FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff Coach Doc Gamble is excited for the historic opportunity his team has to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks, but his primary concern is getting the Golden Lions to play better.
"Right now we're trying to focus on stopping this skid we're on," Gamble said. "We've just got to execute better than we have the last few weeks." The Golden Lions (1-5, 0-4 Southwestern Athletic Conference) play the University of Arkansas (4-3, 1-3 SEC) for the first time in football at 11 a.m. Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
UAPB has lost five consecutive games since opening the season with a 34-16 victory over Lane College, an NCAA Division II team.
Southern extended the Golden Lions' losing streak by beating them 34-7 last week in Pine Bluff.
It's a reversal of fortune for UAPB from last spring, when the Golden Lions won the SWAC Western Division title with a 4-0 record and lost to Alabama A&M 40-33 in the conference championship game.
Gamble, in his second season, said the Golden Lions' success last spring is helping the players stay positive despite a losing streak.
"We're still champions," he said. "If we hadn't won a championship in the spring, I think we'd be struggling right now mentally.
"But the guys know we can win. They're showing up to work hard every day. Our preparation has been good. It just hasn't been translating into wins yet in this season here." Gamble said the preparation won't change this week with the opponent being Arkansas.
"This week is no different than any other," he said. "There's a game at the end of the week, and we've got to go out and expect to win.
"We're going to play as hard as we can play and as tough as we can play." Gamble said the Golden Lions can't be distracted by playing the Razorbacks.
"For us, we can't get caught up in the letters," Gamble said. "What I mean by the letters is 'S-E-C.' We've got to make sure we're going up to play the guys that are in those helmets." Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said he knows the Razorbacks will get the Golden Lions' best.
"You can tell they have the want to," Pittman said. "They play hard. I think they'll be jacked up and ready to go. I'm positive they will be." UAPB junior quarterback Skylar Perry was a preseason second-team All-SWAC pick after passing for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns during five games in the spring.
In six fall games, Perry has completed 46.3% of his passes -- compared to 57.3% last spring -- for 827 yards and 2 touchdowns with 4 interceptions. He's also rushed for 152 yards.
Redshirt freshman Xzavier Vaughn has completed 21 of 39 passes for 358 yards and 3 touchdowns. He finished the game against Southern, but Gamble said Perry remains the starter.
"Skylar needs to play better, and he's capable of playing better," Gamble said.
Gamble also said Perry needs to be more consistent and better with his decision-making.
"One thing he has to be able to do is make decisions on the go and make quick decisions," he said. "And make the right decisions." Senior Josh Wilkes is UAPB's leading receiver with 19 catches for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns.
"Wilkes is dynamic," Gamble said. "He's very explosive." Senior Kierre Crossley, a transfer from the University of Central Arkansas, leads the Golden Lions with 59 carries for 232 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Monroe Beard, a sophomore linebacker, has a team-high 42 tackles, including 4 sacks for 31 yards in losses.
"He's playing solid, he's playing really good," Gamble said. "That's not a surprise. That's what's we expected from him." Freshman defensive back Andre Fuller has two interceptions and 20 tackles.
"As a freshman he's coming along," Gamble said. "He's getting better each week." The Golden Lions are averaging 324 yards in total offense and 22.3 points per game.
"We've been struggling in the red zone area," Gamble said. "We're moving the ball really well, but we're struggling to come away with points once we get inside the 20." UAPB is allowing an average of 413.5 yards and 32.7 points. Opponents have scored eight touchdowns on plays of 40 or more yards.
"Defensively, we've been giving up the big play way too often," Gamble said. "We're trying to eliminate the one-play drives and make people earn everything that they get." Southern running back Kobe Dillion had 14 carries for a SWAC-record 267 rushing yards against UAPB, including touchdown runs of 75, 45 and 40 yards.
The previous week Alabama State quarterback Myles Crawley passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns in the Hornets' 35-15 victory over the Golden Lions.
"When we fix one thing, then something else needs to be fixed," Gamble said. "One week we'll stop the big runs, but give up the big passes. Then we'll stop the pass, but give up big runs.
"It seems like guys are having career days against us. That's stuff we don't need to happen." UAPB's most disappointing loss has been 39-38 at home to Alcorn State on Sept. 23 when the Golden Lions led 32-13 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter.
"That was a big-time letdown for us," Gamble said. "We pretty much had the game in hand.
"We dominated the game for about 3 1/2 quarters, and then it's just unfortunate we didn't finish."