Regardless of the outcome of this Saturday’s season finale at Prairie View A&M, Arkansas-Pine Bluff won’t finish with a winning record.
So all it’ll have to look forward to this time next week is next season. But coach Monte Coleman revealed Monday he’s received some positive signs for the future.
“It’s been an encouraging season,” Coleman said during the final SWAC coaches’ teleconference of the season. “A lot of the young guys stepped up and improved and played.
“The effort is there. The guys are playing very hard. There’s no question about it.”
For this year, UAPB (2-8, 2-6 SWAC) can only hope to avoid its worst record in Coleman’s six seasons at the helm by winning its third game in the last four. This past Saturday’s 50-42 loss at Alabama A&M is the fourth decided by one possession for the Golden Lions.
Coleman has not used the excuse of losing a large number of players due to eligibility issues since the middle of the season, when the Lions were still looking for their first victory.
“I think it was a distraction maybe the first couple of games,” Coleman said. “Once we got to conference season (in Week 3), the distractions went away.
“I let the guys know what we have (in the way of personnel) is what we have, and we have to play with what we have. Once we did that, I saw an improvement in our team.”
In fact, junior quarterback Ben Anderson has stepped up his play throughout the season. His 330 yards against A&M represent the third career 300-plus-yard passing game.
But each time he’s broken the 300-yard plateau this season, the Lions have lost. Anderson went for 316 against Texas Southern.
“The only way I can explain it, the thing where we’re having our shortcoming is on defense,” Coleman said. “We’re banged up on defense. We’re very young on defense. Anytime you can put 42 points on the board, you would think, you would hope you could win.”
UAPB played Saturday without senior middle linebacker Jer-ryan Harris, who sustained a contusion on his shin in the Nov. 9 Grambling State game. Harris, who once led the Football Championship Subdivision in tackles per game, is now eighth with 10.8 per game. He needs three tackles for 100 on the season.
Coleman added there are no adjustments to make on defense despite the unit’s struggles.
“We just have to play better defense,” he said. “In each game we lost, we’ve given up several big plays in the passing game.”
Productive way to finish
Alabama A&M totaled 563 yards of offense Saturday, the most UAPB has allowed since giving up 672 at Arkansas State in the season opener.
Jaymason Lee threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns, and Barrington Scott rushed for 201 yards and three more scores for the Bulldogs (4-7, 4-5 SWAC), who completed their conference schedule.
“Without a doubt, our most productive day offensively,” Bulldogs coach Anthony Jones said. “Our guys kind of grew up this weekend, and they made plays. You can X-and-O all you want, and they mean nothing unless they come to life. They came to life (Saturday).”
The Bulldogs aren’t done for the season, yet. They’ll visit Georgia Tech this Saturday in the Yellowjackets’ preparation for their rivalry game against Georgia.
Georgia Tech is the only Football Bowl Subdivision opponent for A&M this season.
“Whenever you can expand who you’re playing against, it’s going to motivate guys wanting to come here,” Jones said. “Anytime you expand your level of competition, it helps you in recruiting.”
Big win ends big season
There will not be an undefeated team in SWAC play this season.
Alcorn State spoiled Jackson State’s bid for a 9-0 conference record Saturday with a 48-33 win over the SWAC championship-bound Tigers in Jackson, Miss. Alcorn State (9-3, 7-2), which led 31-3 at one point, finished with its first winning season since 2006, two years after going 2-9.
“If you had told me we would go 9-3, I’d have said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it,’” second-year Braves coach Jay Hopson said. “I thought our guys played hard every week. After that heartbreaking loss (against Alabama A&M, 19-18, on Nov. 2), for these guys to come back the way they did, I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
That loss essentially cost the Braves a chance to compete in the Dec. 7 SWAC final in Houston.
Alcorn State has beaten both teams that will compete in the final. On Oct. 26, the Braves won 44-38 at Southern.