Last season, Howard tailback Andrew Kelly led his team in rushing with 513 yards, nearly one-third of the team's total. He averaged 5.3 yards per carry, had a long run of 48 yards and scored twice.
But it was the junior's courage, hustle and overall ability demonstrated during a disastrous 1-9 season that impressed this season's first-year Coach Willie Jeffries. More of the same was expected of Kelly working with Jeffries' new option offense.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Jeffries hasn't blamed Kelly for the team's lack of offense. Nor is Kelly accepting more than his share of the blame.
"We expected to net close to 400 yards in total offense each game. Instead, we have that much in two games (both losses)," Jeffries said. "Andrew is just one of the players we expect to carry our running game. I don't think he had one of his better games (against Hampton) but he played much better than he did the week before. I'm not about to lay blame on him or any of the backs. It's the entire unit that isn't executing."
In its 31-21 season-opening loss at Rhode Island, Howard rushed for 197 yards, much of it in the second half after the Rams built a big lead. Last week, the Bison rushed for 116 yards and lost to Hampton Institute, 13-7.
Kelly is the leading ground gainer with 97 yards on 22 carries but has a long gain of only 16 yards and has fumbled three times. The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from Jersey City, N.J., admits he's adjusting to the new offense.
"Coach Jeffries' new system isn't confusing but last year, I ran the ball a lot more," Kelly said. "I don't think it's so much I'm off to a slow start. It's the whole team. We have a lot of freshmen and other players who have little experience playing and several key players are also playing hurt. That has hurt our consistency."
The key injury is to senior quarterback Brian Sloan. Sloan, a fine runner suited for Jeffries' pitch-and-run offense, suffered bruised ribs in the first quarter of the first game and has played sparingly since. Freshman Leon Brown, a better passer than runner, has stepped in but the passing game has been ineffective. Howard has completed 14 of 47 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions.
"We've been terrible throwing the ball," Jeffries said. "We hadn't expected to throw as much but our running game hasn't progressed to the point where we can control the ball yet. Our players know what to do, our execution and technique has been poor. But all that is correctable."
Jeffries is hopeful his team executes better this week. If not, the Bison could be in trouble against a strong Bethune-Cookman team. Coached by former Miami Dolphins guard Larry Little, Bethune-Cookman was the only team to lose to Howard last year and would like to extend the Bison's nine-game losing streak.
Bethune-Cookman, one of the cofavorites to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, opened with a 43-22 victory over Central Florida. Like Hampton, the Wildcats are a run-oriented team.
"Bethune is a big, fast team and we would like to have gone in this game after a good performance," Jeffries said. "We thought we would have won the first two before meeting Bethune and South Carolina State (Sept. 22). We don't plan any major changes, just hope we can execute a little better."
Jeffries said Sloan should start against the visiting Wildcats. Defensive linemen Robert Sellers, who incurred a hip pointer last week, and Ken Carney (groin pull, sprained ankle) will also probably play.