Sports

No panic as 0-2 NC Central heads to Gardner-Webb

Of course Trei Oliver doesn’t want his NC Central team to be 0-2 after two games, but sometimes that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The Eagles haven’t exactly soared out the gates, falling on the road to Austin Peay in week one and at Towson last Saturday. NCCU has been outscored 83-13 so far this season, and even though Oliver said he saw improvement from week one to week two, the Eagles have struggled to score touchdowns.

“It’s hard to beat people like that,” Oliver told the media during his weekly press conference.

Something has to give in Boiling Springs this weekend when NCCU plays Gardner-Webb. The Bulldogs have an identical 0-2 record after falling to ECU last weekend, 48-9, which means one team will be celebrating their first win on Saturday.

NC Central hasn’t started a season 0-3 since 2009, when it started the year on a six-game losing streak. While Oliver obviously wanted the first two weeks to result in wins, the first-year head coach isn’t breaking the emergency glass just yet.

“By no stretch are we panicking around here,” Oliver said. “We don’t want to be 0-2, but I like the growth I’ve seen and I like their attitude. We don’t talk about wins and loses, we talk about improvement. From day one we challenged our guys about getting better week in and week out.”

THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT 0-2

There is a bright side to an 0-2 start. If Eagles’ fans need a brief history lesson, the last time NCCU started the season with two straight losses was 2016. The Eagles started that season with road loses at Duke and Western Michigan, then won nine in a row to capture an outright MEAC title and earn a trip to the Celebration Bowl.

If NCCU needs a positive, look no further than three seasons ago for motivation.

Even better news, the last time the Eagles played Gardner-Webb (2017), they defeated the Bulldogs, 24-17.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

For the third consecutive week NCCU will gas up the bus and hit the road for a game. The last time the Eagles started the season with three consecutive true road games, and not a neutral site, was 1925. The team only played five games that year, all on the road. In 1996 the team played four games away from home to start the year, but two of the games were played at neutral fields.

Including the trip this weekend, NCCU will have logged 2,142 combined miles before they get to play a home game. That can’t make life easy for a young team with 37 true freshmen.

“Yeah, but we knew the schedule going in,” Oliver said. “We don’t make excuses and we don’t have an explanation. We knew the schedule three months ago and it’s our job, my job as a head coach, to get these guys ready to play three games on the road.”

LOW SCORING

Scoring 13 points in two games is cause for concern for a team that returns so much experience at the skill positions.

That’s the lowest two-game point total to start the season since 1991, when the Eagles totaled 14 points in consecutive loses to North Carolina A&T and Elon. But Oliver has a remedy to get it corrected moving forward.

“I think we are going to simplify some things and really work to work matchups,” Oliver said. “We have a good plan coming into this game this week, and we’ll simplify some things and get our playmakers the ball.”

All-MEAC running back Isaiah Totten had 14 carries against Towson, up from eight the previous week against Austin-Peay. Oliver mentioned matchups he needs to work, which should put the ball in the hands of his most experienced group on offense, the wide receivers.

Junior wide receiver E.J. Hicks, who missed the first game, had one catch versus Towson, but only played 12 snaps, according to Oliver. Veteran wide receivers Daeshawn Stephens and Xavier McKoy only have a combined six catches through two games.

IMPROVEMENT ACROSS THE BOARD

Oliver was asked about quarterback play specifically, but stressed the team needs to improve at every position, not just the quarterback.

However, through two games, and really dating back to the end of the 2016 season, the team has yet to settle on one guy since Malcolm Bell last took a snap.

Micah Zanders started his third straight game, but left the game with an injury, paving the way for freshman Davius Richard. In his first college game, Richard completed 10 of 23 passes for 109 yards.

“He did a good job managing the game,” Oliver said. “He was mild mannered, didn’t get excited, was as calm as can be and I thought the team did a good job rallying around him. I thought he made some good throws. I think when we get the run game going, like we know it can do, that’ll help take some pressure off the quarterback.”

Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.
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