Morgan State is off to a 0-2 start and in the midst of a four-game stretch against non-conference opponents with Liberty on Saturday and Western Kentucky on Sept. 21 before diving into the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Bears own a 14-22 record in their non-conference slate, but coach Donald Hill-Eley said these games against non-league opponents are important.
“We have the opportunity and have been put in situations to play these revenue games and to play these out-of-conference games against real good competition,” Hill-Eley said in a conference call Tuesday. “So as we set our goals to win the conference, these situations don’t affect that, but what you want to take away from it is to be able to match the speed, match the intensity and not use it so much as a preseason. Like I’ve said, we go into everything to win the game, but these games really don’t affect your immediate outcome, your immediate goals. You want to win for your conference and put your conference in good situations.”
But with just a .389 success rate against non-conference opponents, trying to keep players, fans and alumni motivated in the face of that trend can be a difficult task. Hill-Eley acknowledged the tightrope he walks between scheduling opposing teams that can improve his team or overinflate their self egos.
“Before, you would set up the schedule and bring in teams that couldn’t chew gum and walk so that you could get that momentum and that morale,” he said. “Now we’re in a position where we have a chance to play for these revenues. The ones that are in the circle, the young men, I think they understand. But I think as we move forward, some of the administration and some of the outside people forget where they find or why they find the money. If somebody is giving you $300,000 or $200,000, they’re not paying you to come in there and win. They’re paying you with the expectation that you don’t have enough resources or depth in your squad to beat them. When you’re able to go into situations and win, it’s definitely a sweet victory for that, but you still don’t listen to the crowd because it won’t be long before you’re sitting with them. Just continue to work, continue to put the goals in front of your team, and the only ones you’re really concerned with as a coach are your staff and your team, making sure that they’re up for the challenge week in and week out.”
Morgan State’s 0-2 start has been accompanied by a troubling trend. The team has been flagged 20 times in losses to Army and Robert Morris and currently is tied for 99th in average penalties per game and tied for 83rd in average penalty yards lost (73.0) among Football Championship Subdivision programs.
After being penalized nine times for a loss of 65 yards in a 28-12 setback to the Black Knights on Aug. 30, the Bears were cited 11 times for 81 yards in a 31-14 loss to the Colonials last Saturday. The team did cut down on the number of pre-snap infractions, moving from seven to four, but Hill-Eley said the number of penalties is still disconcerting.
“The thing that I’m challenging the team is, we don’t want to get these penalties that are effortless,” he said. “We don’t want to get an offsides [call], a not-enough-guys-on-the-line-of-scrimmage because those things are cerebral. We either have to scale back or we have to bring more attention to detail to get these guys to focus. We don’t want to get a lack-of-focus penalty, and that’s what we’ve been having.”