Is Grambling-Southern a go Saturday in Shreveport? Not yet

Grambling quarterback Elijah Walker (3) and the Tigers continue preparing for the Bayou Classic against Southern still on the schedule for Saturday. (Photo by T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT, LPJ)

Staff writer

The 47th Bayou Classic is Saturday — hopefully.

For all the amplified media coverage (deserved) and the thousands of dollars of ad buys promoting the contest between the Grambling and Southern football teams in Shreveport’s Independence Stadium, the real moment of truth for the Tigers and Jaguars isn’t the 1:30 kickoff Saturday.

It’s Friday’s COVID-19 test results for both teams, particularly Grambling.

While it’s a worst-case scenario, the very real chance exists that positive COVID tests and contact tracing could leave Grambling, or even Southern, unable to play Saturday afternoon.

Tigers coach Broderick Fobbs and his counterpart, Dawson Odums of Southern, have acknowledged in media conversations that virus issues could scuttle the game.

Southern (3-1) has lost two games because of shutdowns by opponents. Athletics director Roman Banks confirmed he’s hoping the Southwestern Athletic Conference will consider SU playing Prairie View and Alabama A&M on the next two Saturdays, assuming the Jaguars prevail Saturday to remain a viable conference champion contender.

There’s no indication Southern might have issues other than Odums’ non-specific discussion of virus implications he’s dealt with this spring. But he did discuss the issue in his media comments Tuesday.

The Tigers (0-3) have been idled since March 24. Their problems began to develop after playing

Prairie View, which was unknowingly in the beginning stages of a COVID breakout, on March 13. After PVA&M shut down its program the following week, the G-Men didn’t yet have test results or contact tracing impact to do likewise before hosting UAPB the following Saturday (March 20). Soon after, positive tests and contact tracing forced a COVID pause.

Grambling was able to resume restricted team activities last Tuesday, but didn’t have anything close to a full roster able to participate in practice, said Fobbs.

The Tigers have gotten mixed results in this week’s tests. Fobbs was hoping to have 10-15 players, most sidelined due to contact tracing, able to resume practice Tuesday, but while some returned, others didn’t get cleared, and some who had been practicing were shut down.

GSU’s ranks are already so thin that Fobbs alluded to using players who have not taken the field in Grambling’s first three games this season, or ever before wearing the black and gold.

“It’s really, really tough. You lose 3-4, and you gain 2-3. Once it (COVID) gets in, it’s hard to get it out, because it makes its way around your team,” he said on The Patrick Netherton Show on KWKH 1130 AM in Shreveport.

“We’re working. We’re playing a lot of people who have not played football before (in games) this spring. But if you have 58 guys good to go, you’ve got to play, so we’re focused on developing a plan, trying to keep it simple and making sure we get the ball in our playmakers’ hands, with everything we have going on.

“You’re one positive test away from losing an entire meeting room (position group), or even an entire side of the ball if you’re meeting with the offense or defense as one group. If that one kid (with a positive test) is in a meeting room with 15 other defensive backs, all of a sudden, your entire secondary is gone, all quarantined (by contact tracing). You try to continue to meet, continue to play football, and build a team concept like you’re supposed to do. That’s what made it as challenging as it is.

“If we can get through Friday without any (new) positive tests, I think we’ll be ready to go Saturday,” said Fobbs, optimistic as ever.

Stay tuned. While some starters may be at home, and depth in position groups will surely be problematic, the show must go on.

Unless it’s simply not possible. What if there are 58 able bodies, but only four are offensive linemen? On that topic, how many big guys are enough to get through a game? Probably more than the starting five up front.

Can the G-Men take the field Saturday? That question will be resolved shortly after noon Friday, hopefully by ample all-clear test results.

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