LUT WILLIAMS BCSP Editor
Undefeated and nationally-ranked East Division champion Jackson State will host West Division champ Southern Saturday (3 p.m.) in Jackson, Mississippi’s Veteran Memorial Stadium in the 24th SWAC Championship game.
This will be third-year Jackson State head coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders’ return trip to the championship game. His Tigers defeated Prairie View A&M 27-10 in last year’s title game.
It will also be a return trip to the title game for Southern head coach Eric Dooley. In his fourth year at the helm, he led Prairie View to last year’s West Division title and championship game berth before taking over at Southern this season.
The winner of Saturday’s game will face MEAC champion North Carolina Central (9- 2) in the Dec. 17 Celebration Bowl in Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium.
Jackson State (11-0, 8-0 SWAC E), ranked fifth in the last regular season AFCA FCS Coaches Poll, comes in as a heavy favorite. The Tigers already own a 35-0 shutout win over Dooley and Southern (7-4, 5-3 SWAC W) back on Oct. 29. That game was also played at Miss. Veterans Stadium before a crowd of 53,885 fans – the Tigers’ home field.
In that game, JSU was dominant. After the teams played to a scoreless first quarter, sophomore quarterback Shedeur Sanders (18- 33-0, 194 yards, 1 TD) threw a 3-yard second- quarter TD pass to running back Sy’Veon Wilkerson and ran for two second-quarter scores of 12 and 42 yards to stake the Tigers to a 22-0 lead at the break. Wilkerson added a 26- yard TD run in the third quarter. Back-up QB J. P. Andrade came in the fourth quarter and threw another scoring pass.
The JSU defense held Southern to 221 total yards. Southern quarterback Besean McCray completed just 9 of 26 passes for 85 yards and was sacked four times.
The coaches speak
In Monday’s SWAC Coaches Tele
conference Dooley and Sanders talked about their rematch in the championship game.
“There are some things obviously we have to correct,” from that first meeting said Dooley though he said he wasn’t going to specify what those things were.
“I’m a guy that looks at everything,” Dooley said of looking back at film of both his loss this season and in last year’s championship game. “Of course they’re some things we’re going to do differently because we didn’t come out successful. So, you’ve got to change some things to try and get better.”
Dooley said he just needs his quarterback (McCray) to win the game. He’s not worried about statistics.
“I just need him to do what he does to help us to win. If that’s throwing for 300 yards, then we’ll throw for 300.
“If that means he needs to run it. If he’s not throwing, and he’s rushing, same thing. When it all comes down and it’s a W, you don’t worry about the stats. It’s about the most important stat of all – winning.”
While talking about his team, Sanders also talked about the win-win of having the championship game back in Jackson where last year’s game drew 50,128 fans.
“To have this influx of economics into our city once again is going to be unbelievable,” Sanders said.
“Everyone is going to win in some sort of fashion except for one team on the field. But I think its truly a blessing to have the championship here. It’s really a rivalry type game.”
“We just got to be consistent in all the things we do,” Sanders said of his team’s focus. “The words of the week is we’ve got to ‘finish.’ We’ve got to finish and we’ve got to be dominant.”
The statistical breakdown
Jackson State and Southern are 1-2 in just about every major statistical category on offense and defense in the SWAC.
The one category that Southern is ahead of Jackson is in rushing offense. The Jaguars are second (to Prairie View) in rushing stats at 202.6 yards per game. JSU, led by 1,000-yard rusher Wilkerson’s 94.5 yards per game is sixth in the league (158.1 ypg.).
The lack of a solid running game was one of the weaknesses for last year’s JSU team. They were dead last in the SWAC in rushing. Sanders rebuilt the offensive line this year and that has been one huge area of improvement.
Jackson State leads the SWAC and all of FCS football in scoring (10.09 points per game) and total (216.9 ypg.) defense. The Tigers have given up more than 20 points in just one game, a 66-24 blowout of Grambling early in the season. Hard-hitting linebacker Aubrey Miller Jr. (76 tackles) is the anchor on defense.
Southern is right behind JSU in scoring (19.8 ppg.) and total (288.7 ppg.) defense.
A Sanders’ job offer from Colorado
Sanders also confirmed reports that the University of Colorado has offered him its head coaching position.
“The report is true,” Sanders said. “But they’re not the only ones.
“But that’s not my focus right now. My focus is to win. And to be dominant. And not even to go on to the durn Celebration Bowl. My focus is right here, in this beloved stadium, to be dominant on Saturday.
“And I keeps the main thing, the main thing,” Sanders said. “And everyone that knows me knows that about me. I have an innate ability to focus.
“To someone else that hasn’t been ‘that dude,’ it’s intoxicating. I’ve been ‘Prime’ for a long time,” he said while smiling. “Attention ain’t nothing new to me. Being in the spotlight aint new to me.
“I just have to turn that light and channel it to my kids, channel it to my coaching staff, channel it to the support staff. We’ve been in the spotlight for a long time individually, its time to bring this in collectively. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since I stepped foot on this campus and into HBCU football.”