When Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders began his coaching tenure with an unprecedented 2021 spring season, he constantly reminded himself that his Tigers team would look different when fall rolled around.
After JSU finished 4-3 in the spring, which included a lost Alcorn State win, Sanders even doubled down on the “Genesis” theme for his second season with ESPN’s Tiffany Greene and Jay Walker during the Athletic Conference press day. Southwest in July.
“You’re going to see the biggest change everywhere,” Sanders said. “There is no particular position. We have updated everything. “
With his full player recruiting class, ranked the highest among FCS programs and the highest in the history of the Tigers program, on board this fall, Sanders’s words have proven true during the first month of college football season. JSU is in uncharted territory and is heading for its first test in October, a month in which game-changing moments could determine the outcome of conference championship contenders in late November.
How unknown is this territory to JSU? The last time Jackson State posted a winning record before their first October game was in 2014, when the Tigers were 3-2 despite ending the season 5-7. Furthermore, JSU’s best record before their first October battle dates back a decade, when the Tigers started 4-1 and finished the season 9-2 and were co-champions with Alabama A&M, who went on to play in the SWAC 2011 title game.
While the program hasn’t finished above .500 since 2013, Sanders and the Tigers (3-1) have a chance to continue restoring their winning tradition on the grid when they face the reigning spring SWAC champs in Alabama. A & M, an offensive giant. “Saturday in Huntsville, Alabama.”
Sanders, who remains in a boot and will be scooting on the sidelines for the next several weeks as he recovers from his recent foot surgery, says he is up for the challenge.
HBCU Legends: Shots! Coach Maynor casts shadow, Coach Sanders responds with ‘mic drop’ during presser foot
“Playing in SWAC is incredible,” Sanders told reporters during the league’s weekly coaches conference call. “It’s like a roller coaster of emotions and we can’t wait to finally play our part in this emotional roller coaster.”
After a week off after the Tigers battled in a rally in the fourth quarter to defeat state opponent Delta State 24-17, first place in the SWAC East will be in the mix along with the implications of the early division taking shape. JSU remains the only undefeated team in SWAC East in conference play.
Alabama A&M (3-1) sits in a three-way tie with Florida A&M and Alabama State for second in the division. The Tigers face a Tigers team coming off a shock 37-28 loss to Grambling State, a blue-blooded program among the HBCUs that seeks to restore the prominence that was built under legendary coach Eddie Robinson.
Alabama A&M, a team that has been ranked in FCS and in many black college football polls, has delivered the ball more than a dozen times during the first four weeks of the season. Bulldogs coach Connell Maynor said that has to change as he takes on a well-trained Tigers defense and moves forward.
“We are very fortunate to be 3-1 with 15 turnovers,” Maynor told reporters. “We’re going to fight back … It’s a game and no one said we were going to win them all, but we still control our own destiny.”
The Bulldogs have a high-powered offense led by quarterback Aqeel Glass, which many, including Sanders, believe he will play on Sundays after his college degree. Glass, the league’s preseason Player of the Year and a player on Reese’s Senior Bowl watch list, enters Saturday’s matchup leading the conference in passing yards (1,511), second in passing efficiency (148.2) and ranked in the top 10 of the FCS in completions and yards per game.
“He’s a professional caliber quarterback and I pray to God this kid [Glass] he has the opportunity to play at the next level, ”Sanders said. “He knows the game and has an idea of the entirety of his offense.”
Along with Glass, Alabama A&M also features the league’s leading running back Gary Quarles, who also ranks in the top 10 in the FCS in rushing yards, and a talented group of receivers in Dee Anderson, Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim, Odieu Hilaire and Zabrian Moore. As an offensive unit, the Bulldogs rank first in the league in scoring offense (36.3 points per game), total offense (490.8 ypg) and aerial offense (380.5).
When the two teams met in the spring season, it was an offensive shootout that ended in a 52-43 victory for the Bulldogs and put many eyes on a Tigers defense that did not live up to their expectations.
That day, Jackson State gave up 533 yards of total offense when Glass threw for 440 yards and six touchdowns and ran for another. AAMU went 5 of 5 in the red zone, 5 of 11 on third downs and saw Quarles escape the backfield for a 43-yard TD. The game marked the first time the Tigers surrendered 50 or more to a league opponent since November 2015.
But, with its full spring recruiting class, one filled with highly promoted players and former Power 5 transfers, and a revamped defense, Saturday’s game, as Sanders has pointed out, will look very different.
“They came here and they played their asses and they played a good game and those receivers lit us up,” Sanders said of the spring game. “… But our defense is pretty good, and we’ve stopped some pretty good offenses that we face.”
