GREENSBORO — The won-lost record makes Sam Washington nervous.
Because A&T’s football coach is convinced it’s an illusion.
Yes, Norfolk State is just 1-4 (0-1 MEAC), and, yes, No. 16 A&T (1-0, 3-1) will be a heavy favorite when the Aggies travel to Dick Price Stadium for Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff.
But the Spartans have played a tough schedule so far, and they’ve been competitive in three of their four losses.
“Norfolk is one of those scary football teams,” Washington said Monday. “They’re playing very well offensively. Defensively, they’re having some issues. And I hope those issues continue against us.”
Norfolk State comes in off a heartbreaking 30-28 loss at home against Florida A&M.
The Spartans have also lost 24-21 at FBS Old Dominion, and they trailed FCS No. 7 Montana State by a touchdown at halftime in faraway Bozeman before coming apart in the second half and losing 56-21.
“Honestly, I haven’t been able to put my thumb on why (Norfolk hasn’t won its close games). I really don’t know,” Washington said. “They’ve been in every ballgame they’ve played, but somehow the wheels have come off at some point and they’ve lost. Hopefully, we can loosen those wheels early and get’em off completely in the second half.”
The Spartans are a veteran team, with 26 players who have been in the program four or five years.
Juwan Carter, a 6-foot junior quarterback, is in his third year as a starter for Norfolk State’s offense. It’s been a breakthrough season for him.
Carter is 89-for-141 passing (63.1 percent) for league-highs of 1,009 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted five times.
“He’s pretty good on his feet,” A&T All-America cornerback Mac McCain said. “He’s got a pretty good arm. But I’m just going to play my game, do what I do, and make plays. … You’ve got to guard a little bit longer against mobile guys like that. Because they can get out of the pocket and still throw the ball.”
Carter is Norfolk’s second-leading rusher.
But his improved passing has been impressive, spreading the ball among 10 receivers, led by Da’Kendall James (20 catches, 292 yards). Carter finished with 308 passing yards in Saturday’s loss to Florida A&M.
“He can throw the football,” Washington said. “He has put up good numbers, and I’ll tell you what, he’s a lot more poised than he was in the past.
“It used to be he would panic when the pass rush came and take off running. Now, even when he’s scrambling he keeps his eyes downfield and keeps two hands on the football. You can tell someone has been working with this young man on fundamentals. He’s doing those little things right.”
In the backfield, senior running back Gerald Hulett leads Norfolk State in carries, but fast freshman Kevin Johnson has been the big-play threat.
Johnson, a high school All-State sprinter in Virginia, has rushed for a team-high 228 yards on just 25 carries, an average of 9.1 yards.
“The running back, I understand he runs a 10.5 (-second) 100 meters,” Washington said. “… He can run, and he’s had several explosive runs this year. It’s going to be very important we get him corralled and hit him.”
A&T has been successful on the road. Since losing at Richmond in the 2016 FCS Playoffs, the Aggies are 14-1 in road games, the lone loss coming at Duke in the second week of this season.
The Aggies last road loss to a MEAC team was the 2016 regular-season finale at N.C. Central.