ONE: Christian Anthony, the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s pre-season defensive player of the year, is playing up to that title. Nine tackles, second best for Grambling today. Eating up blockers on every play. Then, there was the stripped ball, almost returned for a touchdown. And a number of stops at key moments, including 2.5 tackles for a loss.
TWO: Grambling clearly was not prepared for the wily Bulldogs backup quarterback Derrick Wiley. Similar to putting a positive magnet against a positive magnet, he reminded me so much of the shifty Greg Dillon last year — and was similarly unstoppable.
When South Carolina State’s starter Malcolm Long left the game, Grambling’s defense struggled to adapt to the No. 2 quarterback’s unique talents (hopefully nobody else runs the option this year) — and they were enough to win the game for the Bulldogs.
THREE: Speaking of Dillon, he has gotten better at some things (passing out of the pocket, knowing when it’s appropriate to pull the rock down and run) but is still trying to do too much (two critical fumbles, one even more critical-er interception to end Grambling’s final offensive push; occasionally — after coaches have stressed pocket presence so much — not knowing when to pull the rock down and run).
Greg Dillon is still one of the most consistently entertaining players on this team, someone who is able to do things you just don’t expect. He has got to do a better job, however, of knowing when that fleeting idea in his mind just isn’t going to be possible (see: the interception that sealed the win for South Carolina State).
FOUR: The special teams guys are going to earn their scholarship during the next practice cycle.
Broadway is a stickler in this area, and its lowlights in the Challenge were many: Blocked punt. An opponent with an average starting field position at around midfield. A missed field goal — which, in retrospect, would have tied the game.
FIVE: Some Grambling fans like to talk about leaving the SWAC.
Grambling is now 19-7 since Rod Broadway and Co. arrived in 2007, and only two of those stumbles came against Southwestern Athletic Conference foes — Southern in the ’07 Bayou Classic and Jackson State in the SGC that same year. The remaining five losses are all outside of the league: Pittsburgh, ULM, Nevada, Northwestern State and South Carolina State.
Of course, NSU arrives this Saturday — putting another streak in jeopardy. Grambling has won 7 in a row at Robinson Stadium, dating back to the hiring of Broadway— who has never dropped a game at The Rob. The record at the facility, which opened in 1983, is 9 in a row — most recently during the 2000-02 seasons under Doug Williams.
SIX: Some Grambling fans like to complain about the playcalling, too, and they are at it again.
In most football games I’ve seen, at any level, 31 points and 426 yards total offense is enough to win. This one came down to decision making, and a few key mistakes — typical of an opener in college where there is no preseason. Nitpicking about run-pass ratio is certainly entertaining, but not all that relevant.
SEVEN: I think, for all of the adversity thrown Grambling’s way — and this was unusual for a team on a 10-game winning streak dating back to deep into the 2008 campaign — that it showed a lot of courage.
Sure, this untested team made its share of devastating (and, in some cases, surprising) mistakes. But it never gave up, and that should serve Grambling in good stead on down the road in 2009.