Alabama State represented the East Division in the 2010 SWAC Championship Game.
Tradition-rich Grambling State, which has won 21 SWAC championships, has almost as many conference titles as Alabama State has years in the league with 29.
And over the years, the G-Men have dominated the Hornets, winning the last four meetings and holding a 25-9 edge in the all-time series.
The Hornets will be out to end that dominance and solidify their hold on first place in the SWAC East Division Saturday when they host Grambling at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.
“You want to be the best. You want to be tops in the conference,” Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow says. “The name (Grambling) speaks for itself. They’ve always been in it. Rarely has it been where they’re not in the top two in the conference. With their history and tradition, they’re like FBS schools that carry that name, like Alabama and Notre Dame. When you hear the name Grambling, the history and the tradition, they’re always outstanding. Beating them would mean a lot.”
Both teams are 1-0 in the SWAC and 1-1 overall. Grambling opened the season with a 21-14 conference win against Alcorn State while Alabama State defeated Mississippi Valley State 41-9. Both lost road games last weekend to FBS opponents, Alabama State to Eastern Michigan 14-7 and Grambling 35-7 to Louisiana-Monroe.
Grambling is the preseason pick to win the SWAC West after finishing second to Texas Southern a year ago. Alabama State represented the East Division in the 2010 SWAC Championship Game. The Hornets were picked to finish third in the preseason poll of conference coaches and Sports Information behind Jackson State and Alcorn. Jackson State is ineligible for the championship game, and Alcorn has gotten off to an 0-2 start in the conference. A win for Alabama State against Grambling would put the Hornets in the catbird seat in the East race.
“They’ve had two impressive games,” Grambling coach Doug Williams says. “That’s what concerns me. We only had a half of game. Their confidence level is up. We could be running into a trap. We’re picked to win conference, but there are a whole lot of booby traps along the way. What they’re trying to do is keep their winning ways. If they find a way to beat us, it’s a feather in their cap and gives them confidence.”
To get a victory, the Hornets will have to find a way to overcome Grambling’s highly regarded defense, which is led by linebacker Cliff Exama and end Jomarcus Savage, a transfer from Auburn.
“You win championships on defense,” Barlow says. “We have to match their intensity and speed. They do play with a lot of speed. I like watching people who play fast, not playing against them. They’re a solid team.”
This matchup could come down to a battle of quarterbacks – freshman D.J. Williams for Grambling and Troy University transfer Greg Jenkins for Alabama State.
Williams, coach Doug Williams’ son, has taken every snap this season. He was solid in the G-Men’s victory against Alcorn, completing 16 of 24 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers. He tailed off against Louisiana-Monroe, completing 10 of 21 passes for 118 yards, and he was intercepted twice. He was also sacked six times.
“The last game, it was tough to grade him, the running game, receivers or anybody because of the opportunities we didn’t have to see some things,” Doug Williams says. “He did some good things when had opportunities. When he didn’t have opportunities, he was intercepted. He tried to force things.”
A productive running game helped Williams against Alcorn. Kenneth Batiste rushed for 83 yards on 17 carries. Grambling only had 26 yards on the ground against Louisiana-Monroe.
Jenkins suffered a hip injury in the second quarter against Eastern Michigan and didn’t play the second half. Barlow says Jenkins could have returned to the game. He chose to go with Devin Dominguez, the 2010 starter, and hold Jenkins out since it was a nonconference game.
“It was the right thing to do,” Barlow says, adding that Jenkins has been getting round-the-clock treatment during the week and should be ready to play against Grambling. “He’s a bit sore, but he’s a guy who wants to play.”
Jenkins threw for 188 yards and threw touchdowns in the Hornets’ 41-9 win against Mississippi Valley. He was 10-for-15 for 100 yards against Eastern Michigan before he was injured.
“Our system really fits Greg,” Barlow says. “He can run the ball and make all the throws. He has taken ownership of the system. He spends a lot of time with (quarterback coach) Richard Moncrief trying to be a better quarterback. He was a little shaky last weekend, but his competitive nature will allow him to be a better quarterback this weekend.”
