New North Carolina Central coach sees positives, worries about letdown

Coming off his first game as interim head coach at North Carolina Central — a loss to undefeated Bethune-Cookman — Darryl Bullock aims to keep things simple.

“We want to win the next play, then focus on winning the play after that,” said Bullock, who took over the team on Oct. 18 and had to play the MEAC frontrunner the following Saturday. “We want to improve to the point where we are virtually an unstoppable machine in all three phases.”

If only it were that simple.

Give credit to North Carolina Central, which joined the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season but is not yet eligible for the conference championship. The Eagles tried to make a game of it before falling 23-10 to the now 7-0 Bethune-Cookman. Trailing 14-3 at halftime, NCCU got to 14-10 on an 8-yard scoring run by Arthur Goforth. Then Bethune quarterback Matt Johnson exploded for a pair of touchdown passes to put the contest away, handing North Carolina Central (2-5) its third straight loss.

There were other positives for Bullock: “I was proud of the defense,” he said, during this week’s MEAC coaches teleconference. “The terminology is the same, but philosophically they are doing some diferent things. We only had three days to work on it. To play the prolific offense of Bethune the way we played, it was good start. They thought they could have played better, and our staff thought that they could play better, but it was a good start.”

Still, a lingering question remains at quarterback. Keon Williams started against Bethune-Cookman, but tossed a pick-six. Michael Johnson, out for the previous two games with a sprained wrist, also saw action — making 13 attempts against the Wildcats.

Bullock said a starter had not yet been named for this week’s contest against winless Edward Waters.

“The quarterback job is open,” he said. “The things we’re looking for are leadership and protecting the football. From there, then we are looking for them to make the throws and for good decision making.”

[Interim coach Darryl Bullock on taking over at North Carolina Central: ‘It’s been a whirlwind.’]

Turnovers were a problem for North Carolina Central last week, as a trio of unforced errors led to game-turning changes of possession. Bullock thinks he can clean up those kind of mental errors.

“What it came down to was, Bethune made some plays in critical situations in the game — and that’s probably one of the reasons they are undefeated — and we didn’t,” Bullock said. “We feel like with our defense and our special teams, we can win some games. We just have to make some plays.”

Emotional letdown is also a concern. A week after playing a team topping several black college football polls, North Carolina Central faces 0-6 Edward Waters — a private, historically black college from Jacksonville, Fla., that has been outscored by the Eagles 149-26 over the previous three meetings.

“Edward Waters not only plays hard, they don’t give up,” Bullock said. “They play until the very end — no matter what the score. As a coach, you have a lot of a respect for that.”

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