The last time the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff came off a bye week, the Golden Lions dropped a game they needed to win in order to keep pace atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference West standings.
Now in the middle of their second off week, UAPB finds itself in a similar must-win situation, albeit with different circumstances.
The Golden Lions are still licking their wounds after suffering a lackluster 37-20 loss at Prairie View A&M on Saturday and are shifting their focus toward a game that could set the tone for their offseason. A victory Nov. 23 against Texas Southern would not only snap a three-game slide, but it'd also give UAPB its first winning season in seven years. A loss, on the other hand, means that the Golden Lions (5-5, 2-4 SWAC) would carry a four-game losing streak into 2020.
"This is our Super Bowl," UAPB Coach Cedric Thomas said of his team's final game. "To go from 2-9 to 6-5 and have a winning season is everything. We get to right that wrong.
"So we're going to make sure that everything we do going forward equals us having a winning season."
Thomas believes his team shouldn't have to rely on a victory in the finale to have a winning season.
"It's two or three games still out there we had opportunities to win that were in our control," he explained. "Those had nothing to do with the other team. Right now, we're .500, which [means] an average football team.
"I don't think we have average individuals, but we're just playing average football as a team, and that all starts with me. I'm being an average coach along with my staff."
UAPB has played the part over the past two weeks. If took a half for the Golden Lions got on track in a 21-12 loss at Jackson State, and nearly three quarters were in the books before UAPB got going last week. Prairie View A&M, which had lost two of its previous three games, held a 23-0 lead until a score from quarterback Shannon Patrick finally got the Golden Lions on the right side of the scoreboard midway through the third period. The closest UAPB got the rest of the way was 10 points, and that came after a long touchdown catch from junior wide receiver Harry Ballard with less than three minutes to play in the game. The Panthers finished off the Golden Lions a few seconds later with a 49-yard touchdown run from Dawonya Tucker.
"[Prairie View A&M] did everything they should've done to win, and I didn't get my kids prepared well enough," Thomas said. "We didn't play well enough and didn't have enough enthusiasm about being out there. You can't do that against good football teams."
UAPB can't afford a similar slow start when its plays winless Texas Southern which may not be as bad as it appears.
Of the Tigers' 10 losses, four have been by seven points or less, including a 27-21 defeat last week against Alabama State. Texas Southern also has the SWAC's leading receiver in Donnie Corley, who ranks eighth in the Football Championship Subdivision in receiving yards (960) and 16th in catches per game (6.5). The junior has had his most productive games against league front-runners Southern, Grambling State and Alabama A&M, where he combined to catch 29 passes for 389 yards.
"This is a tough league," Thomas said. "One play here or there. ... Texas Southern is a really good football team. We're in no position to look at their record because that doesn't indicate how good that program is.
"We're better than last year, but I still think we've underachieved in a lot of areas. We've got to come out ready and establish a mindset to finish."
Retention a must
Miscues have been a recurring theme for UAPB during it's current three-game skid, and during the bye week Coach Cedric Thomas said an emphasis has been placed on eliminating those errors.
"We made some key mistakes during the course of the game [against Prairie View A&M]," he said. "The bad thing is the mistake, but the good thing is as soon as the kid comes off the field, he can tell you pretty much why he did it. We're an immature and young football team at times, and not immature in a bad way.
"We've just got some freshmen and sophomores who haven't done it enough where [doing things the right way] becomes second nature to them. We're going to go out and practice football every day we can, and hopefully when these situations come up, we can do it the right way more so than we do it the wrong way."
Nip and tuck
The parity in the SWAC has increased so much so that the division races may not be decided until the final week of the regular season.
In the East, each of the top three teams can finish 5-2 in the conference. Defending champion Alcorn State holds a half-game lead over Alabama State, which it beat in October, and has one-game cushions over Alabama A&M and Jackson State, two teams the Braves will play over the next eight days. Alabama State took down Jackson State earlier in the season but a week later, lost a 43-41 decision to Alabama A&M. The Bulldogs also own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tigers.
Things are a little clearer in the West, where it's a two-team battle between Southern and Grambling State. The Jaguars are a game up but have a tough matchup with Jackson State on Saturday, while Grambling State travels to struggling Mississippi Valley State. If both Southern and Grambling State survive those match-ups, they'll play for the division title Nov. 30 at the Bayou Classic in New Orleans.
Sports on 11/15/2019
Print Headline: Thomas: Average isn't good