Grambling won last week against Jackson State despite an offensive performance that reads like a devastating loss: Just nine first downs, four turnovers, 13 penalties for 91 yards, and only 24 minutes in time of possession.
It was the worst showing yet for a team that has gained fewer yards in every contest so far this year.
So, Grambling shares more than a 2-1 record with Saturday’s foe, Oklahoma State — which shot to No. 5 in the AP’s FCS poll after a dominating 24-10 victory over then-No. 13 Georgia in the 2009 season opener. Since, the Cowboys have fallen to 45-35 to Houston, then looked shaky at times in an eventual 41-24 home win over Rice. The Owls, who had been losing by an average of more than four touchdowns coming in, actually outgained Oklahoma State offensively.
Grambling coach Rod Broadway, despite seeing similar struggles on his own team, isn’t buying the comparison.
“No knock against anyone, but this is going to be the best team we’re going to play this year,” he said. “For our guys to have an opportunity to play against them, it will hopefully make them raise their level. This is an excellent football team.”
Much of the blame for Oklahoma State’s recent misfires can be put to untimely injuries befalling a number of its most productive players: The Cowboys lost standout middle linebacker Orie Lemon (knee) for the season before they even took the field in ’09. Running back Kendall Hunter (ankle) and defensive end Jermiah Price (hand) were both out against Rice.
Hunter comes into this Saturday’s game with 32 carries for 104 yards and a score. If he still can’t go, the Cowboys appear to have found an able replacement in Keith Totson, who had 39 carries for 196 yards and a TD last week while subbing for Hunter.
Top receiver Dez Bryant (who boasts 17 receptions for 323 yards and four touchdowns) has been struggling with leg injuries, too, and is also reportedly questionable for the Grambling game.
That’s left the Cowboys at 77th nationally among FCS schools for yards passing per game (200.7) and 49th for yards rushing a night (163.3). They are now last in the Big 12 for scoring defense and pass defense, and rank second in the conference in penalties with 30 for 241 yards.
Oklahoma State tumbled several spots in the polling along the way, too, down to No. 16.
“I’m not frustrated, but we still have to play better,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said this week. “We’ve got to find a way to get more big plays. … We just have to keep pushing forward.”
It’s put additional pressure on Cowboys quarterback Zac Robinson, who last year passed for 3,064 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was up to the task — and no doubt gave Grambling defenders like Christian Anthony something to think about — against Rice, going 14-of-20 for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions a week ago. Robinson rushed for another score, earning praise from Gundy.
Meanwhile, Grambling running back Frank Warren — who has shot out of the gate to lead the Southwestern Athletic Conference in yards per carry, total yards and yards per game — is expected to meet rugged opposition. Teammate Greg Dillon, however, might find a few spots to shine after a surprisingly inconsistent start to his junior campaign at quarterback.
Oklahoma State’s defense, which may not have cornerback Perrish Cox because of a shoulder injury, has been holding teams to 105 rushing yards per game while allowing 276.3 ypg passing. That statistical imbalance played out again last week, as Rice managed just 76 net yards on the ground — but struck for 301 yards passing.
“Offensively they have a quarterback who has a lot of ability,” Gundy said of Grambling. “He moves around a lot and makes plays. For our defense to get him pinned up will be a challenge.”
OSU starts a senior cornerback across from Cox in Terrance Anderson; the reserves include senior Maurice Gray, redshirt freshman Brodrick Brown — and junior Andrew McGee, who played extensively last week.
Richetti Jones, a former top recruit out of Dallas’s Lincoln High, stepped in for Price on the end and recorded his first collegiate sack against Rice. Donald Booker led all OSU tacklers with 10 stops on Saturday; Andre Sexton added an interception.