BY MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
Morgan State’s interim head coach Ernest Jones plans to run into the challenge of rebuilding the football program. In an era of run pass option (RPO) offense Jones prefers limiting the pass, focusing on the rush, and hard nose defense as they look to restore credibility to the program which is three years removed from sharing a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.
“This is a new day and are creating a new identity on offense,” Jones said to the AFRO. “We don’t care who knows it. We are going to line up and give the ball to our bruising, physical running backs. You may know what’s coming but it will be hard to stop”.
Jones faces an uphill battle as he tries to re-energize their students, fan base, and keep the team motivated. The Bears are ineligible for postseason this year as the program failed to meet the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) score of 930 for the second time in three years. The APR monitors eligibility and student-athletes’ progress toward graduation. Despite the improvement from 893 to 920 Morgan State can only be a spoiler to teams who are contending for the MEAC title and berth in the Celebration Bowl.
The NCAA sanctions also limit the Bears to two less hours of team activities per week during the season and four fewer hours per week in the offseason. Morgan State also will not be allowed to have spring practice next year. That figures to complicate the rebuilding process that was stunted by the hasty departure of Lee Hull in 2015 who left to become receiver’s coach with the Indianapolis Colts.
Morgan State has lost their stability on the sideline that marked Donald Hill-Eley’s 12-year tenure which ended in 2013. Since then Morgan’s program has returned to the days of the revolving door of head coaching that plagued them after the glory days of Hall of Fame coach Earl Banks era until Hill-Eley’s run. Jones is the Bears third head coach in four years and is ready to put his stamp on the team.
He has been open about how the APR dilemma could work to their advantage by forcing players to compete in the classroom with the same voracity they bring to the stadium on gameday. However, the culture he is trying to create is old school “three yards and a cloud of dust” offensively while playing physical defense in hopes of shrinking the opposition’s time of possession while controlling the ball on the ground.
Morgan St. will feature a trio of backs who are physical and versatile but the constant for all the skill position players is blocking this year. Josh Chase, Jordan Riggins, and Jalen Jackson fit that mold. This backfield by committee personifies what Jones is looking for from his running back who average 200 pounds and figure to do most of their work between the tackles grounding out tough yards.
Meanwhile, quarterback DeAndre Harris, a converted basketball player, figures to start the season opener vs. Towson after completing almost 60 percent of his passes last year for 781 yards with 10 TD and eight interceptions. He is being challenged by redshirt freshman D.J. Golatt. Josh Chase and Jordan Riggins give Morgan over 400 pounds at tailback which could wear down defenses. They also feature eight receivers including Notre Dame transfer Corey Holmes.
We’re not going to be a trick team; we’re not going to try and beat you with a snap count. If you’re looking for 30 or 40 passes and 60 or 70 points, that probably won’t happen unless we can get it by running the football.”