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Sports

Bulls too inconsistent, injured to stay on track
Promising season derailed at midpoint
 
Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 7:17 am
by Herbert L. White

Johnson C. Smith football opened the season with a boom before going bust.

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PHOTO/CURTIS WILSON
When healthy, Johnson C. Smith quarterback Keahn Wallace produced big numbers and the Golden Bulls won. Over the second half of the season, his productivity declined as injuries limited his effectiveness. As a result, JCSU went 1-4.

The Golden Bulls started strong, winning their first three games. A loss to Virginia State ruined a perfect season, followed by a blowout of Lincoln, and JCSU led Winston-Salem State 17-14 in the third quarter when the wheels fell off.

The Golden Bulls were outscored 30-0 and lost the next three games as well before closing with a come from behind win against Central State (Ohio). Injuries were a contributing factor in turning a promising season upside down, but there were others. In looking back, here’s the good and bad in what turned into a .500 season – a disappointing finish for a program that had aspirations of challenging for a postseason berth.

The good:

• A healthy Keahn Wallace. When the junior was in peak form, Wallace (172-of-276 passing, 1,952 yards, 15 TDs) was dazzling. He sat out the opener against Livingstone, then tore through his next four starts with 11 touchdown passes before ankle and rib injuries limited his effectiveness. 

Wallace tried to tough it out, but it was obvious he wasn’t the same threat and without him, the Golden Bulls weren’t either. Over his last four games, Wallace passed for two scores and JCSU went 1-3.

• Premium pass rush. Any group that can put up 14 sacks in a game (against Davidson) has to go into this category. The Golden Bulls had 28 sacks after three games, which topped 2012’s total, and finished with 44. Yet that success wasn’t sustainable as opponents learned to avoid the rush while exploiting the secondary.

• Special teams. This is the singular major improvement in 2013. Punting was solidified with freshman Matias Lambrecht averaging 39.9 yards a kick with one-third of his 42 tries landing inside the opposition’s 20. Although freshman kicker Eric Amaya (7-of-16 field goals) struggled with accuracy beyond 40 yards (0-for-6), his dependability at closer range left JCSU with better scoring options. 

• Offensive line: Regardless of who was behind center, the o-line was consistently good and kept JCSU in contention. With four seniors in the starting lineup, this group’s maturity kept a difficult situation on offense from becoming deteriorating.

The bad:

• An injured Keahn Wallace. You’ve got to give the junior credit for grit, but Wallace was a shell of himself the second half of the season. His touchdown tosses plummeted while the interceptions rose.

• Quite porous defense. The Golden Bulls was exploitable throughout the season, and the better quarterbacks found opportunities when the pass rush didn’t reach its target. 

As a result, JCSU allowed an average of 383.8 yards a game, slightly better than its offensive output of 381.5.

• Depth couldn’t keep pace with injuries. Every team has to deal with them, but JCSU’s fragile depth was exposed, especially on defense. 

The linebacker corps took some major hits and the secondary wasn’t particularly stellar in slowing receivers.  Andrew Alexander was a decent stand-in for Wallace, hitting a career-high 60-of-103 passes for 763 yards and nine scores against three interceptions. 

Alexander’s highlights were the opener against Livingstone (three TDs) and the finale against Central State, when his only pass was a 66-yard game-winner to Kyle Gregg with 1 minute, 35 seconds left.

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