Rookie Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins says he hasn’t checked the standings on Howard. He won’t look up the MEAC rankings for this week’s opponent, either.
If he had, Jenkins would have seen a Howard offense ranked 112th out of 117 FCS programs, and a Bison defense that just surrendered 50 points for the fourth time this season. The last time came on Nov. 6 in a 54-14 loss to South Carolina State, part of a difficult run of league losses. Howard (1-8, 0-6) hasn’t won a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game since 2007.
“I know a lot of people look at statistics, but I don’t. That falsifies a person’s detemination and competitiveness,” said Jenkins, undefeated in his first year at the helm with the Wildcats. “This is a scary football game. They have an offense that you have to really work on. They have some athletes that can capitalize on any miscues. I know they didn’t play well last week against South Carolina State and they turned the ball over, but they are going to be fired up.”
There is a familiarity that goes beyond the conference alliance, too. Jenkins and Howard coach Carey Bailey were staff members together at FBS Louisiana-Lafayette, and are fraternity brothers, as well. Howard boasts some assistants who previously worked at Bethune-Cookman, as well.
Jenkins hit on something, though. If they have any hope of pulling off the dramatic upset, first and foremost the Bison must protect the football.
[Complete HBCU polls: Bethune-Cookman, Grambling still battling it out.]
Bethune-Cookman is among the most opportunistic teams in the nation — having picked off 14 passes and jumped on 19 fumbles already this season. (Conversely, they’ve only coughed the ball up seven times so far.) Last week, in a gritty 23-18 win at Hampton, Bethune-Cookman turned the game with a pass interception and four fumble recoveries — one of which turned into a 54-yard touchdown by Daniel Rhodes to tie the game in the third period.
Jenkins said a back-and-forth battle of punches and counterpunches wasn’t unexpected. Though his Wildcats have yet to fall in 2010, he’s consistently praised the level of competition in the MEAC — from top to bottom.
“We knew it was going to be a tough ballgame,” Jenkins said. “We knew we were going up against a very good team. I knew without a doubt they were going to be prepared to play. It didn’t surprise me. We were prepared mentally for the position we were in. My guys just kept grinding. We related it to another heavyweight fight. We wanted to take it to the late rounds and then pull it off.”