After a hard fought 12-9 road victory over Tennessee State last Sunday, the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats return to the friendly confines of Municipal Stadium to take on the Virginia Union Panthers in today’s home opener.
Like Tenn State, Virginia Union will field a bevy of Floridians (19 are listed on VUU’s roster including 5 from Sanford Seminole) who would love nothing more than to shock the HBCU sports world by upsetting the top ranked team in black college football. But unlike TSU, Virginia Union, who competes in Division II, does not stand much of a chance in pulling off the upset against Brian Jenkins’ club.
The Panthers finished 5-5 overall and 3-4 in the CIAA a season ago. VUU was predicted to finish 8th in their conference heading into this season; they can offer just over half the number of scholarships as BCU (NCAA rules limit full football scholarships to 36 for D2 institutions; as compared to 63 for FCS programs); and today’s game is VUU’s season opener. All signs suggest this should be a decisive BCU win. But hey, its football and you still have to line-up and play the game.
In fact, Wildcat fans should well remember the last time a CIAA team visited Daytona Beach (in 2009) the Shaw Bears forced 7 BCU turnovers and may have helped seal the fate of then head coach Alvin Wyatt Sr. as the Bears defeated the Wildcats 20-6. We expect no such recurrence today. The Wildcats are simply too big, too strong, too fast and they should have no problems imposing their will on the out-manned Panthers.
Look for the BCU running game, led by senior Isidore Jackson, to have a huge day. Jackson is now less than 400 yards away from becoming Bethune-Cookman’s all-time leading rusher. Senior wide out Eddie Poole will look to continue his consecutive game pass-catching streak. No word yet on who will start under center for BCU but expect to see multiple signal callers during the course of today’s action.
Defensively, linebacker Jarkevis Fields and defensive end LeBrandon Richardson paced the Cats with 10 tackles apiece last week. Defensive tackle Tevin Toney proved to be a disruptive force in the interior adding 7 tackles of his own including 2 tackles-for-loss. The Wildcat defense should have little trouble in establishing a new line of scrimmage and pressuring the VUU attack.
Hidden Yards Kudos
Perhaps an “under the radar” bright spot from last week’s contest were the BCU return units. Freshman kick returner Darian Baker averaged 35.5 yards per kick return (long of 41) and Preston Cleckley averaged over 20 yards per punt return (long of 34) in last week’s matchup. It was a small sampling but so far, so good in the all-important “hidden yards” department. Another “hidden yards” category in which BCU thrived in week one was the penalty department. The Wildcats limited themselves to just 5 penalties for 35 yards. Let’s hope BCU continue to show improvement in these “hidden yards” categories in this game and throughout the course of the season.
We have been hearing great things about BCU’s new and improved cheerleading squad. The cheer squad is now under the direction of Becky and John Woodson and will consist of 30 members and 4 alternates. The Wildcat cheer squad recently collected a second place finish in ‘fight song cheer’, fourth place finish in ‘sideline cheer’, and were 4th overall in the Universal Cheerleaders Association (UCA) camp in Philadelphia. We are looking forward to seeing the results of the hard work and dedication of the revamped cheer squad.
We are also excited to see the new, more energized and better organized student-led cheer section known as the “Wildcat Crazies”. Face-paint, body suits, and organized pandemonium, let’s see what you Crazy-Cats have in store for us this season.
In the spirit of Bethune-Cookman’s legacy of faith…THANK YOU JESUS IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON.
In less than 36 hours, the 2013 edition of the Fighting Wildcats will square off against Tennessee State in one of the most anticipated matchups of the HBCU season. BCU will look to jumpstart its season and proclaim to the HBCU and FCS football world that they are worthy of the preseason hype.
When the Wildcats are on Defense
BCU return 7 starters to a defensive unit that led the nation in turnovers and ranked 7th nationally in Total Defense a season ago. Among those expected to impact Sunday’s contest are 2013 MEAC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year linebacker Jarkevis Fields (103 tackles, 4 BU, 4 PD); All-American defensive end LeBrandon Richardson (53 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 13 TFL); and All-American safety Nick Addison (68 tackles, 4 INT, 7 BU, 11 PD). The Wildcat D will look to make the Tennessee State offense, who will be without starting quarterback Michael German (suspension), one-dimensional. Redshirt freshman and Tallahassee native Ronald Butler has been named as German’s replacement.
Butler will take snaps behind an experienced offensive line which includes All-OVC left guard Kadeem Edwards and All-American tight-end and former University of Florida signee A.C. Leonard. New Smyrna High School product Telvin Hooks is expected to take over the starting running back duties for Tenn. State. In a twist of irony, Tennessee State’s key offensive starters are all native Floridians: Butler (QB-Tallahassee), Edwards (OL-Sanford), Leonard (TE-Jacksonville), Hooks (New Smyrna Beach).
Key Matchup #1: BCU’s Front Seven vs. TSU’s running game
The football adage suggests great defenses take away something from the opposing offense. Can Yogi Jones’ defensive front seven control the TSU running game and force redshirt freshman quarterback Ronald Butler to beat them with his arm?
