The Pine Bluff Zebras’ defense will be asked to slow down a type of offense they haven’t seen much of this year when they face the Sheridan Yellowjackets on Friday night.
Zebras head coach Bobby Bolding said he expects to see the Yellowjackets’ offense run a lot of option plays when the 7A/6A-South opponents clash at 7 p.m. at Jordan Stadium.
“They look to run the option and play-action off of it,” Bolding said. “… We’ve got to be disciplined.
“We’ve got to be able to make our tackles, because last week we gave up a couple of runs where we didn’t move our feet and tried to make arm tackles.”
Bolding said the defense’s preparation for the unique rushing attack has been promising.
“We’re a fit defense,” Bolding said. “By that I mean we’re fit on our blocking schemes.
“We’ll still have to get off our blocks and make some tackles, but if you fit where you are supposed to, you should be OK.”
Sheridan’s rushing attack will be forced to go without its top-two running backs in Friday night’s game as seniors Braden Lunday and Mackenzie Jones suffered season-ending leg injuries earlier this month.
“Anytime you have people out, it makes things a lot tougher,” Bolding said. “But I’m sure they are like us and it’s just next man up.
“I mean they’re a two (second string) for a reason, but they’ve got to step up and get it done.”
Pine Bluff may not run the option, but it doesn’t mean the running game is any less important for Bolding and the Zebras.
“They aren’t a team that really crowds the box,” Bolding said of Sheridan. “So we’re going to need to establish the run.
“If we can do that, they will bring more people down to defend the run, then we can get into play-action stuff.”
Pine Bluff will try and bounce back Friday night from a tough 21-14 loss the week before at El Dorado. In that game, the Zebras coughed up the ball five times while also coughing up a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
“We just worked on technique,” Bolding said of correcting the fumbling issue in practice. “Up until (the El Dorado game) it really hadn’t been an issue, so as coaches maybe we hadn’t stressed it enough.
“I mean, we’re trying to fix so many things we never really highlighted it, but we definitely went back and worked on it this week.”
Aside from a few miscommunications defensively, Pine Bluff’s only other major mistake last week was on the opening kickoff of the second half. El Dorado senior Jaqualoyn Willis fielded Austin McGehee’s kick at the 2-yard line and took it all the way back to tie the game 14-14.
Even with the mistake, Bolding doesn’t see a reason to change things in regards to covering kicks.
“We’ve just got to execute it right,” he said. “You can’t keep changing something; you just have to execute it better.
“We put the new system in place two weeks ago and last week we went against a much stronger opponent but it looked better, so hopefully, we got it fixed.”
In contrast to their two previous losses to North Little Rock and Lake Hamilton, Pine Bluff actually did a good job covering punts and kickoffs. The one Willis scored on proved to be a deadly combination of missed assignments, poor tackling and an outstanding returner.
“We actually had three guys in the middle who were wrong,” Bolding said of the play. “We also missed four tackles on that play, too.”
Bolding is confident, though, the Zebras will correct the mistakes they made last week.
“We just try to fix what we did wrong,” he said. “There are only so many things you can do wrong.
“We’ve done just about all of them, but we’ve done a good job learning from them.”