Grambling at Texas Southern: Mirror images face off for SWAC West title

Raise your hand if you knew Texas Southern would be this good.

Anybody? Anybody??

After all Texas Southern opened the season on a 1-3 skid, before rebounding with a renewed focus on its run game and a tough offense-stalling defense that now leads the SWAC in nearly every category — including rush defense, pass defense, total defense, sacks and tackles for a loss.

“All you have to do is look at the numbers,” said Grambling coach Rod Broadway, “and you can see what they have been able to do to people. They’ve got really good athletes.”

Of course, Grambling (8-1, 7-0 SWAC) plays pretty good defense too, and boasts its own Walter Payton Award candidate at running back.

If that’s not enough intrigue, GSU is trying to clinch its seventh berth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game with a victory tonight, while Texas Southern (6-3, 6-1 SWAC) must beat Grambling and then Arkansas-Pine Bluff to advance — or, if it falls on ESPN Classic, hope that GSU trips against Southern in the season-ending, nationally televised Bayou Classic.

“To win the championship, shoot, you’ve got to win the best,” Texas Southern coach Johnnie Cole said. “And it just so happens that the best is on our side of the division.”

[Texas Southern has brilliantly transformed into a run-first powerhouse.]

It’s a mirror-image matchup that’s even drawing the attention of other SWAC coaches, including reigning league champion Prairie View’s Henry Frazier.

“I might have to sit down with my popcorn and watch that one,” he said. “That’s probably going to be one of the most hard-hitting games you’ll see. I’m old-school. That’s one of those Dick Butkus-Ray Nitschke type games.”

Last week, Texas Southern quarterback Arvell Nelson only attempted 18 throws, but was deadly nevertheless — passing for 244 yards and three touchdowns as his team extended its winning streak to five games with a 54-7 thrashing of West rival Southern. TSU had two running backs reach the century mark, Marcus Wright (103 yards and a touchdown) and Martin Gilbert (100 yards).

Meanwhile, at the top of the to-do list for Texas Southern: Stopping Frank Warren, now only 53 yards away from the school’s all-time rushing record — and just 307 from breaking the career mark in Southwestern Athletic Conference history, Destry Wright’s 4,049 yards for Jackson State between 1997-99.

TSU must also guard against Grambling’s opportunistic defenders. The only major defensive category that Texas Southern ranks second in happens to be scoring defense, behind GSU.

[Record-smashing Frank Warren is firmly focused on a Grambling title.]

“It’s going to be challenge for us to go out and try to play well,” said Broadway, who is trying to claim his third SWAC West title in four seasons at the helm. “As I look at them, they are very similar to us as far as their offense goes. When I look around at our league, it has evolved into a running league. All the sexy five-wide teams are at the bottom. That’s one of the things Texas Southern has been able to do this season. They’re not throwing the ball all over the yard anymore, and now they are a really good football team.”

The Texas Tigers, who last topped Grambling in 2006, have never advanced to the SWAC Championship Game, established in 1999. TSU’s most recent league title was 42 seasons ago, when it shared the crown with Alcorn State and Grambling.

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