Scouting Bethune-Cookman: Breaking down the Wildcats
Location: Daytona Beach, Fla.
Coach: Terry Sims (24-16, fourth season)
Record: 4-4, 2-2 MEAC
OFFENSIVE RATING: 3
Offensive averages / national rank (FCS)
32.4 / 30
365.4 / 75
153.9 / 66
211.5 / 70
DEFENSIVE RATING: 2
Defensive averages / national rank
31.0 / 74
385.8 / 53
183.8 / 74
202.0 / 38
SPECIALISTS RATING: 4
Special-teams averages / national rank
26.7 / 8
10.7 / 38
34.2 / 76
Why you may need Rolaids
1. Remember McNeese State in 2014? The Huskers needed a miracle touchdown from Ameer Abdullah with 20 seconds left to pull out a 31-24 win in the second game of the season for then-No. 19-ranked NU the last time the Huskers faced an FCS opponent. Now, the Cowboys are a stronger program than Bethune-Cookman. But despite the good feelings from last week’s win, Nebraska is still 1-6 and can’t afford to take anyone lightly.
2. Bethune-Cookman’s offense is going to look a lot like Nebraska’s. The Wildcats will spread the field, run RPOs and work to get their playmakers the ball in space. Quarterback Arkevious Williams has thrown for more than 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns while completing 63 percent of his passes and leads B-CU in rushing with 347 yards and eight scores on 4.9 yards per carry. The Wildcats will be outsized up front, but if they’re able to get the ball outside and test a NU defense that still ranks near the bottom of FBS in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense, things could get interesting. Bethune-Cookman head coach Terry Sims is 17-1 all-time when his teams out-gain their opponents.
3. A road trip to suddenly vulnerable-looking Ohio State looms next week, followed by winnable home games against Illinois and Michigan State. A couple coaches were out recruiting earlier this week. The players were given Monday off. One has to think this coaching staff has made it clear that Bethune-Cookman is a priority, but a tinge of looking ahead certainly could be in the cards for a team that has talked repeatedly about how important getting that first win can be.
Why you might chill
1. Nebraska’s offense has hit its stride, and it will face a 1) FCS defense that 2) gives up a ton of points. The Wildcats have held an opponent to fewer than 20 points just once, and that came against a Virginia University of Lynchburg program that competes in the National Christian College Athletic Association. Since that contest, the second of the year for the Wildcats, B-CU has allowed 49, 41, 20, 27, 26 and 35 points. Nebraska might get to 60 without even having to try that hard.
2. The talent disparity should be wide. Bethune-Cookman has never played a Big Ten opponent in football. There is plenty of Florida speed on that roster, and Sims has built a pipeline into California, as well. But Nebraska’s top-end guys, and many of the backups, should still be well ahead of what the Wildcats will put on the field. Florida Atlantic, Bethune-Cookman’s other FBS opponent this season, led 29-0 after one quarter earlier this season. A similar start by Nebraska would not only show the Huskers have continued to make progress, but that they aren’t messing around with a lower-level opponent.
3. It’s a bit of a cliche, but the mystique of Memorial Stadium could likely play a role in this game. This will be the longest road trip to play an FBS opponent Bethune-Cookman has ever taken. The Wildcats have never been north of Texas for such a game. And while they’ve played games at Miami and Florida State, Lincoln will present a different animal altogether. If the Wildcats struggle to adapt to the atmosphere and the game day conditions, Nebraska could take control from the jump.
By the numbers
The number of times in its 94-year history Bethune-Cookman has played an FBS opponent outside the state of Florida. The Wildcats lost 40-21 at North Texas in 2016. B-CU is 0-9 all-time against FBS teams outside Florida, but eight of those games came against foes that were in FCS at the time.
The number of kickoff returns for touchdowns, and blocked kicks, Bethune-Cookman has this season. One of those blocked kicks was taken back for a safety.
The 2018 season will mark the first time in more than 20 years Bethune-Cookman has not had a bye week. Three seasons ago, the Wildcats played 10 consecutive weeks before having a bye before their season finale.
Nolan Alexander is the radio voice for Bethune-Cookman football.
What is the vibe around the team as they get ready for this game? Are they looking forward to the trip, or is it more of a distraction coming so late in the season and in the middle of conference play?
They’re excited. As our coach said during our radio show, “In a few years those 10-yard runs are going to turn into 30-yard runs.”
It’s a unique opportunity and it certainly gives the team something to look forward to after last week’s game. I could argue that playing a team like Nebraska does more for refocusing the team immediately than either the bye week or playing a school in a lower division.
How much of a surprise was it to those involved with Bethune-Cookman when this game was first announced?
Easily the most straight-outta-left field, surprising news we’ve received in quite some time. I still wouldn’t believe my boss until the release was posted on our website. It was probably as much of a surprise to the Husker community as it was to us. New games are extremely rare to coordinate in-season, and given the Big 10 FCS scheduling mandate years back, it makes this one very unique to not just B-CU and Nebraska, but to college football. It’s rare for an eastern HBCU to venture into the Heartland.
What are the strengths of this team?
Speed and special teams. Defensively this team flows to the football well, its secondary finds the ball (12th in FCS in interceptions) and has made momentum-changing plays (fourth FCS in defensive TDs). On offense BCU likes to put its players in space, whether that’s in a West Coast-style passing attack, or finding ways for quarterback Akevious Williams to slice through the defense.
Special teams is always a focal point of Terry Sims, and this year is no exception. The Wildcats have taken three kickoffs back to the house, blocked three kicks and returned one for a two-point conversion. Uriel Hernandez isn’t used as much as last season but is 4-5 with a career-long 46-yarder and has shown more distance. Punter Jauvanie Francis is 11th in the FCS with an average of 43.4 yards. He’s punted nine times over 50 yards and if the ‘Cats are going to pull the upset, Francis’ leg is a big factor in the battle for “hidden yardage”.
Also, this team is having a banner year in keeping flags in the stripes’ pockets. Last year BCU was worst in the nation with an average of 11 penalties for 94 yards, but in 2018 its been shortened to six for 49 yards.
Conversely, where have the Wildcats struggled this season?
At times up front. It was evident on offense last week with just 69 yards rushing and allowing four sacks. The last time the o-line struggled to get a good push like that was in the lid-lifter at Tennessee State when BCU only scored a field goal. In between, the offensive line has been pretty good at pass protection with four games not allowing a sack. On the defensive front, there are playmakers with ends Marques Ford and Kevin Thompson, but that entire unit as well has seen some of the bigger offensive lines have success running the ball and off play-action.