By T. Scott Boatright
After a mid-season surge, it’s been one step up and two steps back for the Grambling State football team in recent weeks.
The Tigers will be looking to make a big leap forward with a rare Friday game as Grambling State plays at Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 8 p.m. today in a game that will be televised live on ESPNU.
UAPB stands at 1-8 overall and 0-6 in Southwestern Athletic Conference play while Grambling enters the game at 4-5 overall and 3-5 in SWAC action after falling 17-6 last week at Alabama State in a contest where GSU’s offense never established any kind of rhythm.
“We were very disappointed in the loss to Alabama State,” said GSU coach Hue Jackson. “We didn’t play as well as we could. We’ve got to get ready and regroup and get ready to play UAPB.”
Jackson said playing an unfamiliar Friday game might be a good thing for his Tigers at this point in their season.
“It’s different because we have one less day to prepare,” Jackson said. “So we’ve got to speed up and get a day ahead. But I’m kind of glad that we do play on Friday. We’ve got to get this taste out of our mouth.
“But again, UAPB is a scrappy team and they’re going to play hard as well.”
Jackson said first-year head coach Alonzo Hampton will have his Golden Lions ready to play.
“He’s done a good job,” Jackson said of Hampton. “I love their schemes and they know what they’re doing. I think he’s got that program headed in the right direction.”
Consistency is something the G-Men have looked for all season, but with the exception of a midseason three-game win streak, it’s something that has become elusive for Grambling, which has lost three of its last four games.
“The bottom line is that we’ve got to play better, coach better, all of that,” Jackson said. “And it is disappointing. We don’t want to be a team only one game better than a year ago.
“We want more wins, but more importantly, we want to be in the race. That’s where we expect to be. But we’re not doing that. So we’ve got some work to do. We’re not going to be satisfied with just showing in the standings. We want to win the West.”
A big part of Grambling’s inconsistency is the difference of play from its offense and defense over the course of the season so far.
“Obviously we’ve been slowed down a little bit,” Jackson said. “As our defense has gotten better, now we’re not scoring as many points as we had been. So we’ve got to kick it back up again.
“It’s the ebb and flow of the football season. Guys have to stay locked in and we have to go finish every game we play.”
Jackson said Grambling’s struggles aren’t about depth but lie in what’s happening out on the field during games.
“I don’t think we have a depth problem,” Jackson said. “I think we have an execution problem. We need to understand play in and play out that we have to execute and be at your best when it’s gameday.
“We just have to go do the job we need to do and play as hard as we can.”
Jackson said he believes his team is better this year than it was last year even if the final score results have always indicated that.
“We’re better, and I think the numbers show that,” Jackson said. “I think we’re better, but I don’t think we’re where we need to be right now. We’ve got some work to do. We get it. We want to be better than where we are.”
Despite believing the Tigers aren’t where they need to be, Jackson said he never put a timetable on what kind of success he wanted his team to reach by any specific point in time.
“I knew it was going to take some time because recruiting is the lifeblood of any program,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to go build those relationships,” Jackson said. “But I’m not going to say that I knew it was going to take this long, or that it was going to be faster. I think every situation is different.
“You’ve got to go in with that thought process. You’ve got to make sure you have the right coaches. You have to make sure you’re recruiting the right players, and all of that goes into the pot to get it all done.”
Keying on what style of quarterback they’ll be facing could be tricky for the Tigers. Five players have thrown at least one pass for UAPB so far this season. Jalen Macon, Chancellor Edwards, Mekhi Hagens have taken the most snaps but none of the trio has locked down the starting role and as of Thursday Hampton had not named a starter to face Grambling.
Last week Hagens and Edwards combined for four completions on 12 pass attempts for one yard in a 38-14 loss at Prairie View.
On the other sideline, Jackson will start Myles Crawley at quarterback.The big question for GSU is can Crawley break out of the slump he’s been in after a strong start to the season?
After throwing 10 touchdowns and only one interception in the first five games of the season, Crawley has only connected on three touchdowns over the past four games while being picked off six times.