Grambling needs every win it can get if it hopes to remain in contention.
Grambling State’s outlook for this football season was much brighter as September ended.
The Tigers had just beaten Prairie View A&M in the State Fair Classic. With the win, they remained undefeated in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and seized control of their destiny in the West division. The crown would be theirs if they could run the table.
Instead, Grambling suffered back-to-back SWAC losses before limping into last week’s bye at 3-4 overall and 2-2 in SWAC. Even if it resumes winning – starting Saturday against visiting Bethune-Cookman – Grambling has dimmer prospects for a title in head coach Hugh Jackson’s second season. He has encouraged his players to forget about watching the scoreboard and hoping teams ahead of them stumble.
“We can’t control what everybody else does,” Jackson said Monday on a media call. “We can only control what we do. We’re not going to get caught up in what may be and what could be. The most important thing is that we go out and win. Winning takes care of a lot of that.”
A win would lessen the sting from Grambling’s last two games, both at home, both losses. There was a last-minute heartbreaker against Alcorn State, 25-24, and a total collapse against Alabama A&M, 45-24. The latter marked Grambling’s first homecoming loss since 2006 and left a bad impression.
The Tigers were gashed, yielding 336 yards on the ground, a whopping 7.5 yards per carry. They were careless, committing three turnovers. And they were sloppy, flagged nine times for a season-high 116 penalty yards. No other SWAC team averages more penalties (10.25) or more penalty yardage (94.8) in league play, a subject Jackson raised during the bye week.
“You can really slow it down and have them see what (penalties) do to your team, how they impact your team negatively,” he said. “The yards that we’re giving away in crucial situations – these penalties are happening. When you’re not in the grind of week-to-week, I think the players see it a little bit different. They were able to focus on it a little more and understand that our football discipline has to be better.”
If not much else is going well for Bethune-Cookman (1-6, 0-4), it ranks among the nation’s best at avoiding infractions. Per game in the Football Championship Series, the Wildcats are seventh in fewest penalty yards (36.14) and 12th in fewest penalties (4.57). They were relatively clean in last week’s 28-18 loss against Southern, but relatively ineffective running the ball, managing a meager 43 yards on 33 rushes.
“It’s not acceptable when you only get 1.3 yards per rush attempt,” head coach Raymond Woodie said during the media call. “You have to be able to develop the run game and we didn’t do that well. Hats off to Southern for containing us, but we’ve gotta get better.”
On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats must contain co-star halfbacks Chance Williams and Floyd Chalk, respectively, the third- and fifth-leading rushers in conference play. Only Jackson State and Prairie View average more rushing yards per SWAC game than Grambling (164.5). Quarterback Myles Crawley provides balance for the league’s third-ranked offense (395.3 yards per game), and Jackson is looking for more.
“I think he can complete the ball at a higher percentage,” Jackson said of his quarterback’s 59% completion rate. “There’s no question he can and he will, but everybody plays a role in that, not just him. Receivers have to be at the right spot, and the protection has to be good. I think he’s one of the best in the conference, and he’ll play like that down the stretch.”
After Bethune-Cookman, Grambling will face Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff before concluding against first-place Southern in the Bayou Classic, when the Tigers’ title hopes could be dashed before kickoff. But Jackson knows things can change between now and then, like things changed for Grambling between September and October. A two-game losing streak can have that effect.
“What’s important is that we got rest, got healed up as a football team, and did our self-scout throughout our football team – offensively, defensively, and special teams,” Jackson said of the bye week. “Just put the last game behind us and get ready to play a good Bethune-Cookman team here at home.”
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