The way Arkansas-Pine Bluff football coach Monte Coleman sees it, six is his magic number.
It’s the number of consecutive wins his Golden Lions will need to string for a third straight winning season and, with a little help, another berth in the SWAC championship game. But that streak must begin today at Golden Lion Stadium when Texas Southern visits.
“That’s our motivation,” Coleman said.
All through the season, the Lions (0-5, 0-3 SWAC) have wondered what might have been. What if they finished each conference game in a strong way? What if all of their players didn’t have to be held out because they weren’t cleared? What if they didn’t miss a tackle here and there?
What if they weren’t dwelling in the cellar of the SWAC’s Western Division along with Texas Southern (0-5, 0-4)?
The answers are easy to guess, but reality doesn’t keep the Lions from drawing plenty of respect from the struggling Tigers. Texas Southern assistant head coach Carl Roberts said the Lions’ record is misleading.
“They are very formidable,” he said. “We are going to have to play our best game to even be able to compete with them. They are scoring points, and that’s one thing we haven’t been able to do on a consistent basis.”
The Tigers, under second-year head coach Darrell Asberry, have lost by an average of 22.8 points and have not scored more than 17 in a game this season. They are struggling to move the ball, averaging 215.4 total yards per game.
Four different Texas Southern quarterbacks have thrown 10 or more passes this season, led by sophomore Homer Causey’s 43-of-78 clip for 525 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions.
Their running game isn’t as strong as what UAPB has faced so far. Junior Daveonn Porter averages 59.4 of the Tigers’ 63.6 rushing yards per game.
Coleman isn’t taking the Tigers’ weaknesses for granted. He’s approaching this game the same way he has his first five outings.
“Nothing changes,” Coleman said. “We don’t look at their record and say, well, these guys are 0-5; we’re going to win. We approach it the same way we did Jackson State. It’s a must-win for us.”
Texas Southern rides into Pine Bluff with an eight-game losing streak, dating back to UAPB’s 49-3 win in Houston last year that clinched the Western Division. Since winning the SWAC title in 2010, the Tigers have followed up with 4-7 and 2-9 records under two different head coaches.
“Texas Southern has very talented ballplayers, the same like we do,” Coleman said. “And it’s very unfortunate they haven’t won a ballgame. The thing we have to do is keep them where they are. I think if we discourage them early, possibly, we can go on and win the football game. We can’t encourage them.”
What Coleman has seen from his football team during practice this week encourages him.
“I can see this team maturing, even with the young guys,” Coleman said. “I can see them with the playing time they’ve gotten so far, they’re starting to mature as an offense, starting to mature as a defense and special teams and believing in themselves.”
Some statistics aren’t indicative of an 0-5 ballclub like UAPB. Quarterback Ben Anderson has thrown for 1,118 yards through five games. Linebackers Antonio Jenkins (13.8 tackles) and Jer-ryan Harris (12.8) are ranked first and second in stops per game at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
But the Lions have given up 40 or more points four times. Opponents have outscored them 37-14 in the fourth quarter, and UAPB has had a chance to come from behind down the stretch in each conference game.
Now, the Lions know what they’re capable of.
“It seems like the Jackson State game was a light switch,” Coleman said. “I think we played the three better teams in the SWAC (Alabama State, Alcorn State, Jackson State). I’m not taking it easy because Texas Southern is 0-5 by no means. But I think we played, according to statistics and stuff, the better three teams, and the guys see it also.”
Golden Lion Notes • I.C. Murrell
• Texas Southern leads the series all-time, 23-16-1. UAPB has won the last two meetings.
• UAPB is riding its longest losing streak since starting 0-7 in 2008.
• This is the first of a two-game home stand with homecoming next Saturday for UAPB. Today also is Military Appreciation Day, and any active military personnel in uniform will be admitted for free.
• Texas Southern is serving the first of a two-year NCAA postseason ban for violations related to a lack of institutional control. The Tigers served a postseason ban related to Academic Progress Rate performances in 2012.