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After a thrilling come-from-behind road victory over The Citadel in the opening week of the season, Rob Ambrose and the Tigers are set to host North Carolina Central on Saturday.
Who: North Carolina Central at Towson
When: Saturday, Sept. 7, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium, Towson, Maryland
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
An impressive, fourth-quarter drive scored Towson a season-opening win on the road win Week 1 at The Citadel.
“Week 1 is a battle of mistakes,” said Towson coach Rob Ambrose. “We went into a tough place to play, tough place to win for a 60-minute, inside-run drill, and held up against one of the better Citadel teams I’ve seen in a while.”
The Tigers faced a persistent, triple-option offense that, in 2018, produced more rushing yardage against Alabama than the Tide’s SEC counterparts LSU, Missouri and Mississippi State. They come home for the 2019 opener in Week 2 facing a different look from the MEAC’s North Carolina Central Eagles.
North Carolina Central is three years removed from a MEAC championship and a berth in the Celebration Bowl, but hit a rough patch in 2018 after the departure of coach Jerry Mack for the offensive coordinator post at Rice.
NCCU alum Trei Oliver returned to his alma mater ahead of the 2019 season, following assistant’s stints with North Carolina A&T and Southern. As recruiting coordinator at the former, Oliver helped shape a roster rife with NFL talent that’s made North Carolina A&T a fixture in the FCS rankings.
Rebuilding North Carolina Central into a MEAC contender may be a process. The Eagles were tabbed fifth in the conference’s preseason poll, and after opening Week 1 at Austin Peay with a 3-0 lead, surrendered the next 41 points.
Should Towson see a markedly improved bunch and Week 2 goes to the wire, Ambrose knows what to expect of his Tigers in the clutch.
“We were pretty explosive and usually on top, and never had to come from behind,” Ambrose said of 2018. “You can’t create those scenarios. You can’t practice those scenarios. They have to be organic. For us to be in that situation was kind of cool. But the look in everybody’s eyes was kind of like smiles: Nobody was worried, and it wasn’t a matter of ‘if,’ it was, are we going to go down and kick a field goal, were we going to score a touchdown, and how much time was going to be on the clock when we scored.”
Take It to the Ground
One week removed from defending a relentless rushing attack, with The Citadel carrying 70 times for 336 yards, it’s Towson’s opportunity to go to the ground. The Tigers face a North Carolina Central defense that, in Week 1 at Austin Peay, surrendered 306 yards on 49 carries for a 5.9-per average.
Running back Shane Simpson should get some looks at explosive plays, especially playing on the artificial turf of Johnny Unitas Stadium. Simpson gave a stellar performance on the grass surface at The Citadel, which Ambrose said has been a challenge for the multi-dimensional back in his career.
All Simpson did in Week 1 was gain 74 yards on just nine carries and score two rushing touchdowns, including the game-winner.
North Carolina Central’s apparent difficulty against the run could also open the field for dual-threat quarterback Tom Flacco. The reigning and Preseason Colonial Athletic Association rushed for 48 yards at The Citadel, but the majority came on a scramble during the Tigers’ end-of-game drive.
Flacco was Towson’s leading rusher in 2018. For as long as he’s on the field Saturday, he’ll have opportunity to add to his 2019 totals.
Spread the Love
Nine different Tigers caught passes in Week 1, and five brought in multiple passes. What Towson had in the receiving game from Shane Leatherbury was well-known coming into the campaign, and Simpson – who caught the only touchdown pass of Week 1 – is an established threat out of the backfield.
But 6-foot-3 freshman Daniel Thompson IV added a new dimension to the attack in his debut with 73 yards on four catches. Flacco also found a promising target in someone with whom he used to share the quarterback room, Jason Epps. The converted tight end hauled in a 26-yard reception, making him one of five pass-catchers in the opener with a long of 26 or more.
The versatility in Towson’s pass-catching corps can and will put on a show.
Seeking a Sack
The nature of a triple-option offense does not often allow for sack opportunities. And, indeed, Towson left Charleston, South Carolina without one (though the Tigers did get into the backfield for three tackles for loss).
The Tigers defense will be out for its first sack of 2019 on Saturday. Look out for Bryce Carter, who was outstanding off the line in Week 1, recording 13 tackles. Carter was Towson’s sack leader in 2018 with 6.5.