Last year, the South Carolina State Bulldogs routed the Howard Bison could have fielded a better defense using volunteers from the stands of Bulldog Stadium.
In that game, South Carolina State compiled 24 first downs, 310 yards rushing and 200 passing with only seven completions. It was too bad that somebody on the Howard side of the field didn't wave a white flag.
But that was last year.
The current Bison team is stronger, faster and more agile on defense, largely because of Coach Floyd Keith's strenuous off-season conditioning program and his insistence that players take seriously a weightlifting program. pNeither South Carolina State, nor any other team in the Bison's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is likely to score 55 points on Howard this season.
The defensive unit showed how much it has improved the last two weeks by allowing just one touchdown each to West Virginia State (19-6 win) and powerfurl Bethune-Cookman (13-13 tie) at Howard Stadium Saturday. wMany of those closely associated with the team are very surprised that the Bison enter Saturday's 7:30 p.m. game in Orangeburg without a loss.
The Bulldogs, 3-0 and second in the NAIA poll, are among the favorite in the MEAC, having most of their players back from a 7-2 second-place team last year. They are still probably a touchdown to 10 points better than Howard on paper, but a repeat of last year's game seems a remote possibility.
The Bison now believe they know how to win, having come from behind in the fourth quarter to fight off losses the first two games. The offense performed admirably, but the defense was responsible for keeping the team with-in striking distance both times.
Especially impressive have been senior defensive ends Larry Hamilton (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) and Kenneth Pimpton (6-1, 220). Both are finally getting comfortable with Keith's defensive system which requires them to play either side of the field. Pimpton, an academic all-America selection last season, almost singlehandedly stopped Bethune-Cookman rusher three straight times inside the five-yard line last week, forcing the Wildcats to settle for a field goal.
The "52" defense (five down lineman, two linebackers) puts extra pressure on Danny Williams, a 240-pound converted offensive tackle, and Corky McCorkle. But both have played better than adequately thus far.
The biggest improvement in the Bison defense has come at defensive back where Doug Jones and Jimmy Diggs experienced a brutal baptism as freshmen starters last year. Diggs was burned for a touchdown on a long pass play against West Virginia State but made several key plays in the Cookman game.
Still, the way to beat Howard is through the air. Both touchdowns against it have come on long passes and the Bison seem vulnerable at times to the big play.
And big plays are the Bulldogs' specialty. Tailback Chris Ragland rushed for 1,301 yards last season. In last year's Howard game, he gained more than 150 yards and ran for four touchdowns, including romps of 17 and 53 yards. The presence of speedy receivers Charlie and Marion Brown (900 yards and nine touchdowns between them last year) makes Ragland even more dangerous to break off the long run the Bison secondary may have trouble defending.