The question was inevitable: How does going into Saturday’s season opener at Texas State compared to last year’s preparation for the Arkansas State game for coach Monte Coleman and the Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team?
Aside from the expectation that UAPB has prevented a repeat of last year’s academic ineligibility crisis, Coleman and the Golden Lions feel they can compete much better against their second Sun Belt Conference opponent in as many seasons.
“Because they are FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), we will give them the respect we need to,” Coleman said during Tuesday’s coach’s luncheon at the Lil’ Steakhouse. “But judging from film and from hearsay, they’re maybe not as talented as Arkansas State.”
Texas State may play in the same league as Arkansas State, but the Bobcats aren’t going in as favorites to win the conference like the now three-time defending champions were last year, and they won’t face the same shorthanded Golden Lions who could not put up a fight in last year’s 62-11 debacle in Jonesboro.
The pressure is as much if not more on Dennis Franchione’s Bobcats, 6-6 last season, to end a bowl-costing three-game losing streak as it’s on the Lions to have a much-better showing in nonconference competition. UAPB has never beaten a nonconference Division I team since joining the SWAC in 1997, its closest calls coming a year later against Howard (21-20) and in 2007 against New Mexico State (20-17).
But nothing about Texas State fazes the Lions, who also endured a 58-14 beatdown at McNeese State in Week 2 last year, en route to a 2-9 season. In fact, linebacker Antonio Jenkins made somewhat of a bold prediction Tuesday about how the defense will perform.
“If we come out aggressive enough, we’ll hold them to 14 points,” Jenkins said.
It’s a reasonable goal to reach against a Franchione-coached offense. Despite his success at Texas Christian, Alabama and Texas A&M from 1998-2007, when he went a combined 74-46, his 2013 Bobcats weren’t consistently productive on offense, averaging only 23.9 points and 326.2 total yards per game. The 2013 Lions, in comparison, racked up 28.2 and 421.1 despite taking on lower-level competition.
Still, Coleman respects Franchione’s multi-faceted offense, led by sophomore quarterback Tyler Jones (1,130 passing and 1,387 total yards as a freshman with eight starts).
“I studied three different games against Texas State, one game where he ran one offense, another game where he ran another offense and another game where he ran three offenses, and I can’t get any tendencies on him,” said Coleman, who’s also the Lions’ defensive coordinator. “We’ll have to adjust on the fly. He’s running the same play, but it has different tweaks.”
UAPB is aware of one similarity between last year’s Arkansas State and this year’s Texas State teams — the defense. John Thompson, Coleman’s former teammate at Central Arkansas who was interim head coach in the Red Wolves’ two previous bowl victories, took over the Bobcats’ defense after not getting the full-time head coaching job in Jonesboro.
Thompson’s blitz-happy defense sacked Anderson six times last year, but the quarterback looks forward to what Thompson will throw at him this Saturday.
“They have a few good linebackers,” Anderson said. “I feel if we come fast, hold the ball and run the clock, we’ll come away with the W.
“We’re comfortable in our system, knowing our offense and being aware of their defense. I look forward to the blitz because if you blitz, that means you left a spot open.”