ORANGEBURG - On paper at least, South Carolina State had a good showing in its home opener on Saturday night before 15,903 fans at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.
The defending MEAC champion Bulldogs improved to 3-0 with a 27-10 victory against winless Winston-Salem State.
Quarterback Malcolm Long had a career-high 272 yards passing, receiver Tre' Young had a career night with nine catches for 148 yards and All-America running back Will Ford had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season. The Bulldogs finished with 23 first downs and 454 yards on offense, and the defense limited the Rams to 10 first downs and 202 yards.
But the Bulldogs' body language as they trudged off the field to the locker room told a different story. There were few smiles on the faces of the winners and none of the horseplay and interaction with the crowd that is typical after a 17-point win.
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S.C. State Buddy Pough painted a bleak picture after the game, making it crystal clear that the performance was not merely an isolated case of a team coming out flat against a lackluster opponent.
"If we don't start playing better than we are right now, this will be a three-or-four loss team by the end of the season, no doubt about it," was his stark assessment.
"We played OK at times on defense, and OK at times on offense, but we're not methodical, we're not consistent and we're not precise in what we're doing, especially on offense."
Next up is South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"I may not sleep well tonight," said Pough. "(Souith Carolina) is as salty up front on defense as we've run across. If we don't figure out some things on the offensive line, it could be ugly."
The Bulldogs, who have always prided themselves on their ability to run the ball since Pough took the job eight years ago, finished with 173 yards on the ground, but had just one consistent drive - an all-run, 10-play, 77-yard scoring drive that closed out the scoring at 2:58 of the fourth quarter after the Rams scored their first touchdown to pull within 20-10 with eight minutes to go.
Ford had a 3-yard scoring run in the third quarter. Long and Young hooked up on a 14-yard scoring pass in the second quarter.
"We preach consistency, but we haven't been consistent (on offense) all year," said Long, who was connected on 22 of 33 throws.
"We just have too many penalties, too many mental mistakes. That's why we've had so many drives stall out on us, especially in the last two games. We just have to keep working at getting better."
The Bulldogs were flagged 14 times for 185 penalty yards.