The fundamental football truth says Howard University Coach Floyd Keith, is that a team will not win without mastering the funamentals.
Keith, after watching his team drop four of its last five games, embarked on a back-to-basic program this week in preparation for Saturday's home contest against Hampton Institute.
"Blocking and tackling -- that's the bottom line," Keith said yesterday. "If you don't do that well, it doesn't matter what else you work on. You win the game in the trenches."
To that end, Keith is conducting daily scrimmages.
Lately, Howard has lost games by not running well, not passing well and not defending well. Last week's 29-3 loss at North Caroling A&T was its first shutout of the season.
"We've been brillian at times," Keith said. "It's never one person when we do something wrong. It's a breakdown here or there. Our secondary isn't always to blame for our pass defense. Sometimes there's not enough pressure."
Keith continually cites youth as team's biggest liability. Of 66 players, 41 are freshmen or Florida A&M, the defending Division I-AA champion, Keith said, is inexperience.
To get back to the .500 level this week, the Bison must recharge their offense, especially the running attack. Despite steady performances from fullback Ray Cryer, the Bison are averaging only 3.1 yards per carry and 135.5 yards rushing per game.
Against North Carolina A&T, Howard gained five yards in 40 carries. But Keith said he planned no changes in his offense.
Throughout the Howard slump, one offensive constant has been the breakaway threat of kick returner-receiver Greg Scott, a fleet, 6-foot-1, 180-pound senior.
Scott's 24.2-yard average on kickoffs ranks him fifth in I-AA. He was caught 11 passes for 277 yards, a 25.1-yard average. Last week, while his teammates were being buried by A&T, Scott grabbed five passes for 73 yards.
"He's one of the best of the country in Division I-AA," Keith said. "He can shift well, has good speed and is a gusty runner. A lot of people are afraid of him.
"He's lived in the shadow of a few people in the past," Keith added. "It's hard to understand how he didin't start then. He's just too good."
Scott played behind Bison all-time reception leader Steve Wilson, now with the Dallas Cowboys the last two seasons and caught only five passes his junior year.
Aside from Scott, Keith said, tight end Fitz Fowler (five catches last week) and the other receivers have been grading well. The offensive line, however, has more work to do on Keith's basics.
Saturday, when the Bison try to get off a good start on the ground, they will be faced with the massive presence of Hampton defensive tackle Ernie White (6-8, 302). White singlehandedly has smothered 36 ball carriers and assisted on 36 other tackles this season.
Meanwhile, Howard's defense will have to stop halfback Anthony Davis, averaging more than 100 yards rushing per contest since he gained a starting position.
Despite the recent woes, Keith remains quietly optimistic.
"You have to face adversity throughout a campaign," he said. "We'll be all right. You have to come back after a loss. That's the secret to this game."
Keith said quarterback Ronald Wilson, out with an ankle injury last week, sould be able to play But it's "up in the air" if Wilson or reserve Brian Thomas will start . . . Cornerback Bob Sowell is questionable with a bad arm . . . Linebacker Scott Facyson leads the Bison with 29 tackles and 75 asists . . . Hampton, 2-6, has lost four straight, with a 37-0 defeat to Virginia State last week. Virginia State beat Howard, 17-15, two weeks ago.