Back In The SWAC: Lions resume conference race at home today


Today, Arkansas-Pine Bluff is stepping back into familiarity.

For one, the Golden Lions are playing at home for the first time in almost a full month after three straight games on the road.

“We’re ready to come back home,” wide receiver Dezmond Beverly said earlier this week. “We miss it. We want to come back and play in front of our fans in Pine Bluff.”

Today’s game also presents the Lions with a more familiar opponent than their last.

“The focus is that we’re familiar with these guys,” Lions coach Monte Coleman said. “We weren’t familiar with Tennessee State, but we are familiar with Jackson State.”

Familiarity didn’t stop UAPB from taking an early 10-0 lead against Tennessee State on the road a week ago, but the Tigers of the Ohio Valley Conference delivered an offensive performance the Lions hadn’t seen all season en route to a 40-13 victory.

What about the Tigers from the SWAC that the Lions will see today? The Lions know what they’re capable of, and that’s a strong offense.

Jackson State hasn’t scored fewer than 21 points in conference play and is averaging 380.6 yards per game. The Tigers have scored 100 points against the Lions in the past two seasons combined.

“If they score 45, I want to score 46, and that’s all that matters,” Coleman said. “I just want to win. The stats are important to me, but the bottom line is what’s on the scoreboard.

“Do we want to give up 40 points? Absolutely not. We want to give up as minimal as possible. They do have a high-powered offense. They are very capable of scoring points, but the bottom line is at the end of the day — different than the Alabama A&M game where we won in the stat category but on the scoreboard, we lost — I don’t want that feeling again.”

That’s how he felt the last time UAPB played at home, a 14-10 loss to A&M on Sept. 8.

In every game except Tennessee State, defense has given UAPB an opportunity to win. Today, UAPB seeks to avoid a repeat of last week’s game in which the defense was picked apart while staying on the field because of the offense’s inability to move the ball after the early lead.

“We can’t leave the defense on the field like we did against TSU,” Beverly said. “We’ve got to be able to convert first downs, keep drives alive and keep the ball moving so we can keep them fresh.”

Beverly and quarterback Ben Anderson attributed the offense’s failures against Tennessee State to a lack of focus once the Lions were out in front. Anderson said they have addressed that weakness in practice.

“We had a lot better practice this week than we did any day last week, so that’s a start.”

The Lions’ defense will have plenty of focus trying to slow down Jackson State’s passing game. Senior Rico Richardson leads the Tigers with 119.4 receiving yards per game.

“He’s very explosive, not just as a wide receiver,” Coleman said. “He’s blocked punts, (and) he’s on their punt return team. The thing we’ve got to do is play our defense. We’ll be locked up man-to-man on him on occasions, and what my corners have to do is they’ve got to win.

“We can’t just allow him to streak by us and give a free uncontested touchdown. We’ve got to play sound defense because the young man is very good.”

Jackson State uses two quarterbacks, Clayton Moore and Dedric McDonald, in its system. The key for UAPB is stopping the offense rather than trying to limit what each quarterback does, Coleman said.

“They’re running the same plays,” Coleman said. “It’s not like they put one quarterback in and he’s the Wildcat quarterback. They both come in. They run the same offense. What we’re gearing up for is the offense, not the quarterbacks.”

Anderson hopes his offense can regain its rhythm to help the Lions’ defense at home.

“We know we’ve got one of the best defenses in the SWAC,” he said. “So keeping them healthy and keeping them off the field is always a plus, but it also helps if we put points on the board. It gives them energy.”

Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell

• UAPB is seeking to avoid a third straight year of having its overall and conference records evened by a loss to Jackson State. The Golden Lions fell to 5-5 and 4-4 after a 52-30 defeat in 2010 and to 3-3 and 2-2 following a 48-10 loss in 2011.

• Defensively, UAPB ranks 11th in total defense in the Football Championship Subdivision at 302.2 yards allowed.

• The crowd of 38,722 that saw last year’s game in Jackson is the most to watch a UAPB game in the past three seasons. It was Jackson State’s homecoming.

• The Lions won’t play at home again until their homecoming game Oct. 27 against Mississippi Valley State. They will be off next week and play at Southern on Oct. 20.