The first of two bye weeks now behind Arkansas-Pine Bluff, coach Monte Coleman reflected on how essential it was for his football team.
“It’s great to have a bye week this early,” he said during Monday’s SWAC teleconference. “It gave our guys a chance to recover from some bumps and bruises and some boo-boos. We went back to basics, not working on any team specifically.”
UAPB (0-4, 0-2 SWAC) dropped its first two games in the conference by a total of six points, and miscues on the basics have been largely to blame. Missed assignments or tackling opportunities on defense have resulted in long touchdown plays for the Golden Lions’ opponents, and bad snaps and fumbles at inopportune times have halted their key drives.
Through it all, the Lions haven’t lost faith in themselves.
“I don’t think we ever lost confidence,” Coleman said. “We’ve had some unchangeable circumstances. That’s been the story this year. By no means have we washed ourselves out of a chance (to win the Western Division).”
Luckily for the Lions, they don’t have too much ground to make up to defend the Western crown. They’re 1 ½ games behind Prairie View (3-2, 2-1) and Southern (2-3, 2-1) and have yet to play them this season.
But the Lions can ill-afford another loss in a wide-open division race, and they’ll need to start a winning streak this Saturday against the only undefeated team in SWAC play — Jackson State (3-2, 3-0).
The game will be a rematch of last December’s SWAC championship game, which UAPB won 24-21 in overtime in Birmingham, Ala. UAPB won last season’s regular-season meeting 34-24 in Pine Bluff.
Now, the Lions have to go for their third straight win over the Tigers in Jackson, Miss.
“It would be hard to beat a team three times,” Coleman said. “(Jackson State’s) got the momentum. They will be at home. It doesn’t matter what we did last year.”
Jackson State coach Rick Comegy sees it a different way.
“I look at them as the top of the mountain,” he said. “They’re the defending champs. I’d love to say there is a weakness, but I don’t believe in it because of the work ethic of the (UAPB) coaches.”
Jackson State is coming off a 19-14 decision over Southern in Baton Rouge, La., this past Saturday. Quarterback Clayton Moore completed 15 of 24 passes for 165 yards and rushed 12 times for 47 yards to lead the Tigers.
“He’s very elusive and got a good, strong arm,” Coleman said. “That’s one of the things where we’ll have to focus on defense.”
This Saturday’s game in Jackson will feature an interesting matchup — the two preseason SWAC players of the year in UAPB quarterback Ben Anderson and Jackson State defensive back Qua Cox.
Anderson has completed 56.3 percent of his passes, thrown for four touchdowns and averages 201.2 passing yards per game. He’s also a factor on the ground, as his 28.5 rushing yards per game rank him third on the team behind freshman running backs Jamie Smith (54.7) and Jeremiah Young (51.5).
Cox has had a relatively quiet season so far, totaling 10 tackles and breaking up a pass but intercepting no passes. He had five interceptions last year.
But Comegy is still high on the senior.
“Overall, he’s having an excellent season,” Comegy said. “He’s taking on the best receivers.”
Coleman announced some good news concerning his team Monday. Smith, who missed UAPB’s last contest against Alcorn State with a shoulder bruise, practiced all last week and has been cleared to play at Jackson State.
Prairie View’s 56-48 win at Stephen F. Austin was the first for a SWAC team against a non-historically black Division I program since 2009.
Prairie View junior quarterback Jerry Lovelocke accounted for seven touchdowns (four passing) and threw for 380 yards on 32 of 47 attempts.
“He’s what we thought he was,” PV coach Heishma Northern said. “He made a lot of good reads, good throws. He made a couple of bonehead plays, but he does a good job going through the progressions.”
As significant as the victory is for the Panthers, it’s behind them, Northern said. They have six SWAC games left and own the tiebreaker with Southern by virtue of a 62-59 head-to-head win on Sept. 14.
“All of that is behind us,” Northern said. “There’s nothing more we can do (with the Stephen F. Austin game). I won’t get a call from the USC AD (athletic director Pat Haden) asking them to be their coach. We’ve got to move on to the next game.”
Crowell the game-changer
Alcorn State coach Jay Hopson said there were two key factors in Saturday’s 49-30 loss at Alabama State — turnovers and Isaiah Crowell.
Alcorn State (3-2, 3-1) lost all three of its fumbles and quarterback John Gibbs — despite throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns — tossed an interception.
Crowell led Alabama State with 133 yards on 19 carries. The junior leads the conference with 139 rushing yards per game.
“The kid’s a game-changer,” Hopson said. “He makes you pay.”