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Tigers need to get ‘back in the lab’

Tuesday, September 20, 2022
Tigers need to get ‘back in the lab’

Photo by Tony Valentino
Grambling State head coach Hue Jackson looks on as Maurice Washington looks for running room against Jackson State Saturday.

Hue Jackson had to make sure he heard the question correctly.

As the first-year head coach of the Tigers talked to reporters on Monday, fresh off a 66-24 loss to Jackson State on Saturday, he had no time for sugar-coating or moral victories now that the Tigers sit 1-2 on the season.

“There wasn’t a positive. Let’s just be honest,” Jackson said. “When you get beat like that, it’s not a positive. I know everybody will say, ‘Well, Maurice Washington’s runs.’ We want to build on those things, those are things we expect. That’s why I said there’s nothing we’re going to sit here and feel good about. We’re going back in the lab and going back to work.”

And there’s plenty to work on as Grambling State prepares this week for the start of SWAC play on the road at Bethune- Cookman.

Defensive struggles

The numbers don’t lie. Grambling is facing major issues on defense three games into the season.

The Tigers’ defense has given up the most points in the SWAC (145) and ranks 11th in overall defense in the conference, giving up 48.3 points per game. Through the opening stretch of games, Grambling has given up an average of 535 yards on defense, including 608 yards last week against Jackson State.

“Way too many yards, no question about that,” Jackson said Monday. “We just need to make sure we tighten some things up. Obviously, we don’t want to be a team that gives up that many yards a game or that many points a game. But at the same time, we as an offense have to do a better job keeping them off the field, making sure we convert third downs, making sure we have the ball longer.”

There is some truth to his last point, because the Tigers have not had the ball long through three games. In fact, Grambling’s average time of possession per game has been 22 minutes compared to 36 minutes for its opponents.

The offense hasn’t done its defense any favors when it comes to extending potential scoring drives, particularly moving the chains on third down. Grambling has converted 7 of its 37 third-down opportunities this season.

But after giving up 413 passing yards against Jackson State, and at least 150 rushing yards through three games, this week will be a chance to regroup for Grambling.

Finish, finish, finish

Time for the football cliché of a ‘tale of two halves.’ While the narrative can be worn out and overplayed, Grambling has literally been the epitome of that framing through its three-game start.

“What we gotta do is play as hard as we can for 60 minutes,” Jackson said. “We’ve done it for 30 or we’ve done it for 25. We gotta put a full game together. We have yet to play a full game offensively, defensively, and special teams.”

The Tigers trailed 21-17 at halftime against Jackson State, with the defense getting multiple turnovers in the first 30 minutes of play. And then the second half began to spiral. And spiral. And spiral.

The Tigers outscored Grambling 45-7 in the second half and ran away with the win. But the second half flop has been familiar for the G-Men through three games.

Grambling has been outscored 87-16 in the second half this season, and the issue as to why remains a mystery for Jackson and the coaching staff.

“I think we can play with a lot of people. But can we finish? That’s the question,” Jackson said Monday. “In three games, the second halves we’ve been different. That’s my charge as the head coach to find the answer for that. And I will.”

Bethune-Cookman scouting report

On paper, Grambling takes a step down in terms of competition this Saturday against Bethune-Cookman.

The Wildcats are 0-2 and have faced similar second-half issues early on – being outscored 51-12 to start the year against Miami and South Carolina State.

“They’re a physical team, they get after it,” Jackson said. “I don’t get into scores. I get into how they play. They look like they play hard, play for one another. It’s going to be another challenge for us.”

Bethune- Cookman ranks last in the SWAC in defense, with opponents averaging 51.5 ppg this season, and rank s 11th in rushing defense to the tune of 271 yards on the ground per game.

The Wildcats are 0-3 all time against Grambling State and have been outscored by 40.5 points through their opening pair of games.

Grambling State faces Bethune- Cookman Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.