There’s no mistaking what the Grambling defense’s strengths and weaknesses are.
On one hand, the Tigers lead the Southwestern Athletic Conference in rush defense, giving up 350 fewer yards on the ground than the next closest team, good enough to put them in the top 20 of the FCS.
On the other hand, Grambling is the only FCS program to allow more than 300 yards passing per game and one of only five to allow more than 3,000 passing yards this season.
But the Tigers think there’s more to the story than the numbers show.
“I think they’re very inaccurate,” said Grambling defensive lineman Donovan McCray, referring to how those statistics portray the identity of the defense.
There may be some credence to McCray’s blunt denial.
The numbers give a partial view of what the Grambling defense is capable of. To see everything, the context of when and how the yards were given up needs to be taken into consideration.
The Tigers offense — the second highest scoring unit in the conference — has consistently given Grambling the lead, prompting opponents to pass more in an attempt to climb back into games.
Grambling has yet to lose a SWAC game this season, with its only two losses in nonconference play. More importantly, only one of their wins has been by less than 16 points.
The Tigers have trailed for a total of 21 minutes and 9 seconds in SWAC play all season, with their largest deficit being a 14-point hole against Alcorn State in a game they came back to win in overtime. Alcorn State and the conference opener against Alabama State — where the Hornets led by a field goal for five minutes at the beginning of the game — are the only SWAC outings in which Grambling trailed.
“Basically our defense’s job is to create turnovers and get the ball back for us so we can score,” Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said. “Our offense’s job is to score as much as we can to make their offense one-dimensional. We believe once a team’s offense becomes one dimensional, then that’ll allow us to pin our ears back and do what we want to do.”
Grambling defensive coordinator Everrett Todd said he isn’t concerned with the fact the defense has played almost all of the season protecting a lead as opposed to fighting through tough games. He cited the Alcorn State game as enough proof the Tigers are capable of standing their ground if need be.
In fact, the Alcorn State game has been a key motivating factor for the players, as well.
“It gave us an eye-opener to the potential we have as a team,” Grambling defensive back Ja’Terious Pouncy said. “It gave us an eye-opener to the fact that we can play at a high level.
“No matter the situation, no matter the environment, we’re going to show up and we’re going to play.”
But that confidence didn’t come without its share of problems.
There was a distinct adjustment period early in the season as Grambling realized the secondary would be the one to shoulder most of the load on defense — a troubling situation for a team that considers itself a run-stopping unit.
Before the Alcorn State game, Grambling allowed 313.8 yards passing per SWAC game but cut that number down to 223.7 yards in three games since.
“We were trying to prepare for both (the run and the pass), but once we go into it, we realized we liked some things better than others,” Todd said. “You have to understand this is only the second year we’re into this deal, so there’s still some adjustments.
“As you change players, you have to find out what it is that your kids are good at and what your kids can do and try to make it around your players.”