Both Bayou Classic coaches took their turns touting the excitement created by the Bayou Classic at Monday’s introductory news conference. A short time later with the media, they were trying to douse it concerning their teams.
Southern’s Dawson Odums and Grambling State’s Broderick Fobbs meet head-to-head for the eighth time in the annual Thanksgiving weekend extravaganza, set for a 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The game will be broadcast on NBC Sports and will decide the Southwest Conference West Division champion. The winner will play at Alcorn State for the SWAC title Dec. 7.
Amid the hoopla, which includes numerous activities in the days leading up to the game, both coaches are constantly reminding their players to treat it like any other game once the ball is kicked off.
It’s usually best for Southern players, coaches and fans to ignore what happens to their rival Grambling State until the teams collide.
“The game can’t be too big for you,” said Odums, who broke a three-game losing streak in the Classic with last year’s 38-28 victory. “Sometimes guys get out of their gaps and try to do too much and give up big plays. You have to play relaxed and execute the game plan. Whichever one does that will win the game.
“It’s all about controlling your emotions, understanding you are going to have to make some choices and play the next play. We’re going to play a certain way and practice that way so the game becomes easier.”
Southern owns a 4-3 record in the game under Odums, who has guided his team to a 7-4, 5-1 record after a 1-3 start. Grambling (6-4, 4-2) has executed an even better turnaround, starting 0-4 and now riding a six-game winning streak.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Fobbs, who has won three West Division titles in six seasons and never finished lower than second. “There are times you need to go through adversity to know what you have. It’s been good for our program. You know who’s with you and who’s not with you. You learn about kids and coaches, what they have in their gut.
“I’m not a coach who gets into who we beat that they didn’t beat. Every game has its own personality. This game the last five years has been about execution, making sure you do the little things the right way. Whoever has blocked a punt has won the game. It’s about playing good football for 60 minutes.”
Grambling might be without one of its top defensive players when it plays Southern. Senior defensive end Anfernee Mullins, a transfer from Mississippi State, was arrested last Tuesday on misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment and domestic battery abuse strangulation of his live-in girlfriend with whom he has a child, according to the Monroe News-Star.
Mullins was also arrested for domestic battery abuse and criminal trespassing in April in an incident with the same woman. While at Mississippi State in 2016, he was arrested for simple assault.
The coming bye week for Southern may not be much of a week off with the Southwestern Conference West Division title at stake.
Mullins is the team’s sixth leading tackler with 37 but leads Grambling with 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Fobbs said the school hasn’t made a decision on Mullins’ status for Saturday’s game.
“It’s kind of up in the air,” Fobbs said. “We’re working through the details of everything that possibly transpired. It’s a situation that I don’t condone. I have two daughters of my own. I take those allegations extremely seriously. We’re working through everything so we make the right decision for all parties involved.”
Southern stayed at No. 5 in the BOXTOROW HBCU coaches poll and at No. 6 in the media poll released on Monday. Grambling dropped from No. 6 to No. 7 in the coaches top 10 and stayed at No. 7 in media rankings.
Alcorn State moved up to No. 1 in the coaches poll but stayed at No. 2 behind North Carolina A&T in the media poll.