We haven’t been successful at all against them,” Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones says. “But we’re not going to think about what happened in the past.
Alabama A&M returns to its house of horrors Saturday when the Bulldogs play Grambling State Saturday at Robinson Memorial Stadium.
The Bulldogs have never won at Grambling. Additionally, they haven’t had a lot of luck against the G-Men regardless of where the teams have played; Grambling leads the all-time series 14-3.
“We haven’t been successful at all against them,” Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones says. “But we’re not going to think about what happened in the past. We’re trying to move forward and prepare for the future. Grambling has a lot of history. They have a lot of good teams. This year is no exception. We’ve played them tough, but the score doesn’t reveal that. We’ve got to prepare hard and play hard. This game will stand on this game. You can’t bring in points scored in game past. But if don’t play well we’ll lose.”
This is a crucial game for both teams. Each has a conference a loss. Alabama A&M started the season 0-2, including a SWAC loss to Southern. The Bulldogs are coming off a 21-6 nonconference victory against Tuskegee and needs a win to keep in striking distance of Alabama State, which is first in the SWAC East with a 2-0 conference record.
Grambling, the preseason pick to win the West Division title, lost to Alabama State 31-17 Saturday. The G-Men only generated 177 yards total offense. Jones, however, doesn’t expect a similar performance from this week.
“They may have made a few mistakes, but I know those mistakes will be corrected,” he says. “That’s the kind of coach Doug (Williams) is. One of things about playing a good team is that after they have a disappointing loss, they will bring their best. If we don’t bring our best, this thing will continue.”
The Grambling mystique can be distracting and make it difficult for opposing teams to bring their best when they play at Robinson.
Grambling is among the most storied football programs in college football, let alone the SWAC, and has a certain mystique. It has produced legions of Hall of Famers, All-Americans and All-Conference and NFL players; Eddie Robinson – for whom the G-Men’s stadium is named – is number four among coaches on the all-time college football winning list.
Jones, however, says current Grambling players such as All-SWAC linebacker Cliff Exama are more worrisome for him than the G-Men’s greats of the past such as James Harris, Everson Walls, Tank Younger, Buck Buchanan, Charlie Joiner and Ernie Ladd.
“You can have history, but the ghosts won’t come out and play,” Jones says. “It’s the players who put a whuppin’ on you, and we’ve got to play good team this year.”
Jones does acknowledge that the atmosphere at Robinson Stadium makes playing there a challenge for visiting teams.
“I’m not one who is easily intimated,” he says. “When you go down there in that bowl, it’s like a gladiator arena. They close the gates on you, and the next thing you know, you don’t have lot of people supporting you. The fans get loud, and the players get physical. We’re not the only ones who haven’t had success at Grambling. They don’t lose many games at home. That’s a tough place to play.”
It could be especially tough for a team that is in Alabama A&M position. The Bulldogs are still searching for consistency, particularly on offense. They have yet to score more than 21 points in a game this season. But Jones says the Bulldogs made strides in their victory against Tuskegee.
“As a whole, we played closer to 60 minutes,” Jones says. “We’re still not at 60 minutes. We played a more complete game, but we’re still not there. Offensively, we’re not explosive in the passing. We’re gong to have to step up to another level to make this thing work.”
Alabama A&M’s defense has played well in each of the first three games, and it is likely to play a critical role in whatever success the Bulldogs have against Grambling.
The G-Men have a young offensive unit, and they haven’t done a good job protecting freshman quarterback D.J. Williams, the son of coach Doug Williams. Alabama State had four quarterback sacks, and the G-Men have given up 13 for the season.
“We’ve had questions and concerns about the offensive line all year,” Doug Williams says. “When you have a young quarterback, you don’t want to break his confidence and force him to make plays, plays that he can’t make. When that happens, it becomes a forced situation because of what he has been through all game long.”
Williams expects the Bulldogs to go after the quarterback with all that they have.
“They’re going to throw the kitchen sink,” he says. “They will put pressure on the quarterback. We have to prepare for them.”
Williams says he is also concerned about Grambling’s defensive performance against Alabama State. The G-Men gave up 399 total yards.
“The concern with the defense is not how many yards gave up, but how bad the tackling was,” he says. “Most of the yards came after contact. When you get 80 plays run against you, (Alabama State ran 79 offensive plays) bad is going happen to you. I attribute those yards to bad tackling and poor offense.”
Grambling only ran 57 offensive plays against Alabama State, and the G-Men gained just 12 first downs. That allowed Alabama State to control the ball and the clock. Williams expects the Jones to design a game plan for the Bulldogs that will produce similar results.
“I’ve had some history with Alabama A&M and Coach Jones,” says Williams, who coached Grambling from 1998 to 2003 before taking a front office position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “I know what they’re about. It’s just a matter of learning what they’re doing now. A lot of things won’t change. Coach Jones takes a conservative approach, but a real consistent approach to offense, and every now and then he hits you with something you don’t expect.”
The history between Williams and Jones extends beyond the football. They were teammates on the Washington Redskins, and they were roommates the night before Super Bowl XXII when Williams was named MVP. Williams says their relationship always makes coaching against Jones special.
“From an athletic standpoint, the competitiveness is always there,” he says. “Anytime you can compete against somebody you played with, you want to be on wining end. But the important thing is to keep the relationship what it is. We’re two coaches who happen to be coaching against each other.”
Jones is in his 10th season at Alabama A&M and is the dean of SWAC coaches, in terms of years of service. He and Williams talk regularly.
“I’ve always had a good relationship with Doug,” he says. “If I have something on my mind, I will call Doug and vice versa. The relationship will stay supportive of each other except when we play each other.”