A&T Aggies’ Passing Game Struggles in Loss to UABCourtesy A&T Athletics / September 8, 2023
BIRMINGHAM, AL. – North Carolina A&T did an excellent job cutting out the unnecessary penalties and mistakes that lose football teams games on Thursday (August 31) night. Now, as the Aggies head into a contest against longtime rival North Carolina Central, they will focus on doing the necessary things that win football teams games.
In the college football season opener for A&T and FBS, Group of Five opponent UAB, the Aggies never established the passing game, and the Blazers used a fast-paced offense to keep A&T’s defense on its heels. It resulted in the Blazers topping the Aggies 35-6 at Protective Stadium.
Thursday marked A&T head coach Vincent Brown’s first game as a head coach. It is back to work for Brown and his staff as he looks for a better outcome in his second game as a head coach.
“They’ll see some things that they can exploit with us,” said Brown, referring to NCCU. “We’ve got to get our passing game going. We need to find a way to get the ball into the hands of our best playmakers because we have some talented receivers and backs. We’ll go back to the drawing board, and hopefully, we’ll see a better football team next week against Central.”
A&T threw for only 16 yards, completing two passes in eight attempts. Inexperience may have played a role. Redshirt freshman Eli Brickhandler made his first collegiate start, and true freshman Kevin White made his first appearance.
But the Aggies’ discipline kept the game within striking distance. During the offseason, Brown stressed the point of not making silly penalties that lead to losses. His team responded by committing only two penalties, both five-yarders.
Brown, however, was not the only former NFL player making his head coaching debut and trying to instill his culture. Super Bowl quarterback Trent Dilfer, the former first-round pick, debuted as a college head coach on Thursday. Both men started their respective head coaching careers with lengthy drives.
Dilfer’s Blazers’ opening drive went 81 yards on 13 plays. UAB’s fastbreak offense resulted in Jermaine Brown Jr. scoring on a 10-yard touchdown run. The Blazers were moving so quickly that the Aggies’ defense was barely in position when Brown ran into the end zone untouched. But Brickhandler and the Aggies responded with an effective running game.
Redshirt sophomore Wesley Graves’ 17-yard run moved the ball into Blazers’ territory at the 45-yard line. His 9-yard run on a 3rd-and-7 gave the Aggies a first down on the UAB 23 before the drive stalled as Brickhandler got four yards on a quarterback draw on 3rd-and-10. East Carolina transfer Owen Daffer made it a 7-3 game with a 37-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 45-yard drive that lasted seven minutes.
UAB answered with another lengthy drive. It lasted more than five minutes as Brown scored on a 4-yard TD after a 67-yard, 13-play drive. The Aggies had an opportunity to keep the pressure mounting on the favored Blazers as a 25-yard run by Virginia Tech transfer Kenji Christian put the Aggies at the Blazers’ 39. But A&T’s scoring threat ended when Brickhandler was sacked on a 4th-and-3 from the UAB 32.
Blazers’ quarterback Jacob Zeno ended the first half by throwing a pass just over the outreached arms of Aggies’ safety Ty Williams and into the hands of Tejhaun Palmer for a 19-yard touchdown pass, giving the Blazers a 21-3 lead at the half.
“There are a lot of positive things to point to,” said Brown. “The lack of penalties and not beating ourselves in that area is really important to us because that will help us along the way and down the road. But we didn’t play well enough. You can’t pass for 16 yards and win a college football game. Defensively, they brought the tempo to us. I don’t think we had our kids prepared to handle their tempo. There’s a lot of things we can improve on that we know we can improve on.”
A&T did add on a Daffer 33-yard field goal, aided by a 19-yard run from Brickhandler. The Aggies rushed for 147 yards on 41 carries as Graves, Christian and Brickhandler shared the rushing responsibilities.
A&T’s schedule gets no easier as they face the defending HBCU national champion and 19th ranked Eagles of North Carolina Central University (NCCU). The game takes place Saturday, Sept. 9 at Truist Stadium in Greensboro.