Saturday, December 17, 2016

Grambling Looks to Control Tempo In Battle With North Carolina Central in Celebration Bowl

Grambling Celebration Bowl Preview


A hugely successful season for the Grambling State Tigers football that has brought them to today's Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl against North Carolina Central (9-2, 8-0 MEAC) with a chance to win an unofficial FCS HBCU national championship began with a loss.

Grambling (10-1, 9-0 SWAC) had FBS Pac 12 team Arizona on the ropes in the first game of the season.  They were up 21-3 at halftime and poised to pull off one of the more stunning upsets of the college football year and one of the biggest in Grambling history.

But star quarterback DeVante Kincaide got hurt and couldn't return, the Tigers had six second-half turnovers and opened the door for Arizona to come back and win 31-21.

That loss stayed with Grambling all season.

"In my opinion, we were the better team," said Grambling head coach Broderick Fobbs during a Celebration Bowl news conference.  "That's why I don't believe in pats on the back... But I thought that taught us a valuable lesson which actually springboarded us to this particular point in time."

Since then, Grambling hasn't lost to anyone, going undefeated in the Southwestern Athletic Conference and winning the SWAC title two weeks ago over Alcorn State.

Along the way, the Grambling offense and defense dominated SWAC play, ending the regular season with the league's top offense and defense and being ranked No. 16 nationally among all FCS football teams.

Kincaide, an Ole Miss transfer who replaced graduated star quarterback Jonathan Williams, has been one of the main reasons.

Kincaide, the SWAC Offensive Player of the Year, threw for 2,873 yards and 31 touchdowns and was third nationally in passing efficiency.  He threw to All-Conference wideout Chad Williams, who led the SWAC with 87 receptions for just under 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns.  And when he needed a ground boost, Kincaid handed off to Martez Carter, who was third in the SWAC with 78 yards rushing per game.

Expect to see much of the same Saturday, Kincaide said.

"We are going to play Grambling football," he said.  "When we take our time, we go fast. It's kind of hard to explain because our tempo is so fast that we get accustomed to it, so it's like normal to us.  So we are going to tempo and we are going to do what we do best and we are going to come out and execute the game plan."

The Grambling defense, led by SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Donovan McCray, faces one of the nation's top quarterbacks in North Carolina Central's Malcolm Bell, who has been a threat passing and running this year in leading the MEAC's top passing offense.

"We're just going to come out there and execute our defense and be the gap efficient team that we are," McCray said.  "He's a good player and all, but we just have to execute our jobs."

"[Bell is] a very good athlete.  He can do a lot of good things with the football in his hands," Fobbs added. "What we have to do is focus on what we do first.  We apply a lot of pressure, a lot of tempo and we're able to do offensively, which puts people in different situations offensively, which we want to do that.

"If we can do what we're supposed to do offensively, then basically it makes teams one dimensional, which allows our defense to do what they do well.  So our offense and defense work hand in hand with each other.   But he's an extremely great player.  Very dynamic.

"So for us, it's up to us to make sure we play the way we're supposed to play and focus on what we do," he said. "Now we do know what they do well, and our job is to force them to do something else besides what they do well."

Carter said his team is confident that they can do what they are prepared to do and are ready to go.

"Coach put us in a position to be great Saturday," he said.  "I just hope you all will enjoy it because it's going to be a show.  Don't blink."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Despite Being Underdogs to Great Grambling Defense, North Carolina Central Confident Offense Can Move the Football in the Celebration Bowl

North Carolina Central Celebration Bowl Preview


            When North Carolina Central (9-2, 8-0 MEAC) steps onto the Georgia Dome turf Saturday at noon in the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, they will not only face the nation’s 16th ranked FCS football team in Grambling State, but they are taking on a team that is among the nation’s best defensive football teams in the country
            Not to worry, said North Carolina Central quarterback Malcolm Bell, the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year.
            “We’ve faced tough defenses all year,” Bell said during a Celebration Bowl press conference Friday.  “(North Carolina) A&T was a great defense.  They were very aggressive -  something similar to Grambling. So I think we’ve seen the caliber of defense that they have. I feel like we’re familiar. We’re fine and we’ll be okay.”
            It’s a confident stance to take against Grambling (10-1, 9-0 SWAC), which has the nation’s top red zone defense, No. 6 scoring defense, and is third nationally in defensive passing efficiency.
            It’s one of the main reasons that Grambling, riding a ten-game winning streak in which they’ve only lost this year to FBS Arizona (in a close game), is favored to win the annual matchup between the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.  
            It’s also seen this year as the FCS mythical HBCU national championships as the two top teams from the two biggest HBCU conferences lock horns.

            North Carolina Central head coach Jerry Mack knows the Grambling defensive statistics, but sees his team as having to score at least 30 to keep pace with a Grambling offense that features SWAC Offensive Player of the Year DeVante Kincaide and is fourth nationally in scoring.
            “It’s one of those situations, when you look at the teams that have played Grambling State, one of the things that has been their Achilles heel is that they have not been able to score,” Mack said.  “That’s due to Grambling State’s defense.  They were one of the top defenses in the nation in the red zone, so even if you move the ball up and down the field when you get in that 20-yard-line, 15-yard-line area of the field, it is tough to score on them. So you’re going to have score points on them and close them out.”
            NCCU has the MEAC’s top red zone offense, scoring 24 touchdowns in 37 opportunities.
            Mack said his Eagles offense will do what they’ve done all year – not only allow Bell to throw the ball, but the use his talents on the ground as well to keep an aggressive, big-play Grambling offense off balance.
            Bell has thrown for nearly 2,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, but was also a top-10 rusher in the MEAC, with 544 yards and nine touchdowns.
            “We do have two dynamic running backs as well,” Mack said.  “But running Malcolm Bell has to be part of the plan as well.”
            Bell is up for the challenge.
            “I think we are just as good as they are,” Bell said. “They haven’t seen us and we haven’t seen them. So I think this is the clash of the titans.  We’ll see what happens.”