In a game where the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff set several unflattering milestones, Coach Doc Gamble managed to carve out a positive from the Golden Lions' 27-17 loss at Prairie View A&M last week -- its second in a row in Southwestern Athletic Conference play.
"We've got another opportunity to get better and improve [Saturday]," he said. "That's the good thing about it because there wasn't a whole lot that went right for us against Prairie View."
That opportunity comes today for UAPB (1-3, 0-2), which faces Alabama State (2-2, 1-1) today at ASU Stadium in Montgomery, Ala. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Central, but for the Golden Lions, game time couldn't come any sooner.
UAPB is in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Those setbacks have also put Gamble's team in an unfavorable spot in an ultra-competitive SWAC West Division and made their path back to the conference title game more treacherous than what they'd like.
The Golden Lions are currently in last place, but they're far from out of the race because they still have to play three other teams ahead of them. Those programs will also play each other, which could potentially cause a headache for all involved by the time the regular season ends in late November.
For now, every team in the division is chasing Prairie View A&M. And if UAPB loses today's game, it'll be staring at an even steeper hill to climb in the West.
UAPB fell into a 14-3 hole and never got anything going on either side of the ball for extended lengths of time. The Golden Lions generated just 10 first downs, their fewest since their 2019 season opener at TCU, finished with 224 yards of offense, which was their lowest output since totaling 133 against Alabama A&M in 2017, and gave up the most rushing yards in a game (289) since allowing Mississippi Valley State to rack up 380 in 2018.
Gamble admitted he felt UAPB could be in for a long night when it missed on a couple of deep pass plays to receiver Josh Wilkes early that could have given his team some momentum. The Golden Lions eventually hit Wilkes for a long touchdown in the second quarter that cut into their deficit, but it wasn't nearly enough. The Panthers pounded UAPB on the ground, either with running backs busting through holes or their quarterback strolling free on designed draws, in the second half and didn't allow any room for a comeback.
"The encouraging sign for us was in the second half where our defense just held them to two field goals," Gamble said. "We need that kind of effort in the first half. But offensively, we've got to get back to being that very consistent, explosive offense. And we weren't even close to being that last Thursday night.
"We had too many guys not doing their jobs. We never got going, never got into a rhythm on offense and had guys out of position on defense. We've got to be better, and that includes the coaches, too. We've got to do our jobs and do it well."
A better showing is vital against Alabama State, which is also coming off a humbling loss after being soundly beaten 28-0 at Florida A&M a week ago. Yet, the Hornets have added incentive to continue UAPB's woes.
The last time the teams met was during the spring when the game was ruled a no contest because of rain and lightning that pelted the Pine Bluff area for hours. Alabama State was leading 10-3 when the game was stopped for good in the second quarter.
Hornets Coach Donald Hill-Eley isn't taking that revenge approach to this game, though. He, like Gamble, is anxious for his team to get back on the field after what he called a "poor" showing in their shutout against the Rattlers.
"It's one of those ones that we get another opportunity to play," Hill-Eley said. "Pine Bluff has a really good program. Doc Gamble, a really good friend of mine who I've been knowing a long time, is doing a great job with that team. We're looking forward to the challenge of them coming here, and us being able to clean up the stuff that we messed up this last week."
Quarterback Ryan Nettles is 65-of-111 passing for 604 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions for a Hornets offense which has struggled at times, but Gamble believes they have the potential to explode, as evidenced by the 38 points they scored against Bethune-Cookman. Still, that's not what concerns him the most.
"Their defense is their best unit, hands down," he explained. "They play well on that side because those guys really run to the ball. Coach is going to have them ready, but I really think that's going to be a great matchup because we're going to get back on track offensively.
"I can definitely say that. We're going to get it going on offense."
ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF AT ALABAMA STATE
WHEN 2 p.m.
WHERE ASU Stadium, Montgomery, Ala.
RECORDS Alabama State 2-2, 1-1 SWAC; UAPB 1-3, 0-2 SWAC
RADIO KPBA-FM, 99.3 Pine Bluff
COACHES Alabama State: Donald Hill-Eley (19-19 in fifth season at Alabama State and 79-94 in 17 seasons overall); UAPB: Doc Gamble (5-4 in second season at UAPB and overall)
SERIES Alabama State leads 13-6
LAST MEETING The teams met at Simmons Bank Field in Pine Bluff on March 27 during the spring season, but the game was ruled a no contest because of inclement weather. Alabama State led 10-3 before the game was ended midway through the second quarter.
NOTEWORTHY Today will be homecoming for Alabama State. … Prior to the game that was ruled a no contest in the spring, UAPB had lost four consecutive to the Hornets. … UAPB Coach Doc Gamble said backup quarterback Xavier Vaughn played “OK” in relief of starter Skyler Perry last week. “To the untrained eye, it’s easy to get caught up in him throwing the touchdown pass,” Gamble said of Vaughn, who finished 4 of 8 for 115 yards with a touchdown and an interception. “But there was some other stuff that could’ve been better. So he was okay. Like everybody else, though, we need to perform at a high level. We needed a boost, and I thought he came in and made a big play to Josh Wilkes when we needed it.” . … Alabama State’s offense is ranked 11th in the SWAC while its defense is seventh. The Hornets’ pass defense is sixth in the FCS. … UAPB is 10th in the country in sacks with 13. …Running back Ezra Gray has a team-high 108 yards rushing for Alabama State. … Golden Lions defensive back Jalon Thigpen is third in the conference in tackles per game (8) while linebacker Monroe Beard is sixth (7.8). … UAPB specialist and receiver Tyrin Ralph is expected to be out another couple of weeks according to Gamble.