By looking at the statistics from this past Saturday's football game between the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the Jackson State University Tigers, it can be argued that the contest could've gone both ways.
However, penalties, miscues on special teams, not capitalizing on chances given, and playing not to lose allowed UAPB to drop their second Southwestern Athletic Conference game to the Tigers by a final of 30-27.
The Golden Lions outgained the Tigers in total yards 514-400. UAPB picked up 25 first downs as JSU only picked up 15. The Golden Lions’ defense only gave up six first-half points, and one of the touchdowns in the second half credited to the Tigers was controversial. UAPB also controlled the time of possession as they possessed the ball for 33:23 compared to JSU's possession time of 26:16.
UAPB allowed Jackson State to stay in the game by getting three field goals blocked and missing another. To make the special teams matters worse, the Golden Lions failed on a fake field goal attempt on their final offensive play of the game that was sniffed out by the JSU defense.
The Tigers simply used manpower to push through the line to disrupt the field goal attempts by the Golden Lions. UAPB Head Coach Cedric Thomas gives Jackson State Head Coach Tony Hughes kudos for lining his 6'6 guy over his 5'11 guards. If Thomas had to chosen to go for the fake in that game-deciding situation, he said he'd do it the exact same way after seeing the havoc JSU had caused all game up front in that formation.
"One reason is the weight room," Thomas said. "You have to take your hat off to Coach Hughes; schematics wise, they did a good job of getting their 6'6 kid in the A-gap where our guards are about 5'10, or 5'11, and he was able to get some of those balls deflected. They just got some force on a smaller guy. Got some knockback, and they used their length. It was a smart deal for them. We'll have to move some kicking points when we're getting those looks. It's a copycat league. Mississippi Valley is going to look at the tape and expect to do the same thing because we would. I've got to get that fixed because we have such a great kicker and I have to give him the opportunity."
Pre-snap penalties on offense slowed their production down, and it killed drives at times. Thomas eluded to the fact that the JSU defensive linemen were using their voices to cause confusion up-front for UAPB. As those five-yard penalties continue to stack up over the course of a game, they become detrimental to the offenses ability to sustain drives.
"If you look at the numbers, we totally dominated the football game from a statistical category," Thomas said. "But until we do the small things, you won't get blessed with winning by playing bad. I don't want it with my group of guys. I don't want for them to not do things right cut corners and win."
Jackson State's first touchdown of the game would have been overturned if UAPB had the ability to utilize instant replay. The Tigers’ running back was clearly down, but the referee wasn't in the position to see it, and he got up and kept running for a 60-yard touchdown. That play served as a game changer, and it gave JSU their first lead of the game with 3:18 to play in the third quarter.
"We had a situation where one touchdown, to me, it just wasn't a touchdown. We sent the play in, so it is what it is on that part. Like I told the kids, everything we do, we apply it to life, and that's apart of life. Sometimes you’re going to do things right, and it's going to be some situations that you're faced with that are not going to go your way. Even with that play they never wavered, and it was let's get the next one."
Although it may clearly have been a missed call by the refs, Thomas made it a point to preach to his players to play until they hear the whistle no matter what the case is.
"I also told them we play through the whistle; if you don't hear the whistle, finish the play," Thomas said. "Then you get, ‘so coach what if I jump on him and he's down then now they've got a personal foul?’ I'm like, I understand totally, but let's deal with the 15 yards instead of the 55 yards."
Overall, Thomas sees much improvement from when they first started what he's building.
"We're not there yet," Thomas said. "We're not playing to win the football game, we're playing not to lose. You can watch them looking up at the clock over and over, and they're waiting on the time to run out instead of saying we're going to finish. We have to learn how to win. It's a process, and I've been a part of it. Until we do the small things right, we won't be rewarded with those wins."
There isn't a drill or a play that the coaches can have the players run in practice that will instill a mindset of being finishers into their heads. According to Thomas, they just have to trust what they're being taught, because it's coming from someone who's already been in their shoes. At his weekly coaches luncheon, when asked what it'll take for the players to develop a winners attitude, Thomas had a simple answer.
"Pass experiences, and my journey," Thomas said. "Not just my journey, but all of the other coaches as well. Our Offensive Coordinator Jermaine Gales was apart of a North Carolina Central team that wasn't successful, then he gets in there and all of a sudden they're playing in the Celebration Bowl. We've been in situations as coaches to let the kids know that they just have to trust us. You give them the situations of how we rebuilt those programs. Our kids want to know why, and when you can tell them why and show them, then they're all in. It's just a mindset that's all it is, my young men have to believe. They didn't play that field goal to win the game they played not to lose."
The Golden Lions have the luxury of a BYE week coming up this weekend, and they plan to utilize every moment of it to get better before they go on the road on Oct. 20 to take on the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils.