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Rejuvenated 'D' puts swagger into JCSU
'Wake-up call' sparks 2-game winning streak
Published Thursday, October 25, 2012 1:06 pm
by Herbert L. White


Johnson C. Smith’s defense has gone from liability to asset in two weeks.

Johnson C. Smith linebacker Spencer Shine (right) and his defensive mates have bounced back in back to back wins against Fayetteville State and Shaw. The Golden Bulls allowed a combined 38 points after allowing 118 in the previous two weeks, losses to Lincoln (Pa.) and Winston-Salem State. JCSU plays St. Augustine’s Saturday for homecoming at McGirt Field.

After being torched for 55 and 63 points in losses to Lincoln (Pa.) and Winston-Salem State, the Golden Bulls were forced to do some soul-searching on defense. Over the next two weeks, they allowed 38 points combined in wins at Fayetteville State and Shaw.
“We had to look at each other and see who was there and who wanted to be around,” senior safety Chris Sams said. “It was like a wake-up call.”

JCSU (4-4, 3-2 CIAA) shook off its slumber. Not only did the Golden Bulls limit opposing offenses, they created opportunities despite a spate of injuries that forced lineup changes.

 “We were pretty banged up, especially in the secondary,” defensive coordinator Craig Cox said. “We’re still missing a few guys but we’re getting back some of the guys that were injured and getting healthy and just started playing better as a unit.”

JCSU was headed in the right direction after four games as the defense kept the Golden Bulls in games. Then the roof fell in at Lincoln, where JCSU lost a 55-53 shootout, followed by a 63-7 drubbing against WSSU, the second-ranked team in Division II.

“We knew we were better than what we put out on the field those two games,” Cox said. “Going into the Lincoln game, we had broken the top 25 in total defense and we just had a really bad game, then we followed that up with a really bad game against Winston. We knew we were better than that, so they kind of took offense to that and started working hard to show what they were capable of.”

The turnaround started at Fayetteville and continued last week when JCSU limited Shaw to 260 yards and a single offensive touchdown late in the fourth quarter of a 35-20 win.  The Golden Bulls clamped down on the Bears’ running attack, limiting tailback Marquise Grizzle, who averaged a CIAA-best 124.5 yards per game, to 26 yards on 14 carries. 

“As a unit, we came together and realized we’re much better than we were the last two weeks” before the winning streak, middle linebacker Mike Coats said. “We’ve got a lot of younger guys on this team who don’t have a lot of experience but at this point in the season, everybody’s caught up on the same page. Once everybody gets on that page, things start to work a little better and we’re playing the best defense we’ve played all year.”

The Bulls are also turning in big plays when needed. In the Fayetteville State game, linebacker Darryl Rankin forced a fumble and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown and intercepted a fourth-quarter pass in the Golden Bulls’ end zone to kill another threat.

“When you get to the ball, certain things happen,” Coats said. “You never know what might happen. Somebody might fumble and the ball comes your way. If you’re there, just make the play and that’s the big change we’ve had.”

Said Sams: “People figure out if your opponent doesn’t score, they don’t win. When we get on the field, our goal is for them to not score or get a big play.”



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