Alabama State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff were the preseason picks to win their respective divisions in the Southwestern Athetic Conference, yet both teams enter Saturday’s game with 0-2 records.
The team that loses Saturday’s matchup at Golden Lion Stadium is in a deep hole, particularly among its fans.
For the Hornets, the problems are across the board in every facet, but nothing will raise the ire of fans more than an ineffective offense, particularly one that has Isaiah Crowell in the backfield.
For starting quarterback Daniel Duhart, the inability to lead the offense to the end zone will be a focal point in Saturday’s game. If the Hornets don’t score more points than their opponent on Saturday, will this be the last start for Duhart?
The decision to go with Duhart over Southern Mississippi transfer Arsenio Favor seemed logical in late August. Duhart understands the offense better, is an incredibly likeable guy that is humble and charismatic and had done nothing in preseason practice to lose the position. That’s not a knock on Favor, but the two started competition with Duhart on top, so it was the logical choice.
Two games into the season, though, the statistics don’t lie. Alabama State was 4 of 16 in third-down conversions in the season opener with Jacksonville State. Those four conversions included two runs by Crowell and passes by Duhart to Jamel Johnson and DeMario Bell. Not a particularly good start but no reason for panic.
Last week’s game with Jackson State, however, showed no progress. In fact, the Hornets were worse, converting just 2 of 13 third-down plays into first downs, one on a Favor run, the other on a Favor pass to Earl Lucas. Duhart, meanwhile, was 0 of 9, going 0 of 3 in each of the first three quarters while sitting out the fourth quarter.
“We knew we wanted to get Favor involved at some point,” ASU coach Reggie Barlow said. “You typically don’t want it to happen after something bad has happened because you don’t want (Duhart) thinking I’m coming out because that happened. It gives us an opportunity to do some things a tad bit differently.”
Barlow candidly admitted that neither quarterback has the experience to lead the team for all 60 minutes in a game and the differences in the two help the Hornets in their scheme against opponents.
“I thought Duhart had some pinpoint passes and they were dropped,” Barlow noted. “He made some good passes that would have helped his percentage but he’s missed on some passes these last two games that I wouldn’t expect him to miss the way he did. Arsenio did some good things running the ball. They’ve done some positive things but the things they have not done well have been in such critical situations that it’s set you back.”
Here’s a statistic Barlow and his offensive coaches cannot ignore. Duhart is 0 of 7 in third-down conversions in the first quarter of the first two games. If that doesn’t change on Saturday, the Hornets could be staring at an 0-3 record. And making a change at quarterback before the next week’s game.
On the other hand, a good start by Duhart and the Alabama State offense in the first quarter could lead to a win over the Golden Lions, which could go a long way toward silencing the grumbling of ASU fans who have high expectations for this season.