By T. Scott Boatright
GRAMBLING — A winning total on the home scoreboard is always a beautiful thing.
But sometimes the scenic route isn’t the way a team gets there. Sometimes the road to a win can be a bit rocky at times and not always pretty.
That’s the way Grambling State University head coach Hue Jackson felt after watching his Tigers earn their first win of the season after defeating Florida Memorial University 58-22 Saturday afternoon at Eddie G. Robinson Stadium.
“I’m excited for our staff and for our players,” Jackson said. “We love to win. There’s no question about it, we won’t trade a win for anything.
But this game still just showed us some things we just have to get better at, and that’s what I told the team in the locker room. I gave them all the congratulations for the win, but we’ve got a lot of work to get to where we want to go.
“We’re not a finished project by any stretch of the imagination, and we shouldn’t be. But I also understand that there’s some glaring things that we need to fix, and we need to fix them quickly.”
Florida Memorial actually lit up the scoreboard first on a 23-yard field goal at the 4:37 mark of the opening stanza and kept things tight for much of the first half, pulling within a touchdown of the Tigers at 16-9 (the Lions’ extra point kick attempt was blocked) with 5:32 remaining in the second quarter.
Grambling’s first two touchdowns came on a 25-yard scoring strike from quarterback Myles Crawley to receiver Javon Robinson followed by a four-yard plunge to paydirt by running back Keilon Elder.
A miscue by the FMU returner on the ensuing kickoff —- he thought the ball would bounce out of bounds or roll into the end zone, but instead it bit and he had to try and pick it up, fumbling the ball out of bounds at the Lions’ 6-yard line.
On first down, Florida Memorial was hit with an illegal procedure call that pushed the Lions back to their own 3, and after an incomplete pass attempt a FMU ballcarrier was gang-tackled in the end, with Jaden Hardy getting the credit for the safety that pushed the GSU advantage to 16-3 early in the second quarter.
Slowly, but surely, the G-Men grabbed control, taking a 23-9 lead into the locker room at halftime after Crawley connected with Chance Williams on a 18-yard touchdown pass with 1:31 left in the second quarter.
Grambling pushed its lead to 30-9 only 2:51 into the second half as linebacker Lewis Matthews returned an interception 32 yards on a “pick six.”
Matthews also led the Tigers with 11 tackles on the day but after the game said he felt like he should have done more.
“I thought I did OK,” Matthews said. “I missed a couple of tackles. It’s not something I need to fix, I just need to give more effort.”
But the Lions quickly countered after Matthews’ interception, scoring a touchdown one-yard run at the 9:18 mark of the third quarter.
Grambling then scored four straight touchdowns, starting with a 67-yard pass from Crawley to Tylon Williams, who looked like he would be knocked out of bounds for a short gain but instead somehow kept his balance and stayed inbounds, sprinting down the right sideline for a score.
The Tigers followed with three straight scoring scampers — a two-yarder by Floyd Chalk, an 18-yarder by Dajon Richard and a nine-yarder by backup quarterback Julian Calvez, who spent most of last season as GSU’s starting signal caller.
Calvez raced untouched for his score, grabbing air before landing and planting both feet just inside the left end zone pylon.
“That’s Julian – Julian’s going to run with the ball and make plays with his legs,” Jackson said. “It’s always exciting to watch him go out there and compete like that, because he’s not in the same role he was a year ago, but the fire is still there and he’s excited about being out there.”
Florida Memorial’s final touchdown came on a three-yard run with 49 seconds remaining in the contest.
Despite ending up on the losing side of the scoreboard, Florida Memorial outgained the Tigers, totaling 445 yards of offense compared to 405 for GSU.
“We’ve got to get better as a football team,” Jackson said. “It’s not just pass defense or run defense, we just have to get better as a team. Special teams — one play we had nine guys out there to be honest with you, and that all starts with me.
“There’s some things we’ve got to get better at fast. We’re getting ready to play a conference game next week against a good team (Texas Southern) that beat us in Houston last year, and we’ll be at home this time. We’ve got to get better.”
Jackson wasn’t surprised by FMU’s high-octane offense, but was concerned to see the Lions total 233 yards on the ground.
“They’ve scored on everybody,” Jackson said. “They’ve scored on every team they’ve played. Every game they’ve played has been high-scoring games. What I was disappointed in was how they rushed the ball. We’ve got to get better at stopping the run.
“People are running the ball against us at an enormous clip against us right now — 200 yards is a lot of yards rushing. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better fast.”
But Jackson was pleased by his team’s rushing attack.
Elder led the G-Men with 62 yards on seven carries while Chalk added 55 yards on nine attempts, Richard pitched in for 47 yards on totes and Calvin finished with 16 yards on a pair of runs.
“I thought we rushed the ball better,” Jackson said. “I thought our guys blocked at the point of attack a little bit better. I was disappointed in how many times our quarterback got hit. There’s still some things we need to get better week to week. The consistency of that has to be better.
“But overall, obviously, when you score 40 to 50 points with your offense, you get excited about that.”
Jackson also was pleased with the four turnovers — three fumbles and the interception — forced by his defense.
“That was one of the keys — the turnovers and an interception for a touchdown,” Jackson said. “Those put the offense in some short field possession so we were able to capitalize that way. That’s why the score is like it is.
“But at the same time, that’s part of football. You’ve got to have those plays to win football games.”
Crawley connected on 14 passes for 220 yards and three scores, but Jackson said he was left wanting more.
“I thought — and he’ll be the first to tell you, that I thought he was a little inconsistent out there today,” Jackson said of the junior transfer quarterback. “I thought there were some things he did well. He threw a few touchdowns. When you don’t turn it over, that gives us a chance to win.
“But the consistency wasn’t there. Because I know how good he could be, I expect a little more.”
Crawley understood and agreed with Jackson’s assessment.
“I ain’t going to lie, I didn’t feel like I was myself really today,” Crawley said. “Like I told my guys, Personally, I didn’t prep enough, you know what I’m saying, for this game to be at my best potential. I don’t think I played that well even though the score says what it says. But we’re going to get better day in and day out.”
“It’s easy fixes, and it’ll be fixed by next week.”
Tylon Williams broke the century mark in receiving yards for Grambling, hauling in three passes for 102 yards and his score.
Grambling (1-2) will next play host to Texas Southern, which stands at 0-3 after falling 59-7 on Saturday at Rice, at 2 p.m. Saturday at Eddie G. Robinson Memorial Stadium.