SIX POINTS: TDR’s take on Grambling loss at Oklahoma State

Six points from on Grambling’s fourth week of 2009 football, including a loss to Oklahoma State and its preparation for the opening of Southwestern Athletic Conference play at Dallas against Prairie View A&M …

I said last week that I wan’t sure Christian Anthony could take over the Oklahoma State game the way he had against more evenly matched opponents during Grambling’s first three weeks of play. But I was sure, I said, that he would hold his own.

Did he ever: Playing against the best opponent Grambling has faced in recent memory, Anthony had a team-high 12 tackles — 11 of them solo — a forced fumble, and knocked an OSU passer out of the game.

Sophomore Alex Cate, designated in August as the Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback, took over in the second half after Oklahoma State had established a commanding lead. On his first offensive play, Anthony blasted through — dislodging the ball and sending Cate out of the game.

It ended up as the most lopsided win for Oklahoma State since a 59-7 victory over SMU in 2004, a season before Mike Gundy took over as coach, and the first time Grambling had given up 50 or more points since the 2002 opener.

Even so I’d call it a personal victory for Anthony, in a game within the game. He showed up any collegiate program that didn’t recruit him, and no doubt prominently placed himself on the radar of a number of NFL scouts.

Bad news: Grambling enters the Prairie View game at Dallas, and conference play, with a 2-2 record.

Good news: Same ole, same ole.

That’s roughly the same spot GSU was in a year ago at this point, having gone 3-2 over the initial month of the season. Grambling still with no idea what kind of offense it had, though it was becoming clear that the defense would win some games along the way.

Sound familiar?

Grambling, who led the FCS nationally in turnover ratio last year, edged into the positive side — the Tigers now sit at plus-1 — after recovering two fumbles, and intercepting two passes at Stillwater.

Meanwhile, the offense, which had 12 turnovers coming in, gave away its own fumble and an interception to Oklahoma State. So, yes, Grambling is tied for first in the Southwestern Athletic Conference for total turnovers — a list noone wants to top.

But another opportunistic afternoon by the defense, even if it did surrender a dizzying number of yards against a BCS Top 20 opponent, now puts Grambling at No. 3 in the SWAC for turnover margin — behind Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who leads the league at plus-8.

OSU starter Zac Robinson was responsible for two turnovers, throwing a first-quarter interception and fumbling a snap to set up the Tigers’ initial field goal. Cate replaced him in the second half and fumbled on the Anthony tackle. No. 3 passer Brandon Weeden was also picked off.

Grambling linebacker Derrick Johnson recovered Robinson’s fumble. Nigel Copeland and Dominic Bell had the interceptions. Lance Castelberry was credited with the other recovered fumble.

Frank Warren rushed for 78 yards for Grambling, one of the best showings in some time against upper-division foes.

In fact, he was a carry or two away from topping Larry Kerlegan’s 88 net yards rushing against Houston in 2006, best for the Tigers in a decade.

No Grambling rusher had gained 100 net yards against FBS foes over that span.

A run down:
88 — Larry Kerlegan, Houston, 2006
78 — Frank Warren, Oklahoma State, 2009
54 — Cornelius Walker, Pittsburgh, 2008
30 — Trey White, Louisville, 2000
24 — Landry Carter, Washington State, 2005
23 — Henry Tolbert, San Joe State, 2003
14 — Cornelius Walker, Nevada, 2007
10 — Cornelius Walker, ULM, 2007

The Prairie View game, turns out, was big for Grambling last year.

Lose that one, and the ’08 Bayou Classic — rather than propelling GSU to its fifth Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game since 2000 — would have been a meaningless exercise.

GSU won, of course, against Prairie View then against Southern — avoiding a coin-flip option, since Grambling would have shared one conference loss with Southern as well as PVAMU.

The Panthers and Jaguars have both subsequently opened the 2009 season with league victories. Meaning, that scenario could well play out again this year, but with one definitive change: The SWAC is keeping the coin in its pocket.

The new three-team football tie-breaker will be best point differential among the tied teams.

Tucked inside of another uneven performance for Grambling quarterback Greg Dillon was a drive that looked like the MVP-level play we saw from the junior last year.

Robinson’s fumble gave GSU the ball at the 49-yard line. Dillon quickly seized the opportunity to put some points on the board, hitting on back-to-back completions and then dashing for a 14-yard scramble on third down. That led to the first of two Ari Johnson field goals.

Dillon just needs to string a few more of those together.

There’s still plenty of time for Dillon to regain that swagger that helped him lead Grambling to eight straight wins and the 2008 conference title after securing the starting role on Oct. 4 of last season — against, yes, Prairie View.

This is a must-win for Prairie View. Panthers’ coach Henry Frazier knows that.

In fact, if history is a guide, Prairie View will have to sweep both Grambling and Southern to claim a Western Division crown, and thus a chance at the Panthers’ first SWAC title since 1963-64.

“Louisiana is a tough one,” said Frazier, named to multiple coach of the year honors in 2008. “(Southern) Coach (Pete) Richardson and (Grambling) Coach (Rod) Broadway are first-class guys who do a great job. We know what we are up against.”

Result: ’08 was another bitter pill to swallow in a run of extraordinary success for what once was a downtrodden Prairie View program. Grambling has beaten the Panthers every year dating back to the late 1980s, but never have those losses meant more than over the last few seasons.

Prairie View, in ascent under the talented Frazier, has managed to knock off both Southern and Jackson State over that span — but not GSU. As such, for all of the awards and national notice garnered for Frazier’s remarkable rebuilding project, he hasn’t claimed a championship.

“There ain’t going to be no more splitting,” Frazier admits, talking about Southern and Grambling. “You have to win both of those games. That’s going to be the goal.”


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