Jackson State and South Carolina State meet again in Atlanta for a rematch of sorts when the two face off in this weekend’s Cricket MEAC/SWAC Challenge Kickoff.
As memories of their 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl matchup surfaces, there isn’t much about Saturday’s matchup that will resemble the Bulldogs’ 31-10 upset over the Tigers almost two years ago.
We all witnessed the changes that happened in Jackson, MS, but there has also been some turnover within the roster and coaching staff in Orangeburg, S.C.. With that said, there are still coaches and players on both sides who have fond or adverse memories of that season’s Black College Football Championship Game.
As both teams prepare to participate in one of the 10 Division I college football games played on what is fondly known as “Week Zero,” the MEAC/SWAC Challenge airs on network television. And, for the third straight season, The Challenge will air during primetime.
In search of their first win in the annual contest (0-2), JSU is looking to lead the SWAC to back-to-back victories in The Challenge, a feat the conference has only achieved one other time in the history of the game (2017 & 2018).
Winners of the inaugural contest, SC State is making their fifth appearance in the event with a record of 3-1 in their previous four games.
Jackson State vs. South Carolina State: How To Watch
Date: Saturday, Aug. 26
Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA
How To Watch: ABC
Fun Facts: The MEAC is currently 11-5 all-time in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, but the SWAC has won three of the last five contests. Since 2015, none of the Challenge participants have gone on to play in the Celebration Bowl.
Here are a few things to look for in Saturday night’s contest:
When Jackson State Has the Ball
Players to watch:
Tigers: RB J.D. Martin, WR Rico Powers, TE DJ Stevens
Bulldogs: DL Patrick Godbolt, DL Jared Kirksey, LB Aaron Smith
Last season’s SWAC Offensive Player of the Year. Gone. Your top three rushers from 2022 who accounted for 1,698 total yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Adiós. Almost 3,100 total receiving yards. Outta there.
Outside of skill-position players J.D. Martin, Rico Powers, and 2023 Preseason All-SWAC selection DJ Stevens, the casual fan will need a scorecard to keep up with this year’s version of the JSU offense. And, as of the publishing of this article, JSU head coach T.C. Taylor and offensive coordinator Maurice Harris have yet to name a starter for the most important position on the field.
Entering training camp, transfers Jason Brown (Virginia Tech), JaCorian Morgan (Syracuse), and Zy McDonald (Louisiana-Lafayette) were all taking reps with the first-team offense. Not naming a QB1 this close to the season opener could be a tactic to keep the SC State defense on their toes, or there is a chance that no one has proven themselves to be the clear-cut starter within this quarterback battle.
Whoever the starting signal-caller will be, they will have to face a Bulldog defense that has nine carryovers from their championship season of two years ago. Holding teams to just over 16 points per game in their last seven contests of their championship run, head coach Buddy Pough is hoping that new defensive coordinator Thomas Howard will turn around this unit that has allowed more than 35 points per game last season.
When South Carolina State Has the Ball
Players to watch:
Bulldogs: TE Khalil Ellis, QB Corey Fields, WR Jordan Smith
Tigers: DT Devonta Davis, S Esaias Guthrie, DL Jeremiah Williams
2022 was a rough year for Buddy Pough’s offense, as injuries and inconsistencies decimated the offense.
Like JSU, the Bulldogs will enter this weekend’s matchup with a mostly revamped offense and a “new” play-caller, offensive coordinator Kevin Magouirk. Magouirk is returning to Orangeburg for a second stint at the position, where he will be coaching up a lot of young talent.
“I’m really excited about some of these new faces (on the roster),” Pough told The Times & Democrat. “Especially these running backs Malcolm Cochrane and Kacy Fields. (Tight end) Nick Brown is coming along nicely; I’ve been pleased with what I’ve seen from him.”
One familiar face from their championship run will be sixth-year senior quarterback Corey Fields, who is returning after playing five games last year due to a shoulder injury.
Tiger defensive coordinator Jonathan Bradley will look to slow down Davis & Co. by getting contributions from returning defensive tackle Jeremiah Williams (32 total tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) and former HERO Sports FCS Freshman All-America safety Esaias Guthrie, transfer from Delaware State.
MEAC/SWAC Challenge Prediction
The Tigers won’t be as dominant as they were in the 2022 regular season. I also don’t anticipate the Bulldog being as bad as they were a year ago either. Both teams will get off to a rocky start offensively, but the more experienced SC State defense will make enough adjustments to lead Buddy Pough to his first season-opening victory since 2019.
My Pick: Bulldogs 24, Tigers 20