Thursday Night Lights: Lions go for national respect in ESPNU game


Playing on a Thursday night before millions of fans is nothing new to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. And coach Monte Coleman understands the benefits of winning such a showcase game.

“I think we’ll get recognized a lot more around the SWAC and also in college football if we can go down and beat Alabama State,” Coleman said.

Tonight, UAPB and Alabama State take up ESPNU’s prime-time schedule with their conference battle in downtown Montgomery. The winner will take sole possession of the lead in its respective SWAC division, at least through Saturday.

National exposure and maybe a few more inquiries from prospects across the South are the perks that await the winner.

“It’s always good when you can put your product out there,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow said Monday. “It’s going to be a challenge for us. It’s a short week, so we have to get on it.”

UAPB last played on national TV two seasons ago, losing at home to Prairie View A&M 21-6 and winning at Alcorn State 39-35. This will be Alabama State’s second appearance of the season on an ESPN, having lost its season opener to Bethune-Cookman in Orlando, Fla.

Alabama State’s sophomore running back, Isaiah Crowell, enjoyed plenty of exposure last season at Georgia, where he won the SEC Freshman of the Year honor.

He’s been a go-to guy for the Hornets this season, leading the team with 98 yards on 15 carries in their come-from-behind 19-18 victory over Grambling State on Saturday.

He just might be warming up because Barlow wants to get him 24-25 carries per game.

“Whenever you put a new guy out there, you’re trying to figure out what he’s comfortable with,” Barlow said. “This was a game where he made big strides. We saw some things where he was comfortable.”

Coleman said earlier this week he’ll have to make defensive adjustments to slow down Crowell. But UAPB has far from struggled on defense, averaging a SWAC-best 11.3 points per game allowed and ranking eighth in the FCS in total defense at 239.3 yards per game.

The key for the Golden Lions tonight is putting in check what Coleman calls a “complex” offense that ranks second in the SWAC in scoring at 25.3 points per game. Alabama State quarterback Greg Jenkins has completed 57.5 percent of his passes, but only averaged 154.7 yards per game.

“If I can use an NFL analogy, State is a little more West Coast, and (Alabama) A&M is a little more smash-mouth,” Coleman said. “They’re both pretty good, and State is definitely one of the premier teams on the East side.”

The UAPB defense may get a boost from Joe Dalton, the team’s co-leader in sacks last season who has yet to play a down in 2012 with a right foot injury. Coleman said the linebacker’s status is a game-day decision.

Offensively, Coleman hopes the Lions can turn in another 200-plus yard performance in the rushing game. While no Lion has rushed for 100 yards in a game this year, Coleman said he doesn’t necessarily have to find one feature back to carry the majority of the load.

“We have to play smash-mouth football,” Coleman said. “If we do that, it’s going to be a very good football game.”

Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell

• UAPB is looking to start 3-1 for the second straight season.

• A win tonight will match UAPB’s 2011 total of wins in true road games (two).

• UAPB defensive end Brandon Thurmond leads the Football Championship Subdivision in total sacks with 5.5 (the SWAC counts 6, but one of Thurmond’s sacks was assisted).

• The Cramton Bowl in Montgomery is the first of two straight off-campus stadiums the Golden Lions will visit. (The Sept. 29 Tennessee State game will be played at the NFL Titans’ LP Field.) Alabama State will open its own stadium with the Thanksgiving Day game against Tuskegee.

• Alabama State is ranked seventh in the Sheridan Broadcasting Network Black College Football Poll, which crowns the black college national champion. UAPB received the 15th-most voting points, but is not ranked.