North Carolina Central Celebration Bowl Preview
By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
When North Carolina Central (9-2, 8-0 MEAC) steps onto the Georgia Dome turf Saturday at noon in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, they will not only face the nation’s 16th ranked FCS football team in Grambling State, but they are taking on a team that is among the nation’s best defensive football teams in the country
Not to worry, said North Carolina Central quarterback Malcolm Bell, the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year.
“We’ve faced tough defenses all year,” Bell said during a Celebration Bowl press conference Friday. “(North Carolina) A&T was a great defense. They were very aggressive - something similar to Grambling. So I think we’ve seen the caliber of defense that they have. I feel like we’re familiar. We’re fine and we’ll be okay.”
It’s a confident stance to take against Grambling (10-1, 9-0 SWAC), which has the nation’s top red zone defense, No. 6 scoring defense, and is third nationally in defensive passing efficiency.
It’s one of the main reasons that Grambling, riding a ten-game winning streak in which they’ve only lost this year to FBS Arizona (in a close game), is favored to win the annual matchup between the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
It’s also seen this year as the FCS mythical HBCU national championships as the two top teams from the two biggest HBCU conferences lock horns.
North Carolina Central head coach Jerry Mack knows the Grambling defensive statistics, but sees his team as having to score at least 30 to keep pace with a Grambling offense that features SWAC Offensive Player of the Year DeVante Kincaide and is fourth nationally in scoring.
“It’s one of those situations, when you look at the teams that have played Grambling State, one of the things that has been their Achilles heel is that they have not been able to score,” Mack said. “That’s due to Grambling State’s defense. They were one of the top defenses in the nation in the red zone, so even if you move the ball up and down the field when you get in that 20-yard-line, 15-yard-line area of the field, it is tough to score on them. So you’re going to have score points on them and close them out.”
NCCU has the MEAC’s top red zone offense, scoring 24 touchdowns in 37 opportunities.
Mack said his Eagles offense will do what they’ve done all year – not only allow Bell to throw the ball, but the use his talents on the ground as well to keep an aggressive, big-play Grambling offense off balance.
Bell has thrown for nearly 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, but was also a top-10 rusher in the MEAC, with 544 yards and nine touchdowns.
“We do have two dynamic running backs as well,” Mack said. “But running Malcolm Bell has to be part of the plan as well.”
Bell is up for the challenge.
“I think we are just as good as they are,” Bell said. “They haven’t seen us and we haven’t seen them. So I think this is the clash of the titans. We’ll see what happens.”