Discipline is key as Alabama State hosts Bethune-Cookman for homecoming

As a first-year head football coach whose program lost 18 of 22 games before he arrived, Raymond Woodie must lay a foundation at Bethune-Cookman before anything can rise. Discipline will form the base of his construction project, and shortcuts will only delay the production schedule.

“The standard is the standard,” Woodie said Monday during a call with reporters. “We want to do things the right way, but obviously the smart way. And whatever you do, it always has consequences.”

Alabama State University and Alcon State University played on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Photo by David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Results have been mixed for the Wildcats (1-3 overall, 0-1 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference), coming off a bye week as they prepare to visit Alabama State for homecoming. Bethune has produced some of the most disciplined play in the Football Championship Series, ranked fifth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (35.0) and 16th in fewest penalties per game (4.75). 

But timing matters. While Bethune committed just four penalties in its last game, the fourth was an illegal substitution in the closing minutes, allowing Jackson State to keep the ball and run out the clock for a 22-16 victory. “We have few penalties game-by-game, but they don’t happen at the right time,” Woodie said. “We don’t have a team that can just give the ball away or have a guy run on the field late. It’s just those things that we can control.”

That close game against Jackson State was an encouraging sign following blowout losses against Miami and Memphis and a blowout win against Savannah State. Bethune hasn’t done much statistically as the SWAC’s 11th-ranked offense (218 yards per game) and ninth-ranked defense (440 yards per game). Woodie used the bye to evaluate their schemes and stress the fundamentals, looking for an edge when games can go either way.

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“We put guys in close situations in practice to see how they respond,” he said. “Situational ball is always good because it’s not just practice, it’s perfect practice. Our guys have to understand that when we’re in these crucial moments, the things that are hurting us can’t happen. So, you put them in those situations over and over, and hopefully, the next time, they’ll execute, and it won’t hurt us.”

Not committing penalties is a form of discipline that pleased Alabama State head coach Eddie Robinson Jr. last week, when the Hornets were flagged just four times in their overtime loss against Alcorn State. They were doomed by a different type of carelessness, fumbling seven times and losing three. The last giveaway occurred at Alcorn’s 5-yard line with three minutes left as ASU was on the verge of extending its lead. Instead, Alcorn drove the field for a game-tying field goal and kicked another to win in OT, 23-20.

Alabama State University hosts Bethune-Cookman on Saturday, Oct. 7. (Photo by David Campbell/Alabama State University)

“Discipline starts off the field – be on time for all meetings, go to class, go to study hall, those types of things,” Robinson said during the media call. “And then that discipline off the field should carry over on the field. We want to keep penalties four or less each game, which gives you a big chance to win. But the next thing is don’t turn the ball over, which is somewhat of a mental mistake also.”

Alabama State (1-3, 0-2) wasted a season-high 257 rushing yards and a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown in the loss. Quarterback Dematrius Davis and halfbacks Marcus Harris II and Ja’Won Howell each rushed for at least 70 yards. Wideout Kisean Johnson, the SWAC’s leading receiver, was held to just three catches for four yards. His services might not be required much against Bethune, which yielded 260 yards rushing against JSU.

”Those guys are going to be ready to play, and we just have to continue to be disciplined,” Woodie said. “We have to fill our gaps, tackle well, and don’t let the ball go over our head. That’s the key. They have guys on that football team that can make you pay if you’re not in the right position.”

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For ASU, being in position is the first step, but completing the action matters most.

“We had a chance to get a pick-6 to end the (Alcorn) game, and we dropped it,” Robinson said. “You know the next play they hit a pass down to our 10-yard line and go the game to overtime. There’s a lot of lessons for the kids to learn. Alcorn State made their plays and took advantage of them. We had our chances to make them and we didn’t make them. That’s how football goes.”

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