Sports

After worst MEAC loss in three years, NCCU has to prepare for “juggernaut” in Howard

North Carolina Central head coach Granville Eastman said that Howard University, led by quarterback Caylin Newton, is a juggernaut. The Eagles host the Bison Saturday at 2 pm.
North Carolina Central head coach Granville Eastman said that Howard University, led by quarterback Caylin Newton, is a juggernaut. The Eagles host the Bison Saturday at 2 pm. NCCU Athletics

After an embarrassing 55-14 home loss to Florida A&M, North Carolina Central (1-3, 0-1) head coach Granville Eastman couldn’t sleep without watching the game film.

That’s not an unusual practice for Eastman, who says he always does that after a game, win, lose or draw, but this particularly game was tough to stomach for Eastman, who watched his defense give up 55 points for the second consecutive week.

In 2013 South Carolina State came into O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium and defeated the Eagles 44-3. The next season North Carolina Central won the first of three consecutive MEAC titles, so it’s been a long time since the team, and the fans, have had to sit down and experience such a humbling defeat.

“I’m really getting tired of apologizing to our fans for not playing up to our expectations and what we are capable off, but that’s what it was,” Eastman said.”Really for the first time since I’ve been here we were not able to respond versus adversity in the way that we’ve been known too and been used to.”

The Rattlers jumped out to a 41-7 halftime lead in a game that was really over after the first quarter. The Eagles surrendered 509 yards to FAMU and only picked up 11 first downs. They also had a punt blocked that was recovered for a score, driving home Eastman’s point that they were beaten in all three phases of the game. Eastman admitted there was a sense of shock throughout the locker room after the game, some of that carrying over to Sunday’s practice. That, however, can’t linger into Saturday (2 pm, ESPN3) when Caylin Newton and Howard (1-2, 1-0) come to town.

Newton, the younger brother of Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton, leads the MEAC in total offense (357.7 yards per game, second in FCS) and passing (299.7 ypg). The Bison average 480.3 yards of total offense, which tops the MEAC, including a conference-high 330.0 passing yards per contest.

“They’re a juggernaut,” Eastman said. “I can’t say it any other way.”

That juggernaut is led by the sophomore Newton, who threw for 329 yards last season against NCCU, a game the Eagles won 13-7 in D.C. This year, a year older, Eastman has seen on film a more polished passer, who is less likely to take off and run at the first sign of trouble.

“I mean Caylin Newton has grown so much,” Eastman said. “We thought, in all honesty, that he had problems throwing the ball from the pocket last year. When you look at the film (this year) there aren’t any issues with that. It’s a lot more clean, a lot more crisp. His targets have gotten better, less drops. When I say juggernaut, I just don’t mean that I am throwing fluff, it’s what they are doing.”

The biggest concern is not Howard, but what’s going on with the Eagles. Eastman said he’s asked each member of the program to look inward and ask themselves what they can do better. He added they’ve scaled back some concepts so the guys can play fast, hoping it cuts back some of the mistakes on the field. He also has to be honest with his team, saying he will let them know exactly where they stand, and how that won’t work if they hope to get back in the hunt for a MEAC title.

NCCU is last in the league in total defense (503.0 yards per game) and second to last in rushing defense (265.5). Offensively, the Eagles are only rushing for 124.5 yards per game. Eastman, who was the defensive coordinator the previous three seasons, still calls the defense along with his head coaching responsibilities. Eastman said there have been challenges being the head coach and the defensive coordinator, but even with his unit giving up 41 points per game, he said he didn’t see himself surrendering the coordinator position this season.

For now, the task at hand is steering the ship back on course and making sure what happened last Saturday, doesn’t linger over to this weekend.

“Like all experiences, good, bad, other, we have to learn from it, grow and build on it,” Eastman said.

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