College Football: Livingstone wants to finish strong
SALISBURY — Livingstone students are bundled up against the morning cold as they trudge to class and wind-swept autumn leaves swirl from the trees on campus.
Winter is obviously coming, basketball are starting to bounce in New Trent Gym and the end of another football season is just 10 days away.
These will be an important 10 days for Livingstone coach Daryl Williams, who has retained his smile and maintained his swagger through a deflating October.
“We’ve won two and we’ve got two left, so we’re focused on finishing strong and we’re determined to win four,” Williams said. “Livingstone hasn’t won three games in 10 years and hasn’t won four games in 16 years.”
Livingstone made the turn at the end of September at 2-2, but four straight CIAA losses — two could have gone the other way — have sent the Blue Bears tumbling to 2-6 overall and 1-5 in the CIAA. The Blue Bears haven’t won yet in the Southern Division, and time is running out for that “signature win” Williams has been seeking.
“Livingstone hasn’t beaten anyone in the south side of the league for a long time,” Williams said. “But I know we can win Saturday.”
Saturday’s opponent is Fayetteville State, a hot team that started 0-2 but is now 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the league.
Kickoff at Alumni Stadium will be at 1:30 p.m. It’ll be homecoming as well as the home finale for the Blue Bears, and while some coaches aren’t excited by the distractions of homecoming, Williams believes it’s a major positive.
“Our support from our fan base was great last Saturday,” Williams said. “No one left. Everyone stayed at the game. That made me feel good. It made our players feel good to have the support of the fans, as well as the administration.”
Livingstone hasn’t won at home yet, and that’s probably been the darkest thing about a season in which a few rays of sunshine have finally shown through the Blue Bears’ window.
Livingstone lost 40-0 to ranked Winston-Salem State, the CIAA’s flagship program, last Saturday, although it was 7-0 at halftime and the Blue Bears had several golden opportunities to score.
“We fought hard, I was proud of the effort we gave, but our depth issues hurt us once again,” Williams said. “And I have to take my cap off to Winston-Salem State. That’s the best defensive line we’ve faced this year, and they just beat us upfront. When you’re getting beating upfront, no matter how well you plan and scheme, it’s going to be a tough day.”
One of Fayetteville State’s graduates is Livingstone AD Andre Springs. That’s one more reason for the Blue Bears to play their ‘A’ game this Saturday.
Despite the disparity in records, Livingstone’s stats don’t look all that different from those of the Broncos. Livingstone allows 30 points a game, while Fayetteville State allows 27. So while a Livingstone victory would be a major upset, this shouldn’t be the uphill fight it was against Winston-Salem State.
Fayetteville State is a big-play team, thriving on turnovers and long pass plays. The Broncos lead the CIAA with a whopping 17 yards per completion.
Fayetteville State also is the most penalized team in the CIAA, while Livingstone is the least penalized. Unfortunately, it seems every time the Blue Bears get a flag, it’s at the worst possible time.
A lot of Livingstone’s struggles are revealed by stats. Injuries have hurt the running game, which was showing promise in September. The Blue Bears are now near the bottom of the CIAA in rushing yards per attempt. Livingstone also is at the bottom in turning red-zone chances into touchdowns. Livingstone is only 11-for-28 in cashing in those opportunities, and that will get you beat a lot.
The coming weeks will be important on the recruiting trail. Wearing a golden suit and cutting an impressive figure, Scotty Robinson, the former Salisbury High and East Carolina standout, was as resplendent as an autumn leaf in Williams’ office in Old Trent Gym on Wednesday, and he’s spearheading recruiting efforts this fall. “LC 45” is the motto. Livingstone is focusing on players within 45 miles of campus.
“The recruiting priority is defensive linemen and linebackers (Livingstone is last in the CIAA in sacks),” Williams said. “We’ve already got 10 players enrolled who will be eligible next season. Eight of those 10 are offensive linemen. That’s a whole offensive line.”
The focus for Saturday will be on winning in the present, but Livingstone also has one eye on the future.
“We’re a junior-dominated team and we’ll be a lot better next year,” Williams said. “Our system is in place now. We know where we’ve been, we know where we are, and we know where we’re going.”