The tale of the tape is usually how the Elon University football team prepares for an opponent. But that’s not going to be as effective this week, when North Carolina A&T State University comes to Rhodes Stadium Sept. 19.
The Aggies’ first two opponents were not Football Championship Subdivision teams, as they destroyed Division II Shaw University 61-7 and then lost to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill of the Football Bowl Subdivision.
For head coach Rich Skrosky, the skill level fluctuation of the Aggies’ first two opponents is a reason why watching film will be less effective.
“When they got to the point when the substitutes came into the game against Shaw, you watch the tape, but you don’t plug in that data,” Skrosky said. “And the same thing against UNC, once it got to 36-0.”
Skrosky mentioned that, while there have been some changes to the coaching staff, the offense is still running the same schemes and playcalls as last season, when they beat Elon 17-12 Sept. 13.
“We have all the tape from last year,” Skrosky said. “We’ve got our game, and all of the games from last year. So it’s a combination, along with [using tape from] the two games this year.”
The five-point loss to NC A&T last season was the closest loss in a tough 2014 season for the Phoenix. But the rough inaugural year in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) hasn’t deterred fan support.
“I just got word from our marketing people that ticket sales actually went up this past year,” Skrosky said. “That’s good. We’re coming off of a 1-11 year, but doggone it, ticket sales are up. People are sensing an excitement.”
And now, with the home opener rapidly approaching, Elon sets its sights on following up last week’s 21-13 triple-overtime victory over Gardner-Webb University with another win. If the Phoenix is successful, Elon will have a winning percentage above .500 for the first time since 2012.
Goodbye for now?
The matchup between Elon and NC A&T is the 11th in school history, with the first meeting dating back to 1999. The Aggies lead the overall series, 6-4.
This year’s game will be the third of a four-year contract to play between the two schools, with next year’s game scheduled to go back to Greensboro. But earlier this week, the Times-News reported that the Aggies asked Elon out of next season’s game, thus making this year’s game the last one scheduled for the two for the foreseeable future.
The in-state non-conference game is something Skrosky has shifted his attention toward since joining the CAA.
“I want to keep our out-of-conference games in the Southeast as much as we possibly can,” Skrosky said. “We’ve been able to do that, and this year has obviously been a home run with [Wake Forest University, Gardner-Webb University, NC A&T]. It might not that good every year, and we’ll travel and make some trips out of conference.”
Skrosky sees the benefit of staying local for the non-CAA match-ups in recruiting, as his coaching staff has frequently tweeted #TheStateofElon to refer to their in-state recruiting plans.
“I think we’ve got a great recruiting base within a four-hour drive of our campus,” Skrosky said. “We don’t need to go to far. This is the best high-school football state in the country. I truly believe that.”
Player to watch: NC A&T junior RB Tarik Cohen
The sensational running back lit up Elon last season, taking 20 carries for 243 yards. He scored the game’s deciding touchdown with a spectacular 81-yard run with 11 minutes, 40 seconds left the game, putting the Aggies on top for good.
Cohen’s career efficiency is impressive, as his 2,663 yards rushing come on a measly 413 carries, leading to an average of 6.4 yards per rush. A strong performance against Elon could vault Cohen to the second spot on NC A&T’s all-time rushing leaderboard, only needing 150 yards to jump four rushers.
Even though the Aggies have complimentary pieces around Cohen, Skrosky says the offense runs through his productivity.
“We play in a great conference,” Skrosky said. “But I don’t know if we’ll play a running back that is better than he is. He’s not big, but he runs powerfully, and once he gets in the open, he’s a sight [to see].”
The reigning Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Year has also been a media darling this offseason — videos of him catching two footballs while doing a backflip went viral . He even made a trip to Bristol, Connecticut, to perform the catches on SportsCenter.
While there’s no guarantee that Cohen will catch a pass in a backflip Saturday night, just the potential for it makes him a must-watch player.