Those opponents with lethal offenses include Florida A&M, which was capped at six points, and the FBS show Louisiana Monroe (coached by Terry Bowden, son of the late Bobby Bowden), which was capped at just 12.
CJ Holmes, a senior defensive running back for the Tigers, knows the stakes on Saturday. Holmes recorded his first two interceptions as a freshman against the Bulldogs on the road in 2017, the last time JSU defeated Alabama A&M.
However, the New Orleans native knows the defense needs to be locked in when facing Glass and company.
“He [Glass] he’s a smart player, ”says Holmes. “I hope to play him every time because it is a better versus better match. [The Bulldogs] He scheduled us for the homecoming and that’s a bit disrespectful so we go with added motivation and an acquisition mindset. This is our current hurdle where we are trying to get to, which is a championship. “
The Tiger Defense features a plethora of playmakers besides Holmes. Some of its stars include safety Shilo Sanders (one of Deion’s two sons on the team), former Vanderbilt defensive back Randall Haynie and former Florida graduate transfer linebacker James Houston, who ranks at the second in FCS in sacks this season.
Houston, who has gotten used to SWAC, did not expect his contribution to the team to be so impressive so soon.
“I never had so many sacks in one season,” says Houston. “I didn’t really rush the quarterback in Florida, but it feels good and I want to keep going.”
Houston will be tasked with containing Glass, and he says the key to doing so is making the offense one-dimensional, similar to what Grambling did last week.
“We are definitely going to go after him, try to stop his running attack early and try to get him to throw almost 60 passes like he did the last game,” says Houston. “If we do that, the defense is going to eat.
“They’ve been talking a bit but when it’s those guys, they’ll glow when the lights come on. We are ready to work. “
Offensively, the Tigers are not short of weapons. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, son of Deion, is second in SWAC in passing yards (1,093) and leads the league in passing efficiency (151.7). Wide receivers Joshua Lanier (transfer from Alabama), Malachi Wideman (transfer from Tennessee), Keith Corbin (transfer from Houston), senior Warren Newman and rookie Trevonte Rucker are other key players on the JSU offense.
While his team is 3-1, Deion and his players know the offense hasn’t been anywhere near its best. Jackson State enters Saturday’s game in ninth place in SWAC in scoring offense (19.0), eighth in total offense (324.3 yards per game) and last in running offense (51 ypg).
“I feel like we’re on an uphill ride and we’re not even close to reaching our peak,” says Shedeur. “The defense has really been saving us this season and we cannot impose that on them. We have to go out and put numbers. “
The Tigers’ best offensive performance came against a Tennessee State team led by Eddie George on September 11 at the Southern Heritage Classic. As Shedeur continues to build trust with his teammates and his offensive line, he believes it is the perfect time for the offense to take a leap forward.
“I feel like our receivers are better than their defensive backs,” says Shedeur. “We have stopped ourselves, nobody has really stopped us. … We have pulled all the first games out of the way that have put our character to the test, so now is the time for a race. “
Deion Sanders told reporters that he plans to open up the offense to allow more flexibility and creativity in the schemes, with the idea of putting the team’s playmakers in the best position to be successful and turning third and fourth down times into the ones that the Tigers have had problems with. this season.
“It’s scary to think about where we are and we haven’t lived up to our expectations,” Deion said. “We’re going to do some things that are unique, and I can’t wait to see how they unfold.”
Facing a Bulldogs defense that ranks ninth in D scoring (giving up 35 points per game) and seventh in total defense (384.8 years per game), they could have a great day.
“I cannot say that his defense is excellent, I am not going to tell that lie,” Deion Sanders told the media. “They have made some mistakes, but we hope to capitalize on the mistakes they made.
“They are going to show up prepared to stop the race, but they are going to have to deal with us in the passing game.”
Speaking of the passing attack, Newman, a special teams scoring threat with deadly speed at wide receiver, is primed for a shootout. He recalled that some of his best college performances have been against the Bulldogs, including his four-touchdown outing in the spring game and one touchdown in the 2019 matchup.
“I remember catching the ball and giving a player a juke move and he fell. … I didn’t see anything but green grass and I knew it was time to show up, ”Newman recalled of his spring performance.
Whether he has four touchdowns or none in the game on Saturday, Newman, along with players like Holmes, have witnessed the Tigers’ program progress after being down for the past eight years.
“It feels good to win and everyone wants to be happy,” Newman said. “When we take the [Louisiana Monroe loss] this season, we learned from that. We know how you feel and we know how to recover. The changes and the mindset of the program have made a huge difference for us to win and improve in the future. “
Deion Sanders and the Tigers are on the watch.
More college football coverage:
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.