Key Matchup #2: Nick Addison vs. A.C. Leonard
BCU’s All-American safety Nick Addison and Tenn. State’s All-American tight end A.C. Leonard are sure to lock horns throughout this contest. Conventional wisdom suggests Leonard will be the primary pass receiving option for TSU’s young quarterback. On the second play of last year’s contest, Leonard’s 80 catch and run setup TSU’s first score. BCU defenders, Addison chief among them, must account for Leonard in the passing game and limit his big play ability.
When the Wildcats are on Offense
MEAC Preseason Co-Offensive Player of the Year Isidore Jackson has gained more rushing yards than any running back in BCU history. Jackson’s 2,449 career rushing yards only trails Allen Suber and Pa’Tell Troutman (both of whom were option quarterbacks) on the school’s all-time rushing list. Jackson is expected to be joined in the backfield by Anthony Jordan. The one-two punch of Jackson and Jordan provides the Wildcats with great mix of physicality and elusiveness in their rushing attack.
BCU’s two depth chart, released earlier this week, did not clearly reveal who will start the game under center. The starting quarterback for this contest was listed as Quentin Williams –or- Brock Waters –or- Jackie Wilson. Expect two (if not all three) of the aforementioned quarterbacks to see the field in some capacity on Sunday. Quentin Williams ended last season with the best numbers statistically (1163 yards on 85 of 142 attempts, 11 TDs, 2 INTs—445 yards rushing, 3 rushing TDs), however, it appears that both Wilson and Waters have had good preseason practices and have earned the right to be considered for the top position on the depth chart along with Williams.
Eddie Poole returns on the outside for what will be his 6th year of eligibility. Poole, who was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, has caught a pass in every game of his BCU playing career (35). The former Rutgers man will look to extend his consecutive game pass catching streak and take advantage of the single coverage he is sure to see during stretches on Sunday. Preston Cleckly, Jhomo Gordon, and Justin Henderson will also have opportunities to make an impact in the passing game.
Perhaps the most important unit to watch during Sunday’s contest is the Bethune-Cookman offensive line. All-MEAC performer Alex Monroe will look to anchor a unit featuring at least 3 new starters.
Tennessee State’s defense was tops in the OVC and returns all 11 starters from a season ago. Top performers returning to the Tiger defense include All-OVC performers Stephen Godbolt (CB), Daniel Fitzpatrick (safety), and Nick Thrasher (LB).
Key Matchups #1: BCU offensive line vs. Tenn. State’s blitz package
TSU simply did not respect BCU’s passing game during last season’s meeting. The Tiger’s loaded the box and run blitzed the Wildcats for the better part of 4 quarters. Will the young BCU offensive line gel quick enough to create seams for the running game and protection in the passing game?
Key Matchup #2: Eddie Poole vs. Stephen Godbolt
This is a matchup of two of the best athletes and players at their respective positions in all of HBCU football. The winner of this individual matchup may very well dictate their respective team’s play-calling ability throughout this contest.
- Bethune-Cookman and Tennessee State played annually from 1982-1987 with TSU winning 5 of the 6 contests. The series was revived in 2012 and played before a near capacity crowd in Daytona Beach. TSU defeated the Wildcats 21-14 in last year’s contest to improve their series advantage to 6 games to 1. Bethune-Cookman’s lone victory against TSU occurred the last time the two teams faced off in Nashville in a 16-13 Wildcat win (1987). Although TSU holds a decisive head-to-head advantage, the series has been very competitive with 5 of the 7 matchups being decided by 7 points or less.
- Isidore Jackson is just 449 yards away from becoming Bethune-Cookman’s all-time leading rusher.
- The Marching Wildcats will be in attendance.
- Kickoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM (EST). The game can be viewed live on ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app; click here for link http://es.pn/BCUvsTNST.
- Fans who plan to attend should familiarize themselves with LP Field’s Game Day Bag Policy Information.
Now before you close your web browsers and dismiss this as just more internet hype (and it could very well be just that), consider that at least two Louisiana Television outlets believe that Bethune-Cookman could be the landing spot for 2011 Heisman Finalist and National Defensive Player of the Year, Tyrann Mathieu, affectionately known as ‘The Honey Badger’. Mathieu was dismissed from the LSU football team earlier this week by Coach Les Miles for violating team policies.
Television affiliates WLOX and WAFB (both of Louisiana) are reporting that Mathieu is likely to transfer to an FCS school so he can play this season. Among the schools listed as likely landing spots is Bethune-Cookman where former LSU assistant coaches Earl Lane and DJ McCarthy are currently on staff.
In addition to the natural connections with Lane and McCarthy, BCU also offers Mathieu an opportunity to play for an FCS school with a recent history of producing Pro Bowl caliber defensive backs (i.e. Nick Collins formerly of the Green Bay Packers and Rashen Mathis of the Jacksonville Jaguars).
McNeese State, Nicholls State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Grambling State have also been mentioned as potential landing spots for the junior defensive back.
I am not certain if The Honey Badger himself knows for sure where he’ll be playing football this season at this moment, but I do know that Wildcat fans will be glued to this story until he makes his intentions known.