PEMBROKE —Midway through its season, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke football team has jumped into the national rankings with a 4-1 start, but coach Shane Richardson feels his team still isn’t operating at full capacity.
The lack of full effort in preparation through practice started to show in the fourth quarter at Tuskegee as the Braves saw a 16-0 lead flip to a 21-16 loss in a matter of 15 minutes to the No. 11 team in the country. The response from UNCP following the loss and an “intense team meeting” on Monday has Richardson hoping to see his team do more than just getting by as it travels on Saturday to Lenoir-Rhyne for a 2 p.m., kickoff.
“I think our team was operating at kind of an 85 percent level of capacity in terms of their effort, their focus and their sense of urgency,” he said. “I thought they settled into a place of complacency of 85 percent that’s just good enough and we weren’t really stepping to the plate and pushing the threshold of what we are capable of doing.
With the second half of the season ahead of them, the No. 24 Braves see the loss as a revelation to learn from. The combined record of the final five teams left on the UNCP schedule is 8-17 with the best individual record of any team being Lenoir-Rhyne, Catawba and Concord at 2-3.
“I thought it was a great wake-up call honestly,” Richardson said. “Maybe this is a little bit of a picture of losing the battle so you can win the war. It’s still a five-game season left which is kind of the war. … We probably had to lose that battle on Saturday to be able to realize some of this stuff for the long run.”
The Bears look to get their offense going on the legs of redshirt freshman running back Nelson Brown, who comes in averaging 131 yards rushing per game.
“They’ve got a pretty prolific run game,” Richardson said. “They like to run the ball in a lot of different ways. They will show us a lot of different formations and offensive sets and I think we’ve just got to be ready to adjust to it defensively.”
For UNCP, its offense will look to rebound the passing game that was held in check by the Golden Tigers. Quarterback Patrick O’Brien was held to a season-low 128 yards passing and his top target B.J. Bunn had his third-worst receiving game of his career with 11 yards on three catches.
“I don’t think we got the passing game going on Saturday,” Richardson said. “Obviously Pat has to be on and B.J. Bunn’s got to get going. I felt B.J. didn’t get going on Saturday and that’s not helpful when your best receiver, your best playmaker that you anticipate can help you out. Those two guys have to be good players for us and that has to be every game.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.