When Arkansas-Pine Bluff defeated Jackson State 34-24 at home on Oct. 6, Jackson State wasn’t exactly the team to beat in the SWAC’s Eastern Division.
At the time, the Tigers were tied for third with Alcorn State in the East, trailing Alabama A&M by 2 ½ games and holding a 2-4 overall record. But statistically, they were better than the Golden Lions that day, outgaining them 420-293 in total yards.
So, UAPB had to overcome a challenge that day. But how challenging Saturday’s SWAC championship game in Birmingham, Ala., will be for the Lions remains to be seen.
“It will be a different game,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said during Monday’s teleconference for the game. “We’ll be more familiar with each other because we’ve seen each other. It is harder to beat a team twice.”
The Golden Lions not only struggled defensively that day but also in the passing game. Ben Anderson threw for only 30 yards despite two touchdowns in the process.
Those struggles have not been indicative of the Lions’ play throughout the season. In fact, Jackson State and UAPB are second and third, respectively, in the conference in total offense (406.3 yards per game to 401.5) and flip-flop those rankings in total defense (UAPB with a 307.7-311.5 edge).
Jackson State has improved as a team from that day, winning five straight and making up the 2 ½-game deficit to win the East.
“We rolled our sleeves up and went back to basics,” Tigers coach Rick Comegy said. “We got closer as a team. The kids pulled together and wanted to be a good team. Now, we’re beginning to peak as a team.”
While Jackson State had better stats than UAPB on Oct. 6, the Tigers also were saddled with seven fumbles, four of them lost. Their two quarterbacks, Dedric McDonald and Clayton Moore, combined for only 101 passing yards.
“I don’t know if we were a good football team that day,” Comegy said. “We have to be a better football team Saturday.”
Both Coleman and Comegy have said their teams are taking the approach of doing what they do best rather than make changes to their schemes. Coleman’s sticking with his defensive plan in hopes of better success against the Tigers’ offense the second time around.
“We have to play the defense that’s called,” Coleman said. “We have to make sure we’re sound on defense, take care of our responsibilities as a defensive player and then help our teammate.”
Then, there’s the matter of trying to contain the opposition’s key players. The Lions know about Jackson State’s standout senior wide receiver, Rico Richardson, who leads the conference in receiving yards with 98.3 per game.
“We have to understand and realize that he has good running speed,” Coleman said.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will try to protect themselves from the play of the nation’s sack leader, UAPB senior defensive end Brandon Thurmond (16.5 sacks this season).
“He knows how to get to the quarterback,” Comegy said. “He has that knack. He’s well coached. He’s a guy you definitely have to look to double-team.”