North Carolina Central, Morgan State’s opponent Saturday, ranks near the bottom of many offensive and defensive categories in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. But one area the Eagles thrive in is special teams.
North Carolina Central (3-3 overall and 1-1 in the league) has proven to be especially adept in kick and punt returns. The team ranks first in the conference in kick returns, averaging 23.7 yards and scoring one touchdown. The squad is also second in punt returns, averaging 14.1 yards and posting one score.
The ability of the Eagles' special teams has become a subject of discussion among the Bears.
“You’re very concerned,” coach Donald Hill-Eley said Tuesday during the league conference call. “When you’re dealing with this game, you want to look at the drive starts, and with their special teams, they have a lot of talent with those return guys on the punt team as well as the kickoff team. So there has to be a sense of urgency because you have the defense, which is generating two to three turnovers per game, and then you’ve got a special teams that is averaging 10 to 14 points per game and now you’ve still got the offensive sector. So they’re really firing in all three phases and you have to be concerned and you have to go in with that on your mind. You have to keep that contained and not let special teams be one of your demises.”
Morgan State should take note of Adrian Wilkins. The North Carolina Central sophomore ranks third in the MEAC in kick return average (25.2 yards) and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a 40-13 win against Charlotte on Sept. 14. He also returned a punt 89 yards for a score in a 37-28 victory over Howard on Oct. 5.
Eagles coach Dwayne Foster said having Wilkins returning kicks and punts is a comforting sight.
“He’s a kid that can do a lot of good things when he has the ball in his hands,” Foster said Tuesday morning. “He’s got great vision and great speed. When he’s back there, we’re excited about him because we know that if we can get the other 10 guys to get a hat on a hat and provide a little bit of a crease for him, he can help us in field position and potentially scoring a touchdown.”
The Bears (1-5, 1-1) have been strong in kick and punt coverage this season. The team is first in the conference with a 37.6-yard net average on punts and a 39.3-yard net average on kickoffs.
Still, Hill-Eley said special teams is an aspect the coaches will address during practice this week.
“I’m sure they’re looking at our special teams, and we’ve given up a blocked field goal for a touchdown twice this season, we’ve given up a 40-yarder twice this season on punt returns,” he said. “So all those things are things that we have to address going into the game. We took that week off not only to address our strengths, but to address our weaknesses, and I’m quite sure they’re aware of them, and we’re aware of them as well. We’ve made the adjustments that we need to make so that we can have three strong phases.”