ORANGEBURG, S.C. -- Since Congress okayed the 65 mph speed limit in the spring, this rural community about 60 miles from Columbia became about 15 minutes closer to the state capital. The traffic that routinely used to cruise at 60 now blows past at more than 75 on Route I-26.

Not much else changes in Orangeburg, including the fact that the South Carolina State football team belongs to the community of 18,000 as much as it does to the 4,000 full-time students.

When you are associated with the winning football team, expect to take an extra half-hour for lunch at Quincy's Steak House because everyone is going to stop by your table to analyze last week's victory and talk about the upcoming one.

If the record is a losing one -- which has happened four times in the past 25 years -- the smart coaches carry a bag lunch.

After Bill Davis, a most likable man, followed five straight seasons of seven victories or more with seasons of 4-6-1 and 5-6, he was asked to leave before the situation caused further chaos for the school administration. His successor, second-year Coach Dennis Thomas, knows the situation.

Davis' predecessor was Willie Jeffries, whose 50-13-4 record in six seasons (1973-78) at his alma mater made him a legend here. Since his second season coaching here, another thing has not changed: The Bulldogs have not lost a football game to Howard University.

The Bison, who have won a school record nine straight games since losing to South Carolina State, 44-23, last year, will try to end the streak of 13 consecutive failures against their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponent Saturday at Greene Stadium.

Members of the Howard football team have thought about this game for 51 weeks, as they usually do after suffering what has been more of an annual embarrassment than simply a loss. The Bulldogs have shut out Howard six times and won by an average of 20 points during the streak.

With such rivals as Furman, Grambling and Bethune-Cookman on its schedule, South Carolina State traditionally has looked at Howard in a manner much different than Howard views South Carolina State.

"Last year, I wasn't surprised how easily we won," said Bulldogs senior Dwayne Harper, an all-MEAC first team cornerback. "Howard has never been a tough game for us. It was always a game we looked at to pick up your stats -- get some yards and/or some interceptions for yourself."

This year, the Bulldogs swear they are taking the game more seriously. Howard, coming off a 58-51 victory at Bethune-Cookman, leads NCAA Division I-AA in scoring (51.5 points per game), total offense and rushing offense. Tailback Harvey Reed leads the country in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yards. Lee DeBose is the No. 1-ranked efficiency passer.

"Playing against Howard is like playing against Superman," said Thomas. "You have speed in people like Reed, who can fly, and on the flank Curtis Chappell can do the same thing. Then you have those elephants they have on the offensive and defensive lines with all that strength and size."

Thomas, 33, is a defensive specialist. At Alcorn State, he came up with a defensive game plan that slowed Mississippi Valley State, the most prolific offensive team in I-AA history, enough for Alcorn to pull off a 41-28 upset.

"Howard's offense reminds me of Mississippi Valley State," said Thomas. "Except, instead of Willie Totten passing and Jerry Rice catching them, Howard has Reed, DeBose and that fullback {Ronnie} Epps running at you."

Thomas, however, is too confident in his coaching ability to think there is an offense he could not control. The Bulldogs' past success over Howard is his major concern.

"All of those Howard kids have been there three or four years," he said, "and they've been beaten by South Carolina State every time. They have to have revenge on their minds. They probably felt that way in other years, but the difference this time is that they finally have the talent."

Jeffries was almost lured back to Orangeburg two years ago, but, after a week of considering the atmosphere in which Davis left, he declined the overtures.

At that time, Jeffries' teams at Howard had totaled six victories in two seasons. The difference in pressure between the Northwest D.C. school and Orangeburg is that, when you lose at Howard, people don't complain; they just ignore you.

"The people down there always used to get on us about our offense," said Jeffries. "This policeman asked me why I didn't watch the way Tom Landry uses all those new plays with the Cowboys. I just asked him why he didn't go watch Dick Tracy so he could catch some crooks."

Jeffries has tried to downplay any personal significance of Saturday's game, but his players are willing to say what he will not.

"We all want to win this game for Coach Jeffries," said defensive tackle Eric Moore. "This is our chance to do something for him after all the nice things he has done for us. He would never say anything about how bad he wants to win, but we haven't beaten them in 13 years and, in the three years we have been here, you could see the anguish in his face when the game was over.

"This game is touching him more than any other. He has been tense all week. If they beat us, to all their fans, it will mean they beat Willie J., and we don't want to let that happen to him again."