Tuskegee (0-1) at Ala. A&M (0-2): These former SIAC rivals are desperate for a victory as they meet in the Louis Crews Classic. Tuskegee is trying to avoid its first 0-2 start since 1990. Coach Willie Slater was not pleased with the play of quarterbacks Jeremy Williams and Terry Bradden in the Golden Tigers’ 33-19 loss to Langston. He pulled Williams at the start of the second half and implied that the junior from Tuscaloosa, Alaama could lose the starting job. Alabama A&M needs a win to avert being 0-2 for the first time since 2008. The Bulldogs are searching for a running game after only gaining 60 yards on the ground. The teams split their last two game against each other – in the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis in 2008 and 2009 – but Tuskegee fans are still smarting from the 54-0 shellacking the Bulldogs laid on the Golden in 1999, the last time they came to Huntsville.
Valdosta State (2-0) at Albany State (2-0): Albany State hasn’t fared well against its series with its South Georgia neighbor. Valdosta leads the series 13-1 and has a four-game winning streak against the Rams. Albany State is No. 7 in the American Football Coaches Association Division II rankings, and Valdosta State is No. 12. A victory would bode well for the winner when it comes times for the Division II playoffs.
Miss. Valley State (0-2, 0-1 SWAC) at Alcorn State (0-2, 0-2 SWAC): Alcorn was considered a sleeper in the SWAC East race. A loss against their in-state rivals would just about put their shot at reaching the conference championship game to sleep. It would also put a damper on what is sure to be a festive occasion, as Jack Spinks Stadium will be renamed Casem-Spinks Stadium during a pregame ceremony in honor of Marino “The Godfather” Casem, the winningest coach in Alcorn’s history.
Jackson State (2-0, 0-0 SWAC) at Southern (1-1, 1-0 SWAC): This is normally a key game in the SWAC race, but not this season. Both teams are ineligible for the SWAC Championship Game because of issues with NCAA Academic Progress Rate guidelines. Still. it is an important game in terms of what each school hopes to accomplish this season. Jackson State, the preseason favorite in the SWAC East despite being ineligible for the championship game, has set its sights on an undefeated season, which likely would result in the Tigers winning the Black College National Championship. Southern, on the other hand, is trying to return to respectability after suffering through the worst season in school history a year ago. The Jaguars are hoping for a repeat of their strong defensive effort in their win against Alabama A&M that saw them shutdown the Bulldogs’ running. Their challenge this week is to contain All-Ameican quarterback Casey Therriault, who threw for 377 yards and three touchdowns in a win against Tennessee State last week.
Livingstone (0-2, 0-1 CIAA) at Bowie State (2-0, 1-0 CIAA)
Cheyney (1-1) at Edinboro (2-0)
Norfolk State (1-1, 0-0 MEAC) at Howard (1-1, 0-0 MEAC)
Louisburg (2-0) at Va. University of Lynchburg (0-2)
Langston (2-0) at Missouri Western State
Point University (0-3) at Lane (1-1)
NW Missouri State (2-0) at Lincoln (Mo.) (1-1)
S.C. State (1-1) at Indiana (0-2)
Va. State (1-1, 0-0 CIAA) at Johnson C. Smith (1-1, 0-0 CIAA)
Robert Morris (0-2) at Morgan State (0-2)
New Orleans (Club Team) at Concordia-Selma (0-2)
Shaw (0-2 at Benedict (0-2) SCHBCU Classic
Tenn. State (1-1, 0-0 OVC) at Murray State 1-1, 0-0 OVC)
Ark.-Pine Bluff (1-1, 1-0 SWAC) at Prairie View (1-1, 1-0 SWAC)
Texas College (0-3) at Texas Southern (0-1)
Savannah State (0-2) at Appalachian State (1-1)
Winston-Salem State (2-0) at Chowan (1-1)
Fort Valley State (0-2, 0-0 SIAC at Clark Atlanta (1-1)
Delaware State (2-0) at Delaware (1-1), Route 1 Rivalry
Elizabeth City State (1-2, 0-1 CIAA) at Fayetteville State (0-2, 0-0 CIAA)
Va. Union (2-1, 0-0 CIAA) at Lincoln (Pa.) (0-2, 0-1 CIAA)
Elon (1-1) at N.C. Central (1-1)
Hampton (2-0) at Old Dominion (2-0)
Central State (Ohio) (0-2) at West Alabama (1-1)
Stillman (1-1, 0-0 SIAC) at Kentucky State (2-0, 0-0 SIAC)
Edward Waters (1-1) at Morehouse (1-1)
Florida A&M (1-1) at South Florida (2-0)