Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s offensive line was having a really productive game against Alabama State as Saturday’s contest came down to the final minutes.
With 4:10 remaining, UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson had only been sacked once — he was brought down nine times in the previous two games combined — and the offense was on its way to a 482-yard day with 291 passing from Anderson, 18 more from running back Jeremiah Young, and 173 rushing.
But as Alabama State stormed from nine points down to take a 40-39 lead, the O-line needed one more solid series.
It didn’t happen. The line gave up consecutive sacks of 5, 14 and 3 yards back to the UAPB 2-yard line, forcing the Golden Lions to punt and allowing the Hornets to run down all but 3 seconds of the clock. The Hornets won by the same score.
“During that final drive, the tackles got the ends one-on-one,” senior right guard Keathric Brown said. “I guess they got beat doing the inside move. I’m not going to point fingers, but it was an O-line effort what happened the final drive.”
The final sack was the 13th the Lions gave up this season. They are now on pace to allow 47 2/3 sacks during the regular season — more than half of the 23 it yielded last season.
The count from last year was a 13-sack improvement from the year before.
Due to injury and ineligibilities, the five-man front has been whittled down to seven players on the two-deep chart, including three freshmen. There are 10 offensive linemen currently listed on the team’s roster.
“That’ll take a toll on us, too,” Brown said of the attrition.
Second-year UAPB O-line coach Damon Nivens called the lack of numbers and experience the Achilles’ heel for his group.
“We’re still trying to get some guys back due to the difficulty with this compliance thing,” Nivens said, referring to players who have not yet been cleared to play this season. “We’re pretty young at the right side with (redshirt freshman) Trevon Reagan, who’s going through a little growing pain, but he’s going to be OK.”
Reagan, who starts at right tackle, is also listed as a backup to Brown at right guard and junior Me’kale Carter at left tackle. Senior Kenny Eagle starts at left guard and is a backup center to sophomore Toddra Pamplin.
The line had to make adjustments when senior LaFarius Hoskins injured his knee right before the season opener at Arkansas State, costing him the entire season.
Even though quarterback protection has been a challenge for the O-line, Nivens has seen some positives in the group.
“We’re getting a little better in the running game,” he said. “I think we’re picking up the college game a little bit better. We’re not giving up as many pressures.”
UAPB’s offensive yardage has improved each game since totaling only 173 against Arkansas State. That included 12 yards on 31 carries.
But Nivens did acknowledge the line has given up more sacks than what he called normal. He said fatigue was not a factor, however, in the late collapse against Alabama State.
“We should be in shape,” Nivens said. “That shouldn’t be the problem. We pretty much went ‘racehorse’ (stance) the entire game. I just think it’s lack of experience and lack of knowing.”
Eagle knows how the group can correct its problems.
“More awareness, really working on every individual’s weakness and getting stronger,” Eagle said.
Lee, Berry ineligible for season
UAPB coach Monte Coleman revealed two of his defensive linemen have been declared ineligible for the season.
Senior Damien Lee and sophomore Demarcus Berry were among at least 13 players who were not cleared to play before the season opener at Arkansas State, but Coleman confirmed this week there is no chance of either player returning to the team in 2013.
Lee was expected be a returning starter and had been a vocal leader for the Lions during spring drills and preseason camp. Berry saw plenty of playing time as a reserve last season.
Another returning starter, senior safety Ryan Shaw, was ruled ineligible earlier this season.
Coleman said he is still hoping to have senior running back Justin Billings and senior defensive linemen Sean Robison cleared for Saturday’s home game against Alcorn State.
Alcorn State (2-1) at UAPB (0-3)
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Golden Lion Stadium
• Radio: KUAP-FM 89.7
• SWAC records: Alcorn State 1-0; UAPB 0-1
• Last meeting: UAPB 24, Alcorn State 6, at Lorman, Miss., on Sept. 15, 2012