The latest road trip for the Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team ended as sour as it started.
Coach Monte Coleman was asked during Monday’s SWAC coaches’ teleconference what effect the breakdown of one of the team’s buses on the way to the Jackson State game had on the team. Coleman didn’t go into specifics of the breakdown, which he said delayed the team’s travel by more than 5 hours.
“I won’t make excuses and I don’t allow the kids to make excuses, but we were over 5 hours late getting to our destination,” he said. “You don’t get to have your meetings because as soon you get there, you go right to your meal, then your curfew time has to be pushed back, so it upsets your routine. When we got done with our meal, we were a little tired.”
The Golden Lions arrived at their destination Friday, just a day before their 42-33 loss to Jackson State in Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
A part of the Lions’ on-field problems can be blamed on an inability to stop the opponents’ running game. Jackson State (4-2, 4-0 SWAC) ran for 366 yards, the second-highest total UAPB allowed this season (behind Arkansas State’s 509). No team has rushed for fewer than 227 yards against the Lions.
“The thing I grapple with, … we only have one returning starter on the defensive line (Troy Goss),” Coleman said. “We’re losing the game in run defense.”
Much of Jackson State’s rushing yardage came on long carries by Tommy Gooden up the middle. Gooden, who had a career-high 214 yards and four touchdowns, scored on a go-ahead 43-yard run early in the third quarter and a 30-yard run with 60 seconds left in the game to slam the door on the Lions.
Gooden was named SWAC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance.
“We made the adjustments; we just didn’t carry it through,” Coleman said, asked about trying to contain Gooden. “We shot over the running plays and had guys doing more than their role. It’s gap control.”
Championship hopes still alive
Coleman remains hopeful the Lions (0-5, 0-3) can turn around their season and defend the Western Division championship so they’ll have a shot at retaining the SWAC title.
UAPB also will have to count on Prairie View A&M (4-2, 3-1) and Southern (2-3, 2-1) dropping at least two games each to stay in contention. Prairie View gained a game on the Lions with a 31-3 win against Grambling State in Dallas on Saturday, while Southern — which plays at UAPB on Oct. 19 — had the week off.
“There’s a lot of parity from the first-place team on the West on down,” Coleman said. “We can’t give up.”
But UAPB is one of three winless teams in the West, along with Grambling State (0-6, 0-3) and Texas Southern (0-5, 0-4), which visits UAPB this coming Saturday.
“TSU will come in with some attitude,” Coleman said. “They’ll run the football.”
Slow starts no problem for J-State
Jackson State has experience in coming from a deep hole to win a SWAC game this year.
The 13-0 deficit against UAPB was the second largest the Tigers came back from to win. The largest was 14-0 against Alabama State in a 30-23 win to open up conference play on Sept. 7.
“We’re not as concerned,” Tigers coach Rick Comegy said about the slow starts. “We can’t fall in the habit of doing that. You want to take charge, but the coaching in the conference has improved so much.”
All that’s mattered for the Tigers is how they finish, but that hasn’t always been easy, either. Saturday’s 42-33 win over UAPB is their second largest in conference play behind a 35-7 feat over Texas Southern on Sept. 19. J-State led that game 14-7 at halftime.
“Maybe one day we can sit back late in the game and have a cup of coffee and play our thirds (third-string players), but that just isn’t going to happen,” Comegy said.
“We still haven’t played our best football in the world, but we did enough to win,” Mississippi Valley State coach Karl Morgan, on his team’s 28-9 win over Alabama A&M for its first victory of the season.