Last week was homecoming at Southern University.
This week will be a homecoming of sorts for Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive coordinator Eric Dooley.
Dooley spent 14 years at SU as an assistant coach, the first 13 under legendary SU coach Pete Richardson and the last (2010) under Stump Mitchell.
He is now midway through his second season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UAPB.
And yes, for Dooley, this road trip will be special.
“I’ll definitely be coming back to some familiar grounds, a place that in my opinion gave me a true identity and a chance to have a lot of success,” said Dooley, who helped the Jaguars capture four SWAC championships during his time at SU. “No question, it is home.”
At SU, Dooley served as wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, learning how to run an offense under Richardson and former SU offensive coordinator Mark Orlando.
It was during that time Dooley was first introduced to the spread offense, which he now runs at UAPB — with a few wrinkles of his own.
“Anybody that knows me knows I’ll throw the ball all day if I have to, but you have to do what’s best for the team,” Dooley said of UAPB’s balanced offensive attack. “Sometimes I say our balance is not by design, but truly it is because you want to be well-rounded.”
The strengths of both teams could come into play when Southern (3-3, 2-2 Southwestern Athletic Conference) hosts Western Division leading Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-2, 3-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Ironically, if the Jaguars are to win and take over first place, they will have to stop the same high-powered spread attack Dooley spent years learning as an assistant at SU. Dooley’s version, however, comes equipped with a number of exotic formations and a heavy dose of running.
“They use a lot of awkward formations,” SU cornerback Virgil Williams said. “I call it a diamond or just a straight line with four (receivers) lined up behind each other.”
Dooley’s offense has served the Golden Lions well.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff is third in the conference in rushing offense, averaging 186 yards per game. In contrast, Southern’s rushing defense ranks second in the SWAC, allowing 129 yards per game.
Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s pass defense — which is giving up 149 yards per game and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 47.9 completion percentage — ranks second in the conference, while Southern’s pass offense currently ranks second in the conference, averaging 222 yards per game. Only Jackson State (229 yards per game) averages more yards passing than the Jaguars.
Both offenses average 20 points per game, their similarities helping set the stage for a matchup of strength on strength.
“The offense they run has given us some problems in the past,” SU interim coach Dawson Odums said, noting the Jaguars lost to the Golden Lions in a 22-21 thriller last season. “We know we have to take care of the fundamentals, and I just believe ... you have to be able to stop the run.”
Arkansas-Pine Bluff is more than capable of putting up big numbers on the ground.
The Golden Lions are fresh off a 34-24 win over Jackson State, a game in which they rushed for 272 yards.
UAPB was led by Dennis Jenkins, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
“The run game is a big part of what we do,” Dooley said. “Of course I like to throw it, too, but we’re probably one of the most balanced teams, just split down between the middle.”