Braves’ ground game produces again despite key injuries

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 31, 2005

LORMAN &045; Michael Shepherd got the point coaches were trying to make &045;&160;fumbling will not be tolerated.


It doesn’t matter if it comes after a long gain or not. Shepherd at least gained 9 yards on a carry in the first quarter Saturday for Alcorn before he lost the ball with Prairie View’s Derrick Williams recovering it. He was then yanked.

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Yet Shepherd got a touch late on the Braves’ next drive, stayed in the game and didn’t fumble again. He notched his second straight 100-yard game and helped an Alcorn ground game produce again in Saturday’s 22-10 win over the Panthers.

&8221;It’s something I have to work on,&8220; said Shepherd, a sophomore from Pascagoula. &8221;I run the ball low, and I’ve got to keep two hands on the ball. It’s something I have to work at, and it’s just a growing pain. At this level you can’t run the ball low. It’s hard when you have a big run and all of a sudden you lose the ball.&8220;

It’s nothing new for Shepherd, who heard the orders following last week’s loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff when he fumbled twice. Coaches had to take the good with the bad in both games &045; he finished with 127 yards against the Golden Lions despite the giveaways &045; with the backfield suffering through injuries.

Shepherd, previously the No. 3 back in the Braves’ offense, emerged into the guy for the second straight week due to injuries.

&8221;Although Michael Shepherd is running the football very well, we can’t have him turning the ball over,&8220; Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas said. &8221;When he turns the football over, we’ve got to put somebody in there to make him aware of the fact that if he continues to turn the football over, that puts us in a bind. He’s got to handle the ball the way he’s been taught. That’s all. He did a much better job after he fumbled.&8220;

Yet when he fumbled and coaches yanked him for backup fullback J.D. Robinson &045;&160;who had only three carries coming into the contest &045;&160;coaches may have stumbled on to something. Already struggling without Jeremy McCoy and Vernardus Cooper, the Braves brought in the 240-pound Robinson and ran some three-backs sets with Shepherd and staring fullback Ken Williams.

&8221;They did a good job of running the ball off the tackles,&8220; Prairie View head coach Henry Frazier said. &8221;They executed on third-down conversions.&8220;

Robinson carried it 12 times, and the Braves continued to flourish with their ground game with 229 yards rushing. Their 200-plus yards a game continues to lead the conference despite McCoy being absent the last two games and Cooper lost for the year with a knee injury.

&8221;All of the backs stepped up today,&8220; quarterback Tony Hobson said. &8221;We had one fumble, but that was a major factor in us winning the game. We have a lot of guys wanting to show their talents. Unfortunately those guys went down, but when they did it gave them an opportunity to show what they can do.&8220;McCoy was suited up on the sideline Saturday, but he didn’t get on the field and spent some time on the stationary bike. Shepherd and the two fullbacks picked up the load and may have to do that for a while.

Or if McCoy returns this week against Texas Southern, it gives coaches the benefit of knowing things aren’t as bad as they sound when it comes to injuries in the backfield.

As long as Shepherd holds on to the football.

&8221;I think McCoy could have played today, but we kept him out,&8220; Thomas said. &8221;He’ll be back for Texas Southern. (Robinson and Williams) are very difficult to tackle and very good running backs. I think (Shepherd) is very aggressive in his running style. He doesn’t like to go down, and sometimes he gives you second and third efforts. He’s just got to realize he’s got to secure the football.&8220;

Shepherd showed in the second half he can do that. With an offensive line that’s pushing people off the ball, he’s happy to get in there and show what he can do &045; no matter if he’s first, second or third on the depth chart.

&8221;We had two guys go down, and I’m the third back,&8220; Shepherd said. &8221;I feel like it’s my opportunity to play.&8220;