GREENSBORO — It’s a trap.
With three weeks left in the regular season, N.C. A&T has important home games looming with fellow front-runner Bethune-Cookman and archrival N.C. Central.
But first comes a classic “trap game” as the No. 15 Aggies (4-1 MEAC, 6-2) play their final road game of the season at Morgan State (1-5, 1-8) in Baltimore at 1 p.m. Saturday.
A&T will be the heavy favorite against Morgan, which is losing games by an average score of 35-14. But if they look ahead to the potential first-place showdown with Bethune-Cookman (4-1, 6-2), well, that’s why this week’s game is a trap.
Three things to know about this one …
Morgan State has won seven of its last 10 games against A&T. The Bears are 3-3 against the Aggies since 2011 — the Rod Broadway/Sam Washington era — including a 16-13 victory last season in Greensboro that snapped A&T’s 15-game winning streak.
“We haven’t forgotten that,” A&T coach Washington said. “We’re aware of it, and we’re looking for redemption.”
Morgan came into that game 0-3, but kicker Alex Raya made field goals of 40, 51 and then 36 yards at the final horn for the win.
“We’ve got to approach them way we would any other team,” A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin said. “Last year, we took them lightly. We did. And we lost. So we know we can’t go in thinking, ‘Oh, they’re 1-8 and this is easy.’ Because everybody is going to play their best football against us. We have to keep our heads straight and grind.”
Morgan finished last season just 4-7, then replaced interim coach Ernest Jones with former Michigan star Tyrone Wheatley.
“That’s the best 1-8 football team I’ve ever seen,” A&T coach Washington said. “I mean that sincerely. I don’t know why they haven’t won more games. They’re very physical. They know what they’re doing. They have some receivers who can get vertical. They have a quarterback who can get the ball to them. Their running game is solid.
“They’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. Those are the types of football teams that normally win games. I don’t get it.”
2. Pass defense
A&T leads the MEAC and ranks fifth among the nation’s 124 FCS teams in rushing defense, allowing just 80.3 yards on the ground per game.
But in the air, teams have found success. The Aggies rank 58th against the pass, allowing 223 yards per game and better than 12 yards per completion.
Morgan State has rotated two quarterbacks this season, DeAndre Harris and D.J. Golatt, and between them the Bears are averaging 168 passing yards per game. They’re prone to mistakes, though, with 17 combined interceptions.
“The secondary has broken down at times,” Washington said. “Mostly it’s a lack of communication, but sometimes it’s poor technique, too. Those are all things we can and will fix.
“I want to see (the secondary) keep everything in front of them. I don’t want to see a receiver running behind us. Ever. We feel like if we keep them from throwing the ball over the top of us, if we keep everything in front of us and make them drive the length of the field, that’s much more difficult.”
A&T’s top three tacklers this season are its three starting linebackers.
It’s a young group, too. Sophomores Kyin Howard (Eastern Guilford) and Joe Stuckey, and freshman Jacob Roberts all rank among the MEACs top 12 in tackles.
Those three have also combined for 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including five sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two recoveries.
Howard has also blocked a kick, and his safety last week at South Carolina State gave the Aggies a spark.
Morgan State’s defense ranks near the bottom of the MEAC in most categories, but senior Rico Kennedy is a first-team all-conference linebacker who leads the league with 84 tackles (42 solos), averages 9.3 per game and has three sacks.