At times over the past year, as the offensive unit of Howard University's football team posted incredible numbers each week, a few skeptics wondered what would happen when the dive/option faltered. When that finally happened last weekend at Towson State, the consequences were unpleasant for the Bison.

Howard's 10-game winning streak came to an end, 30-14, as the Bison failed to score at least 27 points for the first time since Sept. 1986. Although the offense was only slowed (319 total yards), not stopped, the loss severely hurt Howard's playoff chances.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion will not receive an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, so even if the Bison (3-1 overall, 2-0 MEAC) win their first-ever MEAC title, they would be unlikely to get an at-large bid if they lose again.

With high-scoring teams such as Virginia State, whom Howard plays host to Saturday at 1 p.m., North Carolina A&T and Delaware State remaining, the Bison know their postseason future could be nonexistent unless their defense tightens. The problem is exaggerated this week against the Trojans (4-1-1), who have averaged 34 points in defeating four straight Division II opponents.

Howard quarterback Lee DeBose has had limited practice this week because of a groin pull and is questionable for Saturday. Sophomore John Javis, who is probably the team's best overall athlete and has been used as a kick returner and wide receiver, has taken most of the snaps in DeBose's place.

Howard, which scored 42 points per game during its winning streak, has allowed an average of 34 points in its past three games. Although it has been adequate against the run, a feeble pass rush has turned teams that rely on their running into passing phenoms.

"It's been a tough situation where we have to hold {opponents} in situations, and we don't hold them," said senior linebacker Marvin Jackson. "There may come a time when the defense will have to carry the team. We know we can't let the offense keep carrying the load."

The Bison are allowing 264 yards passing per game. Towson State redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Goetz threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, often with time to find receivers who were third options on a play.

Problems could increase because nose tackle Billy Dores (sprained ankle) and tackle Eric Moore (bruised knee) are doubtful for Saturday.

"I think the defense is getting better, but we need someone with some speed to help our pass rush," said defensive coordinator Ben Blacknall. "I don't like to blitz down after down because we don't have the type of man-to-man coverage you need in the secondary to do that. We are going to continue what we are doing, but we will also continue to try and fake the blitz."

Jackson, however, said the changing looks may actually have hurt the Bison more than opponents.

"You try to think about your adjustments so much, it's sometimes hard to go all out," he said. "I think what we should do is take more chances and gamble in situations. We haven't tried much of that. We need something to get us excited on defense. I think what would help us most is to play football by just going out and hitting some people."