Despite watching his highly touted football team come apart at the seams, Howard University head coach Doug Porter remains on optimist.
The Bison (24), drubbed by North Carolina A&T, 34-10, last week, will put an injury-depleted unit on the field at Howard Stadium at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against much-improved Hampton Institute (5.2)
"When you're not winning some intensity is lost," said Porter. "Our defense is not playing as well as it was early in the season. Most of the problem is that they have been forced to play too long. They need a good effort against Hampton."
The defensive unit has been victimized for 252.8 yards per game.
The Bison will be tested again by the Pirates, who are anxious to tie the 66-year-old series. Howard leads, 32-31-1. Howard has won the last eight meetings, including a 28-7 triumph in 1976.
Hampton has downplayed its running game, but its air attack, with senior Russ Seaton pulling the trigger some 30 times per game, figures to give Howard trouble. Seaton has completed 80 of 181 passes for 1.041 yards and 15 touchdowns. He top receiver is Reggie Midgett, who has caught 24 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns.
This game also will snap at least one streak. Porter has not lost to a Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association team since came to Howard four seasons ago, while Hampton has won 10 straight road games. Private coach Walter Lovett has defeated every team he has faced at least once, except Howard.
What concerns Porter more than the streaks in the condition of his offensive line. Two players quit early in the season, two are out for the year with injuries and another (Michael Tarver) is questionable for Saturday because of injury.
"We just don't have anybody left. It's touch and go right now," said Porter. "We have converted a defensive linerman in case we need him."
Porter is hoping for a good performances from quarterback Brian Thomas. Although the sophomore is the MEAC leader in passing (24 of 59. 336 yards and two TDs), he has been inconsistent. Howard is averaging only 254 yards total offense per game and has committed 27 turnovers, 17 of them interceptions off Thomas and Ronald Wilson.
The running game has been poor the last few outings. James Breakfield, the school's top career rusher, has been plagued with nagging injuries all year and has only 283 yards. The longest run from scrimmage has been 16 yards and that was accomplished twice by substitutes.
"We just need better production from the people who are playing," said Porter. "We haven't given up on the season but we still have a big challenge ahead of us."