The 2014 season has been a season of firsts for the Elon University football team. Elon is in its first year of competition in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Phoenix is led by first-year head coach and lost its first game of the season, 52-13, to Duke University Aug. 30.
This week, the Phoenix had a bye week leading up to its first home game of the season Sept. 13 against North Carolina A&T State University at Rhodes Stadium.
In preparation for the Aggies, Elon got “back to the basics,” having a “camp style” week that included lots of work on the fundamentals.
“Our fundamentals are a daily process,” Skrosky said, bringing up future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and his willingness to get better every day. “If [Manning] can get better, we can get better every day. We really worked. We wanted to work on our fundamentals knowing that we were going to give them time off. I thought we got a lot of good work done last week.”
Having a bye week after just one game is a little different than most football players are used to, but the Phoenix used the extra time to its advantage. Skrosky noted that a bye week that comes near the beginning of the season has a different focus than one that comes near the middle or end of the season.
“This has been the earliest I’ve had a bye week in my whole career,” senior linebacker Jonathan Spain said. “But it’s also nice to get your legs back after camp. It’s a nice time to relax.”
N.C. A&T is a familiar opponent for Elon, with just 20 miles separating the two schools. The Phoenix is 4-5 all-time against the Aggies, the most recent game being a 23-10 loss in Greensboro last September.
In that game, the Aggies had a balanced offensive attack, running 38 pass plays and 43 run plays. So far this year, N.C. A&T has found much more success on the ground rather than through the air.
On 133 plays in the first two games, the Aggies have run the ball 80 times for 542 yards, an average of nearly seven yards per rush. In fact, the Aggies have yet to throw for a touchdown in 2014 – all nine offensive touchdowns have been scored on the ground.
Leading the rushing attack has been junior quarterback Kwashaun Quick and sophomore running back Tarik Cohen. Both have run for over 200 total yards in the first two games. For the Elon defense, these two players have been the focus leading up to the game.
“They’re really explosive players,” Skrosky said of Cohen and Quick, who together accounted for 335 of the Aggies’ 381 total yards in the Aggies’ loss to Coastal Carolina University Sept. 6. “I think [Cohen] is going to be as good as any back we’ll face all year. He’s got great speed, great quickness, he’s a smaller guy but he doesn’t play small – he’s got some explosiveness to him.”
Elon senior wide receiver Andre Davis played with Cohen at Bunn High School outside of Raleigh and knows how explosive he can be.
“[Cohen] is a special player,” said Davis, who played quarterback at Bunn. “I saw glimpses of it because I was a lot older than him but once I saw his tape we got in touch. He is a really special player and a really good kid. We’ve been talking about it for a long time now – texting back and forth – so I’m pretty excited about trying to get this win on Saturday.”
Cohen has equal respect for Davis.
“[Davis] is a leader,” Cohen said. “I looked up to him because he was two years older than me but he was always leading even if we were losing.”
N.C. A&T comes to Elon with a record of 1-1. The Aggies stomped Alabama A&M 52-0 in Orlando, Fla., Aug. 31 before narrowly falling to No. 5 Coastal Carolina, 31-30, Sept. 6 in Greensboro. Skrosky believes that this is a game that the Elon community should be excited for.
“I do love the A&T game,” Skrosky said. “I think it’s a great out of conference game for us … and for central North Carolina football to see two quality teams that are so close in proximity and hopefully the game is an entertaining one on all sides.”
It’s special for some players, too.
“I want to win this one because [N.C. A&T] is in my hometown,” said Spain, who is a Greensboro native and graduate of Page High School. “I want to win every game but I want to win this one because we lost to them last year and all my buddies from Page High School were all giving me a hard time last year, so I want to bring this ‘W’ back to Elon where it should be.”
• Elon senior cornerback Akeem Langham, who missed Elon’s Aug. 30 contest against Duke University with a stomach issue, was off the injury report and was listed as a co-starter at the cornerback position heading into Saturday’s game.