Monte Coleman acknowledged Thursday that Arkansas-Pine Bluff just didn’t play well against Texas Southern a week ago. The sixth-year head coach couldn’t pinpoint why.
But it was a big loss. It was UAPB’s sixth consecutive to start the season (the Golden Lions’ last 0-7 start was in 2008), and it all but ended any hopes of successfully defending the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
And it came against a previously winless team.
Now, here comes Southern (3-3, 3-1 SWAC), the Western Division leader in the conference that’s done what UAPB hasn’t and gotten over the hump in three close SWAC games. Two of the Jaguars’ SWAC wins, including last Saturday’s 20-17 feat against Alabama A&M, have come in overtime.
Their close calls would make for a good pep-talk subject for Coleman. But it’s homecoming day at UAPB, and he might not say anything at all before the game.
“We have to come out with an attitude,” Coleman said. “It’s homecoming for us. Come game day, when we get ready to come out on the field, I don’t have a pep talk. If you can’t get fired up to win a football game, which we haven’t won, plus it’s homecoming, ain’t nothing I can say to fire you up.”
The Lions (0-6, 0-4) haven’t had a problem being fired up, especially with a championship to defend and the ineligibility of several returnees keeping this young bunch’s backs against the wall.
In fact, UAPB has only come so close to continued dominance, although the record doesn’t indicate it. Its four SWAC losses have come by an average of 7 points per game.
That and Southern’s close calls are enough to call this game evenly matched.
“It’s October,” second-year Jaguars coach Dawson Odums said. “We’re not watching baseball; we don’t have time. But it’s a playoff atmosphere. If you ask anyone in college football, they’ll tell you that October is the month that everyone separates from themselves.”
Three games separate the Jaguars from the Lions in SWAC standings, but they’re not far from each other in many statistical categories.
Southern has been solid in scoring defense the past three games, allowing no more than 19 points, but the Jaguars have given up 481 total offensive yards per game this season. That’s slightly better than UAPB’s 506.7 average.
But UAPB’s defense has an opportunity to rise to the occasion today. Southern has only scored more than 20 points once this season, and not since a 62-59 double-overtime win against Prairie View A&M on Sept. 14.
“We’re throwing the football,” Odums said. “We’re moving the football from the 20 to the 20, but we didn’t have many red-zone opportunities (against Alabama A&M). So, we’ve got to do something to get that football in the end zone. We’ve got playmakers, and I’m going to challenge these guys and see if we can’t get back to that type of offensive football we know we can play.
UAPB, however, has a 387.3-361.5 edge in total yards earned per game. Today’s game will feature two of the top three passers in the conference, Southern senior Dray Joseph (second in SWAC with 281.2 passing yards per game) and UAPB junior Ben Anderson (third with 236).
Southern boasts two of the conference’s top five receivers, league-leading senior Lee Doss (116 receiving ypg, five touchdowns) and fifth-place freshman Willie Quinn (63.8, four TDs).
“When you see him on film, you have to question if this guy is good as advertised,” Odums said of Quinn. “When players go out on the field and go up against him, they find out real quick. He’s a small-stature guy, but with a big heart. He possesses some skills, assets that are not blessed to a lot of individuals. He’s a prime-time football player that makes big plays.”
Before the season began, a UAPB victory over Southern would not have been considered an upset. The Lions have been successful in recent years against one of black college football’s most storied programs, but the Jaguars have also struggled to maintain its prominence in the SWAC with three straight losing seasons of four wins or less.
Now, it’s the Lions fighting to regain the posture of a SWAC powerhouse, trying to end its worst tail spin in five years.
“Our guys are still fighting hard, fighting their guts out each week,” Coleman said. “I think they deserve to have their fans come out and root for them every game. Don’t stop rooting for us because we lost a game.”
Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell
• UAPB has won the past three games against Southern.
• This is the first meeting between UAPB and Southern at Golden Lion Stadium since a 2011 brawl that erupted at the conclusion of UAPB’s 22-21 victory. The brawl resulted in suspensions of 25 UAPB and 15 Southern players ranging from one to two games each.
• UAPB linebackers Jer-ryan Harris and Antonio Jenkins rank first and second among all Football Championship Subdivision players in tackles per game with 13 and 12.4, respectively.
• UAPB has averaged an attendance of 5,473 through three home games this season. Southern leads the conference with 20,406 per game (three games).