS All-American Will Ford left the program as the school’s all-time leading ground-gainer in 2009. Right now, junior Julius Pendegrass is the leading candidate to take over, although the coaches have high hopes that Kentucky transfer Justin Taylor can give the Bulldogs the lift it needs in the backfield.
South Carolina State has 10 projected starters who are sophomores or freshmen. The youngest group may be the offensive line where center Tristan Bellamy is the only upperclassman on the team’s two-deep lineup along the offensive front. The secondary also has youth issues with a freshman and a sophomore listed as starters.
Blackwell, who’ll coach the offensive line along with running the offense, wasn’t the only new hire for Pough and South Carolina State. Steve Bird takes over the receivers and the special teams. John Williams was hired as strength and conditioning coach.
Linebacker Joe Thomas was the Bulldogs best defender a year ago when an injury cost him the team’s last six games. The senior is back and healthy and says he’s ready to cause more havoc in the middle.
A year ago, the Bulldogs travelled to FBS powers Arizona and Texas A&M where they were beaten up and lost by a combined 126-14 score. This season’s nonconference games are either at home (Coastal Carolina, Alabama A&M) or within the state (Clemson, Division II Benedict in Columbia), a much less grueling road for South Carolina State.
Second in the 11-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
This is part of a series previewing the football season for smaller South Carolina colleges.
• AUG. 20 – Coastal Carolina
• AUG. 21 – Charleston Southern
• AUG. 22 – The Citadel
• AUG. 23 – Furman
• AUG. 24 – Presbyterian
• TODAY – South Carolina State
• MONDAY – Wofford