When Morehouse College suits up against Tuskegee on Saturday at A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium, it will do so with questions about the health of a handful of key players.
Three running backs--first, second and third on its depth chart--are hindered with injuries, leaving fourth-stringer T.J. Williams and quarterback Donnay Ragland to pick up the slack.
It's not an ideal situation for a team that has stumbled to a 2-3 start, one that generally plays the Tuskegee-Morehouse Classic with a winning record. It is, however, a situation that coach Rich Freeman considers an opportunity for the team to improve.
"It's like the old proverb: When there's disaster, there's opportunity," he said on Wednesday at a luncheon promoting this weekend's event. "And I'm interested and intrigued to see what happens this weekend."
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The team got a good look at how it plays without star running back David Carter, who Freeman said is the best kid he's ever coached,
a week ago in a 34-16 win over Clark Atlanta. While it missed Carter's production at the running back position (404 yards and six touchdowns rushing in four games), the team was still able to get significant help from Ragland, Williams and Quendarius Hall.
Ragland went for 131 yards rushing and Hall went for 52 and a score.
Williams had just 32 rushing yards, but reached the end zone twice on the ground and once on a kickoff return.
As a whole, the team was still able to put up 221 yards rushing, but Williams said it wasn't all about the yards for his team.
"It's not just about getting the most yardage," Williams said.
"It's just what my team needs me to do, whether that's blocking or running routes or special teams. I try to give us a jumpstart there, too, to take a little pressure off of the offense."
Williams, who leads the conference in kickoff and punt return yardage, said that, while there is some pressure to raise his level of play to compensate for the injured players, like Freeman, he believes it's just another opportunity for him to help the team win.
"There's always pressure when you have your team relying on you and you don't have as many reps," he said. "But we work just as hard in practice, and our coach always tells us that we need to be ready."
Freeman said that he likes the job Williams has done filling in at tailback and stressed the success of his offensive line as a big factor in why there wasn't a dropoff in production a week ago.
He called the unit "extremely good" and indicated that it would need to be even better against a solid Tuskegee team.
More than anything, though, Freeman said his team was playing off of pride. In other words, despite injuries and adversity, his team knows it is too good to continue losing.
"We've been playing off of pride right now," he said. "We average close to 250 yards, and then we lined up against Clark Atlanta without those guys last week and had about 225 yards."
It's hard to predict that the running game will find as much success again this weekend in an always emotional game, but Williams said he expects his team to just keep the ball rolling.
"We're just going to keep the ball rolling," he said. "Hopefully, if we're able to get the win, it will just help us start to roll the rest of the year."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571