South Carolina State and NC A&T are championship-caliber teams that have gotten off to slow starts.
NC A&T, picked to win the Big South before heading off to the Colonial Athletic Conference in 2023, is 0-3, losing by double digits in each contest.
South Carolina State, the MEAC favorite, is a respectable 1-1 coming off a bye.
And because of that current reality, the preseason favorites understand that its Saturday meeting between former MEAC rivals could determine the trajectory of its season.
“(NC A&T) are in a situation where they will try most anything to win this football game,” SC State head coach Buddy Pough said this week. “When you’re staring at an 0-4 start, you’re going to do whatever it takes to keep that from happening.”
The Aggies have battled injuries, inconsistent performance and a tough schedule that included games against current MEAC first-place team NC Central, No. 1 North Dakota State and FBS Duke.
But Aggies coach Sam Washington indicated that he learned a lot about his group through this tough stretch to open the season that can be a positive moving forward.
“That they won’t quit,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’m most pleased with. They will play and they will play hard.”
One bright spot was the running game. NC A&T did rush for 217 yards in the 49-20 loss at Duke Saturday. Bhayshul Tuten led the Aggies with 133 yards.
“We were able to run the football on a Division I program,” Washington said about the offensive performance against the Blue Devils. “I thought our (offensive) front did a fantastic job getting a hat on a hat and moving people. I thought the backs ran hard and were able to make some people miss.”
NC A&T is going to need more out of a unit that has so far averaged 12 points per game and scored just three total touchdowns in 190 plays against an SC State opponent Washington called a “national championship quality team.”
The Aggies are entering the latest matchups winners of the last six in the series and have not lost to SC State in Greensboro since 2010.
“(NC A&T) has been a problem for us,” Pough said. “They’re 0-3, and everyone thinks they’re bad, but don’t you believe it. They’re as good as they’ve ever been. They will be playing their first home game, and you can bet they will be lying in wait for us.”
SC State will be hoping to boost its offensive consistency and production. Starting quarterback Corey Fields has averaged 98 yards per game on 5 yards per attempt. The offense as a whole has tallied just 469 yards through two games.
Despite both teams not being in the best position at this point, Saturday still matters a lot for several current and historic reasons.
“There’s a tradition to this game,” Washington said. “We’re cross-state rivals and this game means a lot to both schools. They’ve lost six in a row to us and they smell blood.”