Despite injuries, inexperience, Braves need answers now

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2005

There was a time not long ago when Arkansas-Pine Bluff was feeling the heat of not only having a winless mark but having to drive to Alcorn the day of Saturday’s game.

The travel plans were scuttled. The Golden Lions were offered a place to stay in the gym at the State Police Academy in Jackson.

Their winless streak? That got scuttled, too. The Lions were solid on both sides of the ball and turned what appeared to be a painful trip in the making into a sweet ride back home Saturday night.

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It’s Alcorn now that’s uncomfortable.

The Braves are in the midst of growing pains like no one has seen since perhaps the winless 2000 season, and the worst part about it was it all unfolded Saturday night in front of a sparse home crowd.

UAPB, 0-4 coming into the contest, controlled the clock overwhelmingly in its favor and handed the Braves their third loss in four games this season. The Golden Lions brought to light many of the Braves’ weaknesses &045; in short, everywhere but running ball &045; and sent the coaches trying to keep their composure while things are stuck in first gear nearing the midway point of the season.

&8220;The only pains I thought we would be experiencing would be the quarterback position,&8221; Alcorn head coach Johnny Thomas said. &8220;But there are a lot more things we’re experiencing. That’s where we are.&8221;

The quarterback position may be the most noticeable dilemma right now for the Braves, although they knew filling the shoes of four-year starter Donald Carrie while returning two experienced receivers would be a task in itself.

What they didn’t anticipate was a season-ending injury to Nate Hughes. Or moving Oliver Bozeman to receiver after the sophomore struggled with handling the snap. Or inserting Hobson in this early after he missed 2 1/2 weeks of training camp with a back bruise.

How painful have their growing pains been? For the first time in 22 games and second time in his career, junior receiver Charlie Spiller did not catch a pass Saturday night.

Hobson, a standout at the high school level and with enormous potential as a collegian, is trying to find his way.

&8220;To Hobson right now, everything is in fast motion,&8221; Thomas said. &8220;That’s the way he sees the field. As he continues to get experience, it’ll slow down. That’s when he’s going to be on his way. He’s coming along, but he’s not where we would like him to be, and that’s what you’d expect.&8221;

But it gets worse.

Vernardus Cooper went down with a knee injury in the second half with starting back Jeremy McCoy already in the sideline not suited up while nursing a sore hamstring. It put the entire rushing duties on sophomore Michael Shepherd &045; who performed admirably despite two fumbles while trying to hold up the most consistent part of the offense.

The Braves with their oversized front line remain the top rushing team in the SWAC.

Yet even that front five wasn’t at its best. Offensive tackle Bronson Carvalho turned up on game day with a swollen arm that coaches believe is a case of cellulites.

Then there’s a defense that lost its only true experienced starter in cornerback Taurian Parks. The Braves had more troubles containing the run Saturday but did so with players who are either in their first year of starting or spent part of all of last season as starters.

And the numbers tell it all &045; they’re last in points scored, second-worst in points allowed, worst in pass efficiency, last in turnover margin and last in third down conversions.

The best thing the Braves can do from here is forget about everything and just try to improve each game out before the Braves’ entire season gets scuttled.

Otherwise, a ton of patience will be needed all around before coaches and players can be comfortable again.

Adam Daigle

is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at (601) 445-3632 or at