The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff hasn't done itself any favors when it comes to ball protection so far this season.
The Golden Lions have committed 12 turnovers, the most in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. In fact, UAPB has five more turnovers than the next nearest conference team, and according to Coach Monte Coleman, that's not the recipe for success.
"That's the thing that's been hindering us and hindering us," Coleman said earlier in the week. "The thing that we've got to work on and will work on more in drills is ball protection to make sure we don't turn it over. We want to win the giveaway, takeaway each week, and over the past three weeks we've lost in that area."
UAPB is hoping to get back on track in its conference opener against Jackson State on Saturday, but it can ill afford to continue giving the ball away.
The Golden Lions were fortunate to beat Morehouse College in the season opener despite having five turnovers, but those mistakes hurt them tremendously in their past two games. UAPB had two costly turnovers, including one returned for a touchdown, in a 52-3 loss at Akron on Sept. 9, and committed another five in a 48-3 loss at Arkansas State last week. Against the Red Wolves, three of the Golden Lions' miscues occurred inside the ASU 20-yard line, a fact that Coleman said hurt his team's chances of keeping the game close.
ASU, which scored 28 points off UAPB's turnovers, led 20-3 at halftime but used a 21-point third quarter to pull away.
"We had a good week of preparation for Arkansas State, and for us, I thought we answered the bell," he explained. "In the red zone several times, but to walk away with nothing because of turnovers. ... Any time you're playing a good football team like Arkansas State, or any team for that matter, you can't turn the ball over.
"Overall, our guys played extremely hard. But if not for the turnovers, maybe just maybe, the score's a little more manageable."
UAPB quarterback Brandon Duncan threw three interceptions against Arkansas State, but Coleman didn't put all the blame on his senior leader's shoulders.
"I thought Brandon managed the offense well, with the exception of the turnovers," Coleman said. "For the most part, I thought our guys competed with them. But we're playing up against an [Football Bowl Subdivision] team, and they've got more talented players than we do because of the number of scholarships. They're an extremely fast football team, and they're big on both the offensive and defensive lines.
"They're just a league up from us."
UAPB did have some success moving the ball against ASU, but it also had its moments on defense.
The Golden Lions turned ASU away from inside the 5-yard line on four consecutive plays just before halftime. The Red Wolves had two shots at a touchdown from UAPB's 1 but were stopped both times.
"The defense played well," Coach Monte Coleman said. "We made a goal-line stand, and they don't get anything out of it. That showed a lot of promise in the guys."
UAPB also came away with three sacks and five total tackles for a loss. Linebackers Jontavis Testa and Je'Kevin Carter combined for 21 tackles and teamed to put pressure Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen on several occasions. Each ranks among the top 11 in the conference in total tackles.
"Considering Testa did not play at all last year, he's stepped in and is doing well at the Sam linebacker," Coleman said. "He's played some on special teams for us, but right now, he's getting an opportunity to play on defense. He's doing what we've asked him to do, and that's make plays.
"And Carter, we moved him from the Sam linebacker to the Mike linebacker this year, and he's running the defense. We count on both of those guys to be productive each week in order for us to be successful."
On the road again
The road hasn't been kind to UAPB this season, but that's seemingly become the norm. The Golden Lions will play away from home for the third week in a row when they travel to Jackson, Miss., to face Jackson State in the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener Saturday.
UAPB hasn't played a home game since beating Morehouse College on Sept. 2. The Golden Lions lost at Akron the following week and will take on Alabama A&M in Huntsville, Ala., next week before finally returning to Pine Bluff to play Mississippi Valley State on Oct. 7.
When all is said and done, UAPB will have logged at least 3,230 miles between home games to start the season.
The Golden Lions have one other home game in October, against Central State (Ohio) on Oct. 14 for homecoming. UAPB's game against Southern on Oct. 28, will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock after a bye week.
UAPB has lost its past two games convincingly, but there's another team in the SWAC that's having an even tougher time stringing together victories.
Jackson State is off to an 0-3 start and has lost seven games in a row dating to last season.
The fallout from those losses came to a head two weeks ago when Coach Tony Hughes vented during a news conference two days after the Tigers lost to Tennessee State, which is ranked No. 20 in the latest Football Championship Series poll. The second-year coach was visibly upset and directed his frustration at those whom he said have questioned his coaching ability and criticized the team during its losing streak.
The Tigers, though, have been competitive this season, with the exception of their 63-0 loss at TCU. However, some of the same issues that have plagued UAPB this year have hurt Jackson State as well.
Two interceptions doomed the Tigers against Tennessee State, but they still had a shot to win the game late. Sophomore kicker Christian Jacquemin came up just short on a 47-yard field goal as time expired, allowing Tennessee State to escape. Last week, Jackson State trailed defending league champion and FCS No. 22-ranked Grambling State 29-21 late in the fourth before a fumble inside its own territory derailed any chances it had at victory. But UAPB Coach Monte Coleman said he isn't reading much into the Tigers' struggles.
"They're a very well-coached ball club," he said. "Jackson is good on offense and defense, and they played well against Grambling this past weekend. It's going to be a dog fight for 60 minutes."
Sports on 09/22/2017
Print Headline: Turnovers not helping the offense