By David Coulson
Executive Editor/Managing Partner
College Sporting News
BALTIMORE — South Carolina State's Buddy Pough may be an old-time football coach in most respects, but he relishes the chance to tell people that he has embraced 21st Century technology.
"I am a computer guy," Pough said on Thursday night as he basked in the visiting locker room at Hughes Stadium in the wake of a 32-10 victory at Morgan State. "I keep up on all the teams on the Internet and read all those sites, like College Sporting News and AGS (the Any Given Saturday national FCS message board)."
And in Pough's "unbiased" estimation, No. 15-ranked South Carolina State has earned a shot to become one of the 10 at-large teams selected for the NCAA Division I Football Championships when the field is selected next weekend.
"We're not going to beg for a playoff berth, but we think we deserve a shot, based on what we've done this year and our body of work the past two years," Pough said. "We think we've got a shot at making the field. We'll put 9-2 out there."
A win next Saturday against lowly North Carolina A&T would indeed give the Bulldogs (currently 8-2 overall and 6-1 in conference) a 9-2 record and would clinch second place in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Many nay-sayers point to SCSU's poor strength of schedule and lobby for more 7-4 teams from power conferences to be included in the field. But Pough and his players think they deserve more respect.
After winning back-to-back MEAC titles, South Carolina State had its championship run derailed by Bethune-Cookman this season, losing 14-0 last month in Spartanburg, S.C.
The Bulldogs have dropped only one other game (in the season opener at Georgia Tech) and one of their wins was over non-Division-I Benedict, but Pough said his team has taken care of business in its other games.
"We have a hard time scheduling," said Pough. "Nobody wants to play us unless its going to their place for a guarantee. Nobody wants to play us home and home."
And most coaches don't want to meet up with the Bulldogs in the playoffs either.
South Carolina State gave the powerhouse Appalachian State program fits in two first-round games in 2008-09.
The Bulldogs were lining up for a potential game-winning field goal midway through the fourth quarter last year at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C., but a botched snap and a 50-yard return of a fumble by Dominique McDuffie allowed the Mountaineers to escape with a 20-13 victory.
ASU, defending three consecutive national titles, struggled to a 37-21 win over SCSU at home in the 2008 playoffs.
Mountaineer coach Jerry Moore hopes to see someone else in the round of 16 this year. And many other FCS coaches have told this writer the same thing.
"I think South Carolina State is real good," said Morgan State coach Donald Hill-Eley. "I think they are still one of the top teams in the country. Especially with the playoffs going to 20 teams, (the MEAC) should have two teams in."
South Carolina State has the No. 1 ranked defense in FCS and looked to be rounding into last year's playoff form against Morgan State before a national television audience on ESPNU on Thursday night.
"I think our defense can play with anyone in the country," Pough said.
The Bulldogs sacked Morgan State freshman quarterback Delonte Williams eight times and held the Bears to minus-17-yards rushing.
"We knew we had to get to the quarterback," said David Erby, an aggressive, blitzing senior who plays a hybrid of linebacker and safety in the SCSU defensive scheme. "We wanted to show the nation what we could do."
"We have had a lot of injuries, particularly with our linebackers," Pough said. "But this is the healthiest we've been in a long time."
The Bulldogs have experienced more struggles on the offensive side of the ball in 2010, but senior quarterback Malcolm Long, who has been banged up all year, turned in one of his best games of the season against the Bears.
Long completed 17-of-31 passes for 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns on Thursday and used his mobility to avoid pressure and hit receivers while he was on the run all night.
"This was our resume to get into the FCS playoffs," said Long. "We felt we needed to come out and make a statement."
Long was also helped by the return of speedy running back Asheton Jordon, who rushed for 88 yards and one 34-yard touchdown on 13 carries. After gaining 149 yards against Georgia Tech, Jordon had been out with an ankle sprain.
"Asheton gives our offense more balance," said Pough. "The others guys were doing a good job in his absence, but we didn't have a difference maker like he gives us."
SCSU's veteran offensive line, expected to be one of the strengths of the squad before the season started, has also seen the return of several players from nagging injuries.
All which would make the Bulldogs a tough draw for someone in the first round of the playoffs.
"We don't have any control over what other people think about us," said Erby. "We just have to do what we can do."
For his part, Pough thought the Bulldogs made a strong enough statement before the FCS community.
"I think they saw we really play defense well," said Pough, who is a tough critic on his own team. "They also saw us play well offensively, until we lost interest in the second half."
Pough and the Bulldogs will now prepare for North Carolina A&T and hope that the NCAA football committee agrees that they do indeed belong in the playoffs once again.