Just to be clear, new SWAC Western Division champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff is not taking tradition-rich Grambling State lightly today.
“The leaders of the team won’t let that happen,” senior offensive tackle Terron Armstead said.
Despite clinching the West a week ago, UAPB still has a couple of goals to reach, like the school’s first 10-win season and its first outright SWAC championship. The Golden Lions can take another step toward the 10 wins today by defeating the lowly Tigers this afternoon at Eddie Robinson Stadium.
The Lions aren’t changing anything about the way they play just because they already have their spot in the Dec. 8 SWAC title game secured.
“Pretty much the coaches have been on us all week,” junior wide receiver Ladarius Eckwood said. “We’ve still been going with a high intensity, still no slack. We’re going full-speed. We haven’t changed anything.
“So, pretty much, everybody’s focused, the meetings are still the same. Nothing’s changed at all.”
And coach Monte Coleman has been pleased.
“The focus has been better this week than it has been for other games,” he said. “I think partially because of the other things we’re trying to achieve. … We’re focused on what’s never been done.”
UAPB has won nine games in a season twice — in 1990 under Archie Cooley (the year before UAPB was handed the NAIA death penalty) and in 1994 under Lee Hardman, when it reached the NAIA title game in its second year of resurrection. The Lions’ only SWAC championship was shared with two other teams in 1966.
A win today will give the Lions their fifth straight win, two away from their longest such streak in history. And they can win today over the most storied program in black college football, a team Coleman still has respect for.
“Grambling is still a good football team,” he said. “They haven’t gotten a lot of breaks this year. They haven’t done some things, but overall they’re still a good football team.
“We can’t play them for their record. We have to play them for who they are.”
The Tigers’ offense, which is missing 2011 SWAC leading rusher Dawrence Roberts to a knee injury, has struggled putting points on the board, averaging only 16.7 per game. Sophomores D.J. Williams and Frank Rivers have combined for the majority of the 125 completions on 250 attempts with eight interceptions, throwing for 191.1 yards per game.
Grambling State ranks eighth in the 10-team conference in total defense at 394.7 yards allowed a contest.
Asked what’s factored into the Tigers’ struggles, coach Doug Williams — D.J.’s father and Coleman’s former Washington Redskins teammate — didn’t go much into detail.
“I’m going to take the high road and say we as coaches have to do a better job,” he said. “No other way around it.
“They’ve (players) given 100 percent and I wish they could give more.”
Armstead calls today’s game a big task for the Lions despite the advantages they have on paper.
“We know they’re going to play us tough, so we have to get our minds ready,” he said.
And Coleman isn’t adjusting his usual game plan any for Grambling.
“It’s the game plan like we’ve had all along, which is start fast and play for 60 minutes,” he said. “That’s going to be our m.o. for the remainder of the season and the championship game. The thing we’ve got to make sure we do is start fast.”