When Moses Skillon walks off the football field to the Morgan State sideline, the redshirt junior quarterback will be greeted usually by head coach Lee Hull, offensive coordinator Fred Farrier — and redshirt senior quarterback Robert Council.
That might seem like a pairing brimming with awkwardness as Skillon replaced Council as the team's starter after 10 games. But Skillon said Council has gone out of his way to share any insight with his younger teammate.
"It's been very helpful," Skillon said of his friendship with Council. "Every time I come off the field, he's one of the guys who is just sitting there and waiting for me to talk to him, telling me what he sees, and just showing me what the defense did. He's basically helping me out because sometimes you're not going to see everything when you're on the field. He's just been one of those guys who has been very helpful to me."
It's unclear how valuable Council's advice has been, but there's no disputing that Skillon has cemented his status as the Bears' starter. Barring injury or another issue, Skillon will line up under center when Morgan State (7-5) clashes with Richmond (8-4) in a Football Championship Subdivision first-round playoff game Saturday at 1 p.m.
In Skillon's four starts, the Bears are 3-1, which includes a three-game winning streak. In those four starts, the offense has averaged 39.8 points and 422.3 total yards. For the season, the unit has averaged 28.2 points and 372.0 yards.
Skillon has completed 59.9 percent (85-of-142) of his passes and averaged 251.5 passing yards in his starts. Over that same span, he has tossed nine touchdowns against five interceptions.
Surprisingly, Skillon's opportunity to play came only because of a groin injury to Council, who had led Morgan State to a 4-3 start.
With Council unavailable, Skillon started against Colonial Athletic Association powerhouse Villanova on Oct. 25, and without redshirt sophomore running back Herb Walker Jr., Skillon connected on 60.5 percent (23 of 38) of his throws for 204 yards and one touchdown and also carried the ball 14 times for 77 yards and two touchdowns against a Wildcats team that was ranked fourth in the nation at the time.
Skillon acknowledged he felt buoyed by that performance
"Basically, it was [confirmation]," he said. "But I always knew that I could play with anybody and we could play with anybody. We just need to come out here and play our game and make our plays. So it was a lot of confirmation, but we always knew that we had it in us."
"It gave him confidence because he was going against Villanova, the No. 4 team in the country," Hull said. "He had three interceptions and he made some mistakes, but he was very poised throwing the football with pressure in his face. He did a great job and I think that helped his confidence."
The offense has changed under Skillon. Redshirt junior wide receiver Andrew King said balls thrown by Skillon arrive faster, and athletic director Floyd Kerr said the offense has become more dynamic.
"He has a skill set that is different from Council's," Kerr said. "He has a faster, stronger, quicker release of the ball, and it seems to stick to the receivers' hands rather than the receivers having to go and pluck it out of the sky. So I thought that chemistry was there. There was a chemistry that came with him that the team didn't necessarily have with Council."
While Council — who has rushed 114 times for 565 yards and six touchdowns — is more mobile, Skillon has gained 228 yards on 49 carries in his four starts, scored five times, and been sacked only four times.
King, a Columbia resident and an Atholton graduate, said the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Skillon is quicker than he appears.
"That surprised me," King said. "Seeing his size, you don't think he can move. But he can move. And he's not slow either."
The Bears will have to move the ball against a Spiders defense that ranks 52nd in the FCS against the pass (205.9-yard average) and has allowed just 14 passing touchdowns. That would seem to put the onus on Skillon to play well, but he said he won't do anything out of the ordinary.
"I feel like I just have to play my game," he said. "Make the right reads, make the throws, and if there's nothing there, pull the ball down and run, throw the ball away, find the checkdown. I just feel like we have to be efficient, and that includes me."
What's at stake: The stars aligned perfectly for Morgan State's first trip to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. Routing Delaware State, 69-7, on Saturday coupled with North Carolina Central's 21-14 upset of North Carolina A&T and South Carolina State's 30-20 victory over Norfolk State gave the Bears a share of the school's first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in 35 yards and that sought-after berth in the FCS tournament. The Bears will face the Spiders, who are ranked No. 18 in The Sports Network's latest FCS poll. Richmond defeated No. 23 William & Mary, 34-20, to earn its first postseason appearance since 2009. The winner will move on to face No. 6 Coastal Carolina (11-1) in the second round.
Key matchup: Both teams have excelled at protecting their quarterbacks. The Spiders have surrendered just 12 sacks, which 15th-fewest in the country. Morgan State has allowed 15 sacks, tied for 24th. The key might lie in their respective pass rushes. The Bears have recorded 32 sacks, which is good enough to be tied for 19th in the nation. Richmond has collected 22 sacks, tied for 69th.
Player to watch: Redshirt sophomore running back Herb Walker Jr. snapped a three-game span in which he failed to gain 100 rushing yards by running for 128 yards and one touchdown against Delaware State. Morgan State could use a similar outing from Walker against a Spiders defense that ranks 23rd against the run (126.2-yard average). Richmond allowed only two opposing running backs to reach the century mark.