Howard Bison preview
It’s hard enough to preview a team for the first game of the season, when there are no stats to pore over and no game video to watch. Add in a new (interim) head coach, and it’s possibly an exercise in futility, but nevertheless, here I am to take a crack at previewing the Howard Bison.
Let’s start with that interim coach. As I mentioned the other day, after Gary “The Flea” Harrell led the Bison to a much improved 5-6 record in 2011, his first season, and followed it up with 7-4 in 2012.
In 2011, Harrell led the team to an improved 5-6 record, following that with a 7-4 record in 2012, which saw the Bison finish second in the MEAC. However, shortly before the beginning of 2013 spring practice, Harrell announced he would be taking a one-year leave of absence for personal reasons.
In making this decision, I thought deeply about my extended family, my players and coaches. At this time, my personal and family issues make it impossible for me to give them 100% and anything less than that is unacceptable to me.
No details were forthcoming, but the school did indicate that they expect Harrell back to coach the 2014 season. In the meantime, they tabbed defensive coordinator Rayford Petty to interim head coach. Petty was previously the head coach of the Bison from 2002 through 2006, during which time the team amassed a 25-30 record, managing two 6-5 seasons and three losing seasons.
The Bison offense is led by junior quarterback Greg McGhee, who got his first start two years ago in Ypsilanti. After that game, a commentor on this blog said, “Their true freshman QB is going to be a good one.” He’s started all but three games since then. Last fall he completed 99 of 191 passes (52%) for 1,038 yards (5.4 yards per attempt), five touchdowns, and five interceptions, with the team going 5-3 with him and 2-1 without him. McGhee was also the team’s #2 ball carrier, keeping the ball 97 times for 448 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.
Howard’s offense was geared heavily toward the running game last year. For the season, they carried the ball 534 times to just 283 pass attempts — that’s about 65% run and just 35% pass. Aside from McGhee, the top returning running back appears to be junior Aquanius Freeman, who carried 77 times for 441 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and five touchdowns.
One consideration that could alter that run/pass mix is returning talent. While the Bison have lost their top running back from last year (Terrence Leffall carried 219 times for 1106 yards and 7 touchdowns) — who accounted for more than a quarter of their total offensive yards — they return their top five receivers: Brandon Flanagan (senior), Jonathan Booker (sophomore), Matthew Colvin (sophomore), David Wilson (senior tight end), and Clayton Gidron (senior). Together those five accounted for 99 catches for 1,244 yards and nine touchdowns.
Defenders to watch include strong safety Julien David and defensive end Damon Gresham-Chisholm, both of whom were first-team All-MEAC selections in 2012 and pre-season picks to repeat. David, a senior, led the Bison with 108 tackles (67 solo) last year. He also had nine tackles for loss, an interception, two forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks.
Chisholm, a sophomore, was the MEAC Rookie of the Year last fall. His 18 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumbles recovered all led the Bison.
Make no mistake, although they’re much improved, Howard is still not a great team; they’re probably in the bottom third of FCS teams. Although they have the potential to test EMU at several positions, if EMU has any hopes to be MAC-respectable, this is not only a must-win game, but a game they must win by several possessions. The closest Howard has ever come to a Division I-A/FBS school is 23 points. EMU’s goal for Saturday should be to win by at least that much.