Arkansas-Pine Bluff football coach Monte Coleman doesn’t feel a sense of desperation. Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow doesn’t feel added pressure.
But both teams are in need of their first victory of the season.
Both were favored to win their respective divisions, UAPB the reigning SWAC and Western Division titleholder and Alabama State a perennial contender in the Eastern Division. While UAPB begins its title defense Saturday, Alabama State is trying to get out of a 0-1 hole in conference play.
“I won’t use the word ‘desperate,’ but there’s an urgency,” Coleman said. “A big urgency for both of us.”
The 0-2 overall records are the same, but how UAPB and Alabama State got there is different from each other.
UAPB took a more beaten path, losing a combined 120-25 to Sun Belt Conference power Arkansas State and Southland Conference contender McNeese State. In those games combined, the Golden Lions have allowed 1,200 yards and five 100-yard rushers.
But the Lions also have gone into battle without some key players because they have not yet been cleared to play for unspecific reasons. Coleman is hoping players like senior running back Justin Billings and sophomore wide receiver Willie Young will get the green light, as will defensive linemen Damien Lee and Sean Robison.
All four were key cogs in the Lions’ run to the SWAC championship last season.
“We do have a lot of young guys playing because of circumstances, but we’ve got to get a little better every week,” Coleman said. “This week, we’ve really got to grow up.”
Alabama State has not gone 0-2 without a pair of fights. The Hornets were heartbroken at home against Jacksonville State, 24-22, and then came up short at Jackson State, 30-23, dropping a tough one to the defending Eastern Division champion after leading 14-0.
But some positives came out of that game for the Hornets. Junior running back Isaiah Crowell was named the SWAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week for his 18-carry, 179-yard output, while junior Derrick Billups (6-foot-3, 308 pounds) was honored as the Defensive Player of the Week with 12 tackles including a sack.
Crowell, all 5 feet, 11 inches and 190 pounds of him, is the focal point of the Hornets’ offense, and he’ll try to give an already struggling Lions’ defense more trouble. But UAPB has concentrated this week on being in the right position to make stops.
“You got to get in the right hitting position,” Coleman said. “You get your body, feet and all that in the right hitting position. You can’t be reaching. You can’t be touching. When you do all that, that’s where you get your facemask penalties, horsecollar penalties. It’s getting your body to know, ‘Without a doubt, I would have made this tackle.’”
Meanwhile, Billups anchors a defensive line that Coleman says loves to blitz, so the UAPB offensive line will have to put on its best shield this season for quarterback Ben Anderson. The O-line has given up nine sacks so far, including six against Arkansas State.
“The thing we’ve got to do is take what they give us,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to hit our key players. Ben’s got to have a great game. The offensive line’s definitely got to have a great game. So, with those two factors, … we should fare well.”
Anderson has yet to throw for 200 yards in a game in 2013, but his offense has found some help in the ground game in the form of Jamie Smith. The freshman enjoyed a breakout performance last Saturday at McNeese State with 90 yards on 15 carries.
If Billings is available Saturday, that will make the Lions twice as hard to stop on the ground. And the Hornets won’t want to let Anderson, the preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, get into his usual winning form.
“I like the guy, he’s good,” Barlow said.
The winner of this game will maintain the label of division favorite in the SWAC, while the loser just may put itself in desperation mode at 0-3. But for now, Barlow isn’t feeling any more pressure because he and the Lions will square off for the same thing.
“They’re all important,” Barlow said of SWAC games. “It’s the pressure of SWAC play, anyway. So, no added pressure.”
Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell
• This is the second straight year ESPNU will broadcast UAPB vs. Alabama State, although this year’s telecast will be tape-delayed. ESPNU televised the 2012 meeting in Montgomery, Ala., live, as UAPB won 24-21.
• Saturday’s game will be previewed on the radio show “From the Press Box to Press Row,” hosted by Donal Ware. The show airs locally at 9 a.m. Saturday on KUAP-FM 89.7.
• UAPB is expected to don new uniforms Saturday. A photo of the new outfits was not available, however.
• The Lions seek to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2008, when they began 0-7 in Monte Coleman’s first season as head coach. (UAPB finished that year 3-9.) A win will give Coleman a winning percentage of better than .500 again (29-29 career record).
• Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow needs a win to even his overall coaching record at 35-35. He’s in his seventh season at the Montgomery university.
ALABAMA STATE HORNETS (0-2) AT UAPB GOLDEN LIONS (0-2)
4 p.m. Saturday • Golden Lion Stadium • Webcast/TV: ESPN3.com (live)/ESPNU (same-day broadcast at 9:30 p.m.) • Radio: KUAP-FM 89.7 • SWAC records: Alabama State 0-1; UAPB 0-0
Alabama State at UAPB projected starters
Alabama State offense
WR: 10-Demario Bell (So.)
LT: 74-Matthew Bates (Jr.)
LG: 71-Damian Love (So.)
C: 65-Edmond Davis (Sr.)
RG: 72-Robert Roquemore (So.)
RT: 67-Tovar Allen (Jr.)
TE: 89-Justin Robinson (Sr.)
WR: 7-Earl Lucas (Jr.)
QB: 15-Daniel Duhart (So.)
FB: 33-Rodney Cross (So.)
RB: 1-Isaiah Crowell (Jr.)
Alabama State defense
LE: 99-Edward Mosley (Jr.)
LT: 96-Derrick Billups (Jr.)
RT: 95-Justin Mitchell (Jr.)
RE: 53-Carlton Jones (Sr.)
SLB: 50-Leland Baker (Sr.)
MLB: 32-Kourtney Berry (Fr.)
WLB: 14-Daerius Washington (So.)
CB: 30-Nick Martin (So.)
FS: 49-Najee Bright (So.)
SS: 16-Deandre Rashada (Jr.)
CB: 2-Michael Showers (Jr.)
Alabama State specialists
P: 6-Bobby Wenzig (Sr.)
K: 6-Bobby Wenzig (Sr.)
Hold: 88-Ephraim Henderson (So.)
Snap: 41-Marquis Lovett (Jr.)
PR: 22-Malcolm Cyrus (Jr.)
KR: 10-DeMario Bell (So.)
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.)
SS: 22-Kevin Rucker Jr. (So.)
FS: 13-T.Q. Mims (Sr.)
LC: 23-Gyovanni Harvey (Sr.)
RC: 26-David Watson (Sr.)
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: 34-Jamie Smith (Fr.)
Y-Slot: 37-Cody Swain (Fr.)
WR: 10-Ladarius Eckwood (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.)