The start of Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s 2013 football season was designed for the Golden Lions to test their abilities against one team of a higher caliber and to see if they’re of the same caliber as another team.
Given the events of last week, the assumption is that McNeese State is a step ahead of UAPB.
While a shorthanded Golden Lions team struggled to compete with Sun Belt Conference power Arkansas State, McNeese State joined six other Football Championship Subdivision teams in rocking the nation with upset wins over Football Bowl Subdivision talent.
The Lions are fully aware of McNeese State’s 53-21 win at South Florida, but they’re not shaken by the result.
“It’s just another team,” UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson said. “We’re really not paying attention to divisions. We watched film. South Florida had plenty of chances to win the game. They just made mistakes.
“(McNeese) won the game, but we’re not fearing them because they beat a D-I (FBS) team or nothing like that, but we understand they are a good team.”
So good, in fact, the Cowboys vaulted into this week’s The Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll at No. 18.
As eighth-year Cowboys coach Matt Viator sees it, tonight’s UAPB-McNeese game is still a clash of a conference champion (UAPB) going against a program trying to work its way back to FCS prominence. The Cowboys, who were FCS national runners-up in 1997 and 2002, haven’t won the Southland Conference title since 2009, and UAPB’s reign in the SWAC grabs their attention.
But the Lions are trying to earn more respect with a better showing tonight than last week’s blowout at A-State.
“That’s just one of those games you try to forget and throw in the backburner as soon as possible,” Anderson said.
Anderson and the Lions’ offense hope to establish more of a rhythm tonight after behind held for 161 passing yards and 12 more on 31 rushing attempts. UAPB is awaiting word on the eligibility of senior Justin Billings and sophomore Aaron Lagrone; the team’s top two returning running backs from last season were among at least 13 who were not cleared to play against Arkansas State.
Meanwhile, those who are available will have to step up, Anderson said.
“We all have got to make more big plays,” he said. “I’ve got to make more big plays. Receivers have got to be more dependable. The line has got to hold. We all have to take more ownership and step up.”
Anderson and Coleman added this week of practice has been better than last week — not just because UAPB has dealt with fewer distractions (i.e. the breaking news of some players being ineligible).
“It’s been a lot better week. A whole lot better,” Coleman said. “One of the things that’s made it a better week is that we’ve had a game, and (McNeese has) had a game, so we were able to exchange film. We’re not going in just totally blind.”
What Coleman saw was a McNeese State team taking advantage of South Florida miscues and then having its way against the Bulls.
“They did, offensively, what they wanted to do,” Coleman said. “They ran the football very successfully. They threw the football very successfully. They had plays on defense. They had plays on special teams. It was a good all-around victory for McNeese last week. And I guess to top it all off, they played right there at South Florida.”
A key for the Lions defensively, according to Coleman, will be each player taking care of his own assignment. Arkansas State took advantage of missed defensive assignments by UAPB and turned in long plays including Michael Gordon’s 91-yard touchdown run and quarterback Fredi Knighten’s 79-yard scamper that led to a scoring run.
“A lot of times in the big plays, the big thing that hurt us the most was tackling,” Coleman said. “We had people in position to hold them to a 5-, 6-, 7-, maybe even a 10-yard gain, but missed tackles and trying to do too much (cost us). When you get behind and you start guessing your abilities, then it can hurt you. That’s what we had in some cases with our guys.”
Some of the Lions who were ineligible last week, including senior defensive lineman Damien Lee, still were not cleared as of Thursday to play tonight for unknown reasons. But the Lions can go into the game knowing one less distraction will be a factor in tonight’s final outcome and learning from the Arkansas State defeat can prove beneficial in their search for their own upset tonight.
“If we come ready to play, I think we can play with McNeese,” Coleman said. “Unfortunately, for the circumstances last week, we really weren’t ready to play, because of reasons. So, the score is what it is. But I think if we come ready to play, we should fare well.”
Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell
• Tonight’s game is the first-ever meeting for both teams.
• Comcast SportsNet, which is broadcasting tonight’s game, is not available in Pine Bluff, but it can be seen on Comcast in Little Rock, according to a spokesman for the cable company.
• This will be the last road game for UAPB until Oct. 5, when it visits Jackson State. UAPB will play at home the next two weeks against Alabama State and Alcorn State, then take an off-week.
• No SWAC team has ever defeated McNeese State in nine tries.
WR: 15-Dezmond Beverly (Sr.)
H-Slot: 17-Dexter Bryant (Sr.)
LT: 77-Me’kale Carter (Jr.)
LG: 65-Kenny Eagle (Sr.)
C: 64-Toddra Pamplin (So.)
RG: 60-Keathric Brown (Sr.)
RT: 71-Trevon Reagan (Fr.)
QB: 11-Ben Anderson (Jr.)
TB: 24-Alton Taylor (Jr.) or 34-Jamie Smith (Fr.)
Y-Slot: 37-Cody Swain (So.)
WR: 10-Ladarius Eckwood (Sr.)
LE: 90-Anthony Smith (Sr.)
LT: 93-Troy Goss (Jr.)
RT: 98-Caleb Ealy (So.)
RE: 56-Julian Morgan (Fr.)
WLB: 35-Xavier Lofton (Sr.)
MLB: 40-Kyle Walker (So.)
SLB: 51-Jer-ryan Harris (Sr.)
FS: 13-T.Q. Mims (Sr.)
CB: 23-Gyovanni Harvey (Sr.)
CB: 26-David Watson (Sr.)
P: 3-Tyler Strickland (Jr.)
K: 3-Tyler Strickland (Jr.)
Hold: 10-Ladarius Eckwood (Sr.)
Snap: 7-C.J. Branch (Jr.)
KR: 31-Andre Mitchell (So.)
PR: 31-Andre Mitchell (So.)
McNeese State defense
LE: 99-Chris Loveless (Sr.)
LT: 98-Michael Ware (Sr.)
RT: 75-Kevin Dorn (Jr.)
RE: 94-Everett Ellefsen (Jr.)
MLB: 10-Bo Brown (So.)
WLB: 12-Deonte Thompson (Jr.)
CB: 6-Guy Morgan (Sr.)
CB: 13-Gabe Hammer (So.)
S: 21-Aaron Sam (Jr.)
S: 11-Terence Cahee (Sr.)
FS: 38-Ryan Bronson (Sr.)
McNeese State offense
WR: 85-Wes Briscoe (Sr.)
WR: 7-Ernest Celestie (Jr.)
TE: 88-Nic Jacobs (Jr.)
LT: 71-Antoine Everett (Jr.)
LG: 62-Quentin Marsh (So.)
C: 61-Nick Gorman (So.)
RG: 77-Arinze Agada (Sr.)
RT: 74-Ben Jones (So.)
QB: 18-Cody Stroud (Sr.)
TB: 3-Marcus Wiltz (Sr.)
WR: 4-Diontae Spencer (Sr.)
McNeese State specialists
P: 1-Jean Breaux (So.)
K: 39-Ryan Rome (Sr.) or 1-Jean Breaux (So.)
Hold: 81-William Ryckman (Sr.)
Snap: 85-Wes Briscoe (Sr.) or 84-Hunter Romero (Jr.)
KR: 4-Diontae Spencer (Sr.)
PR: 4-Diontae Spencer (Sr.)