The numbers don’t lie.
Not just the 0 on Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s win column, but the numbers inside that number, like per-game averages of 44 points, 333.3 rushing yards and 506.7 total yards — wait for it — allowed.
While those are huge statistics, it’s been the numbers in clutch moments that have hurt the Golden Lions the most.
Remember Arnold Walker’s game-sealing first-down run on fourth-and-1 for Alcorn State? Or Tommy Gooden’s 30-yarder on third-and-8 with 1 minute left that allowed Jackson State to put away UAPB?
How about Daveonn Porter’s 56-yard touchdown takeoff with 2:44 remaining that gave Texas Southern the final 41-28 margin last week?
They were all running plays in crucial moments that were microcosms of the Lions’ woes on defense. And Texas Southern’s victory — ending an eight-game losing streak — has proven that anything is possible against a club that’s prided itself on defense under coach Monte Coleman.
“Our Achilles’ heel has been our inability to stop the run,” said Coleman, who’s also the Lions’ defensive coordinator.
“All things fair, Troy Goss has been the only defensive lineman that I’ve got who’s returned,” he continued. “I lost Damien Lee, Sean Robison, Demarcus Berry. Three of my four starters are not even here. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but we’ve got somewhat of a makeshift line with young guys and walk-ons.”
Although defensive problems don’t always begin up front, Coleman said that’s been the case with his team.
The woes were unexpected during preseason camp, when all the aforementioned players were practicing. But Lee, a senior, and Berry, a sophomore, were later ruled academically ineligible for the season and senior Robison, who made three consecutive key stops on Jackson State’s drive in last year’s SWAC championship game, still has not yet been cleared to play for unspecified reasons.
That’s left junior Goss teamed up with second-year Lion Anthony Smith (a senior), sophomore Caleb Ealy and junior transfer Joel Green on the first-string defensive line. Freshmen Anthony Johnson and Kwan Cummings Jr. are the only reserve D-linemen listed on the depth chart.
So, Coleman’s taken a certain teaching approach with his young corps.
“You simplify things,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done. You have to simplify to the bare minimum, so they can catch on and play 100 percent. The thing about football, that I have learned, is that it’s about reaction. It’s not a thinking thing. You practice to make it a reaction.
“As you learn in practice, once you get on the field to play, all you do is react to what you see. When you think, it slows you down. You can’t slow down in football, because when you slow down, now the other team gets the upper hand on you.”
Coleman has often cited missed assignments and players trying to do more than their job as reasons for even the weakest rushing opponents breaking big plays against UAPB. Texas Southern, which averaged 63.6 yards rushing before last Saturday, rushed for 355 against UAPB, with quarterback Homer Causey accounting for 196.
A week earlier, Jackson State burned the Lions for 366 yards on the ground, with Gooden going for 214 and four touchdowns.
On paper, it doesn’t seem that would happen to a UAPB team that boasts the top two tacklers in the entire Football Championship Subdivision, linebackers Jer-ryan Harris (13 per game) and Antonio Jenkins (12.4).
“We’re kind of small on the defense and we’ve got some younger guys who are not as strong,” linebackers coach Earl Buckingham said last week. “We need to get more physical and stronger in the weight room, and that will help.”
UAPB could have better luck this Saturday against Southern, whose 80.3 rushing yards per game are worst among the 10 SWAC teams. Then again, the Jaguars may rely on their second-ranked passing offense (281.2) to break down the Lions’ defense.
“Southern has shown more pass than run,” Coleman said. “Now, game plans can change. They’re not a total pass team. They’re more 51-49, pass. But after seeing the last few weeks, they could very easily come in and try to rush the football.”