Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s 0-2 start to the football season has not caused coach Monte Coleman to dread the start of SWAC play.
“I’m excited about getting into conference,” he said during Monday’s SWAC coaches’ teleconference, asked if he fears conference play at this point. “You fear conference play anyway because there are some very good football teams.”
But at 4 p.m. Saturday at Golden Lion Stadium, two perennial SWAC contenders in dire need of a victory will hook up when Alabama State pays UAPB a visit. The game will be webcast live on ESPN3.com and rebroadcast at 9:30 p.m. that night on ESPNU.
Alabama State (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) dropped its conference opener Saturday at Jackson State, 30-23, despite getting 179 yards on 18 carries from Isaiah Crowell. The junior standout, who transferred from Georgia before the 2012 season, was named SWAC Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts, which included an 84-yard touchdown run.
And Crowell’s expected to be a tough challenge for a UAPB defense that’s given up 1,200 total yards through two games.
“He’s a dual threat,” Coleman said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield and he runs well out of the backfield with speed.”
Coleman said the difference in his defense this year to that of 2012 is that the current unit has not made plays consistently. UAPB also has allowed 130 points so far — 62 at Arkansas State and 58 at McNeese State.
“That’s been the tale of the story,” Coleman said. “We had people in position, but we just didn’t make the play.”
Coleman said he hasn’t seen a lack of effort from his defense, which senior linebacker Jer-ryan Harris cited after Saturday’s 58-14 loss at McNeese State before 15,217 fans. Redshirt sophomore Antonio Jenkins, a second-string strong safety, led the Lions with 14 tackles (six solo), while freshman linebacker Willie Duncan III followed with 12 (one solo) and Harris added 10 (three solo).
“The effort is there,” Coleman said. “We’re making mistakes. If we call a coverage, you have to play the coverage. If you’re in a position to make the tackle, you can’t miss the tackle.”
SWAC’s nonconference record
UAPB’s struggles in nonconference play are similar to other SWAC teams.
The SWAC did not win a single nonconference game this past Saturday, going 0-7 against SEC, Southland Conference and Division II talent. For the season, SWAC teams are 1-12 in out-of-league games, the lone victory a 63-12 Alcorn State decision over the NAIA’s Edward Waters College of Florida on Aug. 31.
A Sports Network column by Craig Haley criticized the SWAC for “not showing enough progress” against teams outside the league. Pressed about the column, Coleman cited the disparity in scholarships between his team and the likes of Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference and McNeese State of the Southland.
“As far as my team, we don’t have some of the amenities to attract larger-name kids,” Coleman said. “We will get better, though. We have some great ball players in this conference. It’s just a matter of getting more to our schools.
“The ones we do have, they have heart. It’s a matter of time before we get all our ducks in a row.”
Lions in the rankings
Despite Saturday’s blowout defeat, UAPB still earned eight voting points in the latest The Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll, good enough for 50th place. McNeese State moved five spots up to 13th, while Central Arkansas dropped one spot to eighth after a 38-24 loss at Pac-12 Colorado.
UAPB fell out of the Heritage Sports Radio Network Black College FCS top 10 from No. 10. The Lions were ranked No. 1 in the poll at the end of last season and started No. 1 this season.
Voters in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network poll, which crowns the black college national champion among all divisions, were a little more forgiving to the Lions, moving them from No. 3 to No. 6. The top 10 in that poll, in order, are Bethune-Cookman, North Carolina A&T, Tuskegee, Tennessee State, Winston-Salem State, UAPB, Jackson State, Howard, Florida A&M and South Carolina State.
Tuskegee and Winston-Salem State are Division II programs, the latter being the NCAA runner-up last season.
UAPB slipped from No. 4 to No. 8 in the Boxtorow FCS HBCU Football Coaches’ Poll and was ranked No. 9 in the first Boxtorow HBCU Media Top 10 poll of the season. The Boxtorow polls are administered by the radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row”.
Not all bad on defense
Grambling State’s defensive efforts might not be as bad as the scores or total yards allowed indicate. Just ask its first-year defensive coordinator, former UAPB defensive line coach Dennis Winston.
“A lot of people don’t realize, the first game (against Alabama A&M) we had 11 three-and-outs and they had 23 points on us,” Winston said, referring to the 23-9 defeat. “This game (a 48-10 loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday), they kicked four field goals.”
Winston mentored the NCAA’s sack leader across all divisions last season, Brandon Thurmond, at UAPB. This year, his Grambling State defense has allowed 448 yards per game, but has held opponents to 195.5 yards passing per game.
SWAC standings, schedule
Team Conf. Over.
Prairie View A&M 1-0 1-1
Southern 0-0 0-2
UAPB 0-0 0-2
Grambling State 0-1 0-2
Texas Southern 0-1 0-1
Team Conf. Over.
Jackson State 1-0 1-1
Alabama A&M 1-0 1-1
Alcorn State 0-0 1-1
Miss. Valley State 0-0 0-2
Alabama State 0-1 0-2
MVSU at Alcorn State, 2 p.m.
Alabama State at UAPB, 4 p.m. (ESPN3.com; tape-delay at 9:30 p.m. on ESPNU)
Grambling State vs. Lincoln (Mo.), at Kansas City, Mo., 4:30 p.m.
Prairie View A&M at Southern, 6 p.m.
Alabama A&M at South Carolina State, 6 p.m.
Jackson State vs. Tennessee State, at Memphis, 6 p.m.
Texas Southern at Sam Houston State, 7 p.m.