Next time maybe Hampton University coach Donovan Rose can distribute 5-Hour Energy to his players beforehand, or perhaps equip the locker room with jumper cables.
The Pirates’ slow start was their undoing in Thursday’s season-opening 41-31 loss at Tennessee Tech, a game in which they spotted the Golden Eagles a 21-point first-quarter lead and a 24-point spread at halftime.
“You can’t play catch-up like that against a good team,” Rose said Friday. “I know we’re a better team than that. I don’t know if it was the fact that it was the first game or the setting. Give them credit, because they’re a good team, but we hurt ourselves.”
The Pirates gave up 364 yards of offense and 31 points in the first half, as Tech quarterback Tre Lamb consistently found receivers and running back Adam Urbano gashed the defense. On the flip side, HU’s new Air Raid offense sputtered, totaling just 192 yards, and was particularly anemic in the first half.
The major statistics are one-sided, but several areas encouraged Rose. The Pirates climbed out of a 31-7 halftime hole to cut the deficit to 31-24 late in the third quarter.
Backup quarterback Travis Champion was poised and efficient in relief of ineffective starter Najee Tyler. The Pirates had no turnovers and committed just five penalties for 34 yards — massive improvement from the team that led the nation in penalties (115.1 per game) last year by a wide margin.
“We spent a lot of energy coming back,” Rose said. “We were down so far at halftime, but we went in and made adjustments and played much better in the second half. We stopped them, we moved the ball, we made plays on special teams. But the problem was, we really only played 30 minutes of football.”
Tennessee Tech, which tied for the Ohio Valley Conference title last year and was picked to finish fourth this season, started quickly. The Golden Eagles scored on five of their six first-half possessions.
Lamb, clever and effective running Tech’s hurry-up offense, completed 24 of 35 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns. One was to former All-SEC wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who transferred the week before after being booted from Tennessee’s roster. Urbano, meanwhile, rushed for 158 yards as HU’s D-line didn’t hold.
Tyler, the junior college transfer from Brooklyn, N.Y., completed just 1 of 6 passes before he was pulled at the end of the first quarter. By that time, HU trailed 21-0.
Champion, a sophomore who started late last season after David Legree was injured, was a much better fit running the Pirates’ new scheme. He completed 18 of 23 passes, but for only 98 yards, opting for quick, short completions as Tennessee Tech’s linebackers and defensive backs kept plays in front of them and tackled well.
Champion led two 75-yard scoring drives. The Pirates’ other touchdowns came on Jorrian Washington’s 100-yard kickoff return to start the second half, and the result of a fumbled punt by Tech that set up the Pirates at the Golden Eagles’ 5-yard line.
Rose said that he hasn’t decided what to do about his quarterback situation, heading into next week’s home opener against Old Dominion. He might give Tyler a mulligan, knowing that he has two capable quarterbacks in the event that one or the other struggles next week.
“It was our first time running this offense in a game situation,” he said. “I feel like we have two guys who can move the ball.”
Antwon Chisholm, the Pirates’ leading rusher last season, was held out most of the game for a violation of team rules. He had just one carry for minus-five yards. Rose said that Chisholm will be a full part of the game plan for ODU.
“We have to start better,” Rose said. “We did the same thing last year against Norfolk State. We started slow and the next thing you know we’re down 27-7. We have to give ourselves a chance.”