Falling into deep holes hasn't exactly been the recipe for success for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff this season.
The first half has been an Achilles heel for UAPB (0-2) during its first two games. The Golden Lions have been outscored a combined 42-7 against Tulsa and Tennessee State during the first 30 minutes of each game, which has attributed majorly in their losses.
But despite having to play from behind over the final two quarters of both games, the Golden Lions have been able to hold their own during the second half. That notion was extremely evident in their most recent matchup with Tennessee State.
The Tigers, who escaped with a 24-14 victory, held a 14-0 lead at halftime but were limited to just three points in the second half, mainly in part because of a sturdy effort from UAPB's defense. According to Golden Lions' Coach Alonzo Hampton, that same effort has to be exerted long before the third quarter starts.
"I'll be honest, I thought we left a lot of meat on the bone," he explained. "I'm more disappointed in the 99-yard drive that Tennessee State had. We had a great punt and pinned them on the 1-yard line, and we let them off the hook. When I say let them off the hook, they hit two third-down plays that we had stopped.
"We missed tackles, and one guy just didn't do his job, and that's frustrating to me because I think our defense has a chance to be really good."
That 99-yard drive Hampton alluded to came on Tennessee State's second possession of the game. The Tigers had an 85-yard march in the second quarter as well. The one field goal they got following halftime came midway through the third quarter and capped a 74-yard drive, but that was essentially all the offensive production Tennessee State could muster for the entire second half.
The Tigers finished with 379 yards of offense, with more than 200 coming in the opening half. Those second half adjustments by UAPB's defense allowed its offense a chance to get on track and climb in position to tie the game late until Tennessee State returned a blocked field-goal attempt for a touchdown with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
"All we've got to do is do our assignment, do your one 11," Hampton said. "Those are the things we're working on. I tell the defense this, if the other team don't score, we're going to win anyway, right? So that's the mentality that we've we got to have [on defense].
"We've got to continue to work, and we've got to work on being perfect at our position. That's it. Don't worry about the next man, you just be perfect at your position, do your part and then as a whole, the Golden Lion defense will be pretty good."
UAPB's Johness Davis is not only making a name for himself around the Southwestern Athletic Conference, he's also opening eyes on a national scale.
The redshirt freshman was named the FedEx Ground Football Championship Subdivision Freshman of the Week after rushing 24 times for 167 yards with a touchdown in the Golden Lions' 10-point loss to Tennessee State. He also caught three passes for 46 yards and was singlehandedly responsible for eight first downs.
That output also earned Davis, a 5-11, 195-pound Atlanta product, honors as the SWAC's Newcomer of the Week. He's got a team-high 249 yards rushing through two games.
If UAPB wasn't aware of the caliber of opponent it'll see in Saturday's home opener, it does now.
Miles College snapped a 10-game losing streak against Southwestern Athletic Conference competition by knocking off Alabama State 21-17 on the road. That victory was the Bears' first win over the Hornets – who defeated fellow SWAC nemesis Southern the week prior – in 19 tries, and it served as their first conquest of a SWAC team since it beat Alabama A&M 26-20 in 1995.
"We're playing a really good opponent that's 2-0 and just beat [Alabama State]," UAPB Coach Alonzo Hampton said. "They've got our full attention so it'll be a good game."
Miles (2-0) will look to hit another milestone against UAPB. The Golden Lions have never lost to the Bears. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
UAPB's leading tackler from 2022 is on pace to easily retain that title by season's end.
Linebacker Rico Dozier mentioned earlier in the season that he needed to take on more of a leadership role, particularly with him being one of the few returning starters on defense. He's seemingly doing that after two games.
The 6-0, 221-pounder is coming off a year when he led the Golden Lions with 78 stops – 11 of those were behind the line of scrimmage – but the junior has already amassed 20 total tackles, including a game-high 13 last week against Tennessee State. If he continues at that rate, the Alabama native is projected to finish with 110 tackles.
The Football Bowl Subdivision maintained its stranglehold against the Southwestern Athletic Conference last week. After losing all four head-to-head encounters with FBS schools in Week 1, SWAC teams went 0-3 last week with Toledo beating Texas Southern 71-3, South Florida defeating Florida A&M 38-24 and LSU taking down Grambling State 72-10. The league will have four additional chances to pick up its first win against the FBS this week, starting Thursday when Bethune-Cookman plays at Miami. On Saturday, Prairie View A&M travels to SMU, Texas Southern plays an intra-city matchup with Rice, and Jackson State battles Texas State.