The Hornets (3-2 overall, 0-2 in SWAC) tore out to an undefeated record through their first three non-conference games, but that was against lower-division opponents — and two of the contests were closer than expected: Concordia College (38-33), Savannah State (20-17), and Edward Waters (38-6).
Since entering Southwestern Athletic Conference play, Alabama State has fallen 10-3 to Mississippi Valley and 24-10 to Prairie View.
Next comes Grambling State (3-3, 1-1), which holds a 23-8 overall record against the Hornets, and has never lost to ASU under Rod Broadway. The Tigers are 7-3 against Alabama State in this decade, a run that includes the 2001 SWAC Championship Game.
“We’re not necessarily in panic mode,” said Hornets coach Reggie Barlow. “We haven’t looked at it like that. (But) I could see how that would be a concern.”
Alabama State and Grambling rank second and third, respectively, in the SWAC for rushing offense. (GSU’s Cornelius Walker had a breakout night against A&M, rushing 11 times for 146 yards and a TD.)
Hornets quarterback Chris Mitchell has already surpassed 1,000 passing yards on the season, throwing for 219 yards and rushing for a team-leading 61 yards last week.
Each has been solid in special teams, with ASU leading the league in kickoff returns and the Tigers tops in punt returns. Aggressive defensive schemes have Alabama State at third for sacks, while Grambling is second for picks.
CLIMBING OUT OF A HOLE
Injured cornerback Kenneth Anio brought up a good point this week: Grambling’s defense plays differently when it’s behind.
And it’s trailed early in nearly every game this year.
Grambling began the 2009 season opener by spotting South Carolina State two first-quarter touchdowns. Same with Northwestern State. Same with Prairie View.
Those kind of deficits inevitably take something away from this defense, making one of the SWAC most opportunistic units more one-dimensional.
“If you go up, you can have fun,” said Anio, who’s continued to travel with the team as a player-coach. “When you are playing catch up, you spend every down trying to make sure don’t mess up.”
The Tigers were down 10-7 after one period against Alabama A&M, too, though the team eventually righted itself for its third victory of the year. The only game GSU has not trailed after the first quarter so far this season was at Jackson State — an emotional, blowout win.
“We need to come together and jump on them early,” Anio said of Grambling’s opponents. “That’s what our coaches have been pushing us to do.”
TWO GONE AT A&M?
A&M may have emerged from the Grambling loss without its starting running back or quarterback.
Ulysses Banks, who leads the SWAC with more than 100 yards a game, had just nine rushes for 23 yards before leaving A&M’s eventual 41-20 loss with an ankle injury. Bulldogs coach Anthony Jones said Banks was still unable to participate in practices early this week.
“We’ll see how he is,” Jones said. “(We’ll) evaluate him day-to-day and see if he can play.”
A&M also ended the game with a different quarterback, after Kevin Atkins completed just 5 of 14 passes for 69 yards and an interception. Kentucky transfer Deaunte Mason stepped in, and provided a spark — going 10-of-20 passes for 107 yards and a stunning score.
He took a broken play 66 yards with just more than five minutes left in the first quarter to help A&M an early 10-7 lead.
“I don’t know if (Atkins) understands everything that’s going on,” Jones said. “Right now, that’s a problem for us and we’re trying to, of course, get that solved and remedied.”
TIGER PAUSE: Barlow missed last Saturday’s game against Prairie View to attend a family funeral, leaving receivers coach Roger Totten in charge. He will be on the sidelines this week against Grambling. … Hargrave Military Academy defensive tackle Robert Kearney has received a Grambling scholarship offer, and is also receiving strong interest from Appalachian State, according to Scout. … A&M, Alcorn State and Jackson State are all 1-1 in the Eastern Division; Alcorn recorded 14 sacks in its Thursday night win over Mississippi Valley last week, tying a Football Championship Subdivision record. … Also considering Grambling: Northwest High School Raiders athlete Corey Dean, the Louisiana school’s top receiver and a sometime starter at quarterback.