Grambling State will find itself in an unfamiliar position when the G-Men host Alabama State Saturday evening in a potential preview of the SWAC Championship Game
Grambling State will find itself in an unfamiliar position when the G-Men host Alabama State Saturday evening in a potential preview of the SWAC Championship Game.
Grambling, the preseason pick to win the West Division and the reigning conference champion, is 0-2 for the first time since Coach Doug Williams was quarterback for G-Men in 1976. That would seem to put Grambling in a must-win situation against Alabama State, the favorite to win the East Division crown and return to Birmingham, Ala., for the championship for the second time in three years.
Not so, says Williams.
“We don’t get into that,’’ says Williams, who led Grambling to an 8-3 record after the G-Men’s shaky start in 1976. “We don’t preach that. We preach the next week. What’s behind is behind.’’
Grambling opened the season with an upset loss to conference foe Alcorn State in the Port City Classic. They played up a division last week and suffered a 56-6 loss to TCU of the Football Ball Subdivision (FBS) as the Horned Frogs opened their new stadium.
This is the second consecutive year that the G-Men have gotten off to a slow start. They were 1-4 after five games in 2011 with a 31-17 loss to Alabama State. The G-Men ended the season with seven consecutive victories to claim the championship. That turnaround, not their 2012 record, is uppermost in Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow’s mind, and he expects Grambling to put forth a supreme effort.
“They’ll understand importance of game as we will,’’ he says. “All games are important, and this is a SWAC game. Last year they had struggles early. They showed perseverance. The race doesn’t go to swift or the strongest but the one who’s able to hold on. I wouldn’t say they’re in a desperate situation. But I’m sure they will have more of a sense of urgency to win this game.’’
Williams says Grambling season-ending run of a year has no bearing on how this year’s team will respond to its poor start.
“Some of the guys on last year’s team are not here,’’ he says. “This year it has a lot to do with the mindset of young guys. These guys a little younger than the guys were last year. These guys are wide-eyed and bushy tailed. I hope the last two weeks helped them grow up.’’
Regardless of which team wins, a December rematch in the conference championship game will be a strong possibility. Still neither coach is looking to make a statement or send a message in Saturday’s game.
“At the end of all this everybody has same goal,’’ Barlow says. “That’s to get to the championship game. It’s not so much trying to make a statement per se as wanting to play well in all three phases. We want to put a solid game together. That’s more or less the statement we want to make.’’
“This weekend is big for all the schools in SWAC,’’ Williams says, noting that Texas Southern, which is ineligible for the championship, is the only conference member that doesn’t have its sights sets on winning the conference title. “Everybody is trying to race for Birmingham. In order to win the race to Birmingham, you have to win.’’
Saturday’s game will feature an intriguing duel between running backs Isaiah Crowell of Alabama State and Dawrence Roberts of Grambling State.
Crowell, who transferred to Alabama State from the University of Georgia after being dismissed from the team following his arrest on a weapons charge, was the 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year and a bona fide talent. Dawrence, not as widely heralded as Crowell, led the SWAC in rushing last season with 1,102 yards.
However, this game could turn on the play of the team’s quarterback, Greg Jenkins for Alabama State – the preseason pick to win the SWAC East, and DJ Williams for defending conference champion and SWAC West favorite Grambling.