GREENSBORO — N.C. A&T goes back on the road this week, set to face another team playing its home opener and seeking its first victory.
But unlike last week’s short trip to Durham, this time the Aggies won’t be underdogs.
A&T (1-1), the No. 17 team in the FCS Coaches’ Poll, heads to Charleston Southern (0-2) of the Big South for a non-conference FCS matchup at Buccaneer Field at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Five things to know about this matchup:
The stat sheet says A&T’s Kylil Carter struggled in the 45-13 loss at Duke, completing just 8-of-22 passes for 111 yards and no touchdowns.
But that’s a little misleading. At least four of the incompletions hit his receivers’ hands, passes that are normally caught but this time were not. And the key statistic by A&T’s metric was zero: no turnovers. Even trailing, Carter did not force any bad throws and was not intercepted. He also took just one sack against an FBS defense, using his mobility to escape pressure and average 6.0 yards per carry.
For Charleston Southern, sophomore Jack Chambers leads a revamped offense and has completed 32-of-55 passes for 308 yards in two games against superior teams. He has two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Chambers’ 17 rushing attempts rank No. 2 for the Buccaneers, who have run more pass plays than rushes.
“The quarterback is the key for them to succeed,” A&T coach Sam Washington said. “He’s a running threat, and his legs are more dangerous than his arm.”
2. Wide receivers
A&T’s star senior Elijah Bell went on the social media site Twitter after Saturday’s game at Duke and apologized to the Aggies’ fans, saying the 45-13 loss was “on me.”
That’s hogwash, of course. Bell did have a bad game with a costly fumble, a couple of dropped passes and leg cramps that kept him off the field for a red-zone possession. Even so, that doesn’t add up to 32 points of difference.
But if he feels he has something to prove this week, he could be a handful for Charleston Southern. Bell has 11 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown in two games.
Charleston Southern’s Kameron Brown also has something to prove. A two-time All-Big South pick, the senior was hurt in the third game of last season and missed the rest of the year.
Through two games this year, he has just four catches for 49 yards in a new pass-first offense.
“The quarterback has one receiver (Brown) that’s a Bell-type guy, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, a preseason All-American type receiver,” Washington said. “But they’ve had trouble getting him the ball. … We’ll play a few more zones, to try to keep an eye on him. There will be times when we’ll spy him in certain situations.”
3. Anger management
No one likes to lose. A&T comes in off just its third loss since 2016. Charleston Southern comes in off back-to-back losses under a new coaching staff, and neither was close.
The Buccaneers lost 46-13 at FCS No. 13 Furman, then got clobbered 72-10 at South Carolina of the mighty SEC.
“Charleston Southern is a good football program, but right now they’re struggling a little bit,” Washington said. “I’m sure they’re very mad they got beat like that at South Carolina. It seems like we’re always getting these teams who are coming in upset. We got Duke after that (42-3) loss at Alabama. But this week? We’re mad, too.”
4. New offense
For the last eight years, A&T has been all about continuity. The players have changed but the principles set down by first Rod Broadway and now Washington have remained the same.
Stop the run. Protect the football. Win the kicking game.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But everything has changed at Charleston Southern, which abandoned a run-first triple-option offense when new coach Autry Denson arrived. He an offensive coordinator Felton Huggins have installed an “Air Raid with attitude” offense.
Of the 135 plays the Buccaneers have run in two games, 72 have been passes. And 17 of the rushing plays have been quarterback runs.
A&T should have All-America cornerback Mac McCain available for limited snaps, as he returns for his first game since knee surgery in November. Across the field, sophomore cornerback Amir McNeil has played with a soft cast protecting an injured left hand.
Keeping quarterback Jack Chambers bottled up is the key, A&T linebacker/safety Antoine Wilder said.
“A mobile quarterback gives his offense other options,” Wilder said. “They can run it with him. So you’ve got to keep your eye on him at all times. It’s like NFL teams playing against Cam Newton. You keep your eyes on guys like Cam Newton, Lamar Jackson. Because they can break one any moment. … We want to make (Chambers) play quarterback, not running back. We want him to throw the football, not run with it.”
5. Field position
Both teams feature excellent punters who can flip the field and give their defenses an advantage.
A&T sophomore Michael Rivers is averaging 42.4 yards per punt, and five of his 12 punts so far have pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line. He has had two punts partially blocked, and that’s troubling.
Charleston Southern’s Kyle Reighard, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the nation among FCS punters with an average of 45.2 yards per punt. Seven of his 13 punts so far this season have gone for more than 50 yards. And only four of those 13 punts have seen return attempts.
A&T’s Korey Banks averages 11.2 yards per punt return.