By T. Scott Boatright
Through three games, the 1-2 Grambling State Tigers football team is still fighting to play — to compete — through a whole game.
Grambling didn’t do much competing at all in a 56-3 season-opening loss at Arkansas State.
The G-Men dominated the first half in a 47-21 Game 2 win over Northwestern State but were outscored 14-6 after halftime.
It was the same story last week, as GSU trailed only 21-17 at intermission only to see the wheels fall off early — and painfully hard — in a 66-24 loss at Jackson State.
What GSU coach Hue Jackson wants to see on Saturday in a road game against Bethune-Cookman is for his Tigers to play the whole 60 minutes with no let up.
Grambling will get that chance as the Tigers kick off against the Wildcats at 1 p.m. Saturday at Daytona Stadium in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“Last week’s game is behind us now but obviously it was disappointing,” Jackson said. “I thought we played competitive ball in the first half and in the second half didn’t play as well. Jackson State had a lot to do with that. They played extremely well in the second half.
“It gave me and my staff a chance to see where we are and where we need to head. There’s some work ahead and we all know that, but at the same time, playing someone of Jackson’s State caliber gives you an idea of what you need to do moving forward, so we’re looking forward to playing Bethune-Cookman this weekend and getting back on track.”
That means first and foremost creating some long offensive drives to keep from wearing down the GSU defense as the game progresses.
“We need to make sure to tighten some things up,” Jackson said. “Obviously we don’t need to be a team that gives up that many yards a game or that many points a game. At the same time, our offense has to do a better job of keeping our defense off the field, making sure we convert third downs so we keep the ball longer.
“Right now we have about 22 minutes (of possession) per game. That’s nowhere close to where we need to be because that leaves our defense out of the field too long. Our offense needs to play for our defense and our defense for our offense and special teams for both, so we still have a lot of improving to do.”
Jackson said he doesn’t believe preparation has been the problem as much as execution.
“When we go and break down a team, I think we’re OK,” Jackson said. “Let’s take Jackson State for instance. They hadn’t had a team score a touchdown on them before our game. I think we had a pretty good idea of who they were.
“I think we have a pretty good idea of what we need to do. We just have to get it done faster. We all want a different result. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Jackson said moving the ball on all phases of offense is the key to sustaining drives. He said getting running back Maurice Washington, a transfer from Nebraska who leads the Tigers with 173 rushing yards on only 11 carries — that’s an average of 15.8 yards per carry — more involved in games could help in that aspect, as would improving a passing game averaging only 155 passing yards per game so far.
“Maurice is a tremendous talent, we all know that,” Jackson said. “He’s still learning our system and growing each and every day. He’ll continue to do those things as we go. He’s just a very talented guy. As I’ve said before, our running back room is very strong. We have some very talented players back there. We just have to keep getting better.
“I think throwing the football at a high level is where we need to get to,” Jackson said. “We need to catch it better and continue to run routes at a high level. We’ve got to put the ball in the right spot.”
But for Jackson, the biggest improvement he wants to see against Bethune-Cookman is seeing his Tigers compete at a strong level from start to finish.
“We’ve played three games,” Jackson said. “There’s some things I think we’ve improved at, and there are some things we haven’t. Those things we haven’t we need to improve at. We need to keep working at getting better. I think we can play with a lot of people. But can we finish? That’s the question. The first half against Jackson was a good ballgame. The second half was totally different. I have to find out why that is.
“Through three games, in the second half, we’ve been different. That’s my charge as a head coach, and I’m going to do that. I think our team will compete. They’ll go out and give it everything they have. What we have to do as a group is to learn how to finish, and finish strong. We have to understand the second half is more important than the first half. One we get that understood, I think we’ll be fine.”
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