This is not the title game matchup people anticipated in the preseason, but it looks to be a great game between two worthy opponents.
Dating back to 2013, seven of the last eight SWAC Championship games have been occupied by either Alcorn State, Grambling State, or Southern. Instead, Jackson State and Prairie View A&M will meet in Jackson, MS, to determine who will face MEAC Champion South Carolina State in Atlanta on Dec. 18 in the Celebration Bowl.
This will be a game of firsts for both programs.
For the Tigers, this will be their first appearance in the SWAC Title Game since 2013 while the Panthers are returning to the championship game for the first time since 2009. This will be a chance for both head coaches to not only win their first conference championship, but they could earn an appearance in the Celebration Bowl for the first time for either program.
When asked about their potential to win only their second SWAC title in 57 years, PVAMU head coach Eric Dooley responded, “I don’t think words can describe it. It’s going to be huge for Prairie View A&M University, this football team, and for [university president] Dr. Ruth Simmons.”
Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders also celebrated his program’s return to the conference championship game for the first time in 12 years.
“We are elated and excited to be in the championship,” this year’s Conference Coach of the Year said. “That’s the testimony to our coaches, our young men, our whole organization and what we’ve accomplished, and our goals being set. Even in the spring [of 2021], we felt like we would be at this moment.”
When Jackson State Has the Ball
JSU quarterback Shedeur Sanders played his best four-game stretch at the end of the season. During those matchups, Sanders completed 69.9 percent of his passes while averaging 292.75 yards and 3.25 total touchdowns per game against two total interceptions.
The SWAC Freshman of the Year finished the season ranked in the top 15 nationally in passing yards and passing touchdowns. That feat led Coach Sanders to believe that Shedeur should have been an All-SWAC first-team selection.
“I’m not dismissing [Aqeel] Glass because I think that guy’s a pro, and I hope he goes pro. That’s just what I want for him, and I think he can do it, but Shedeur balled.”
That he did, and the Panthers defense will have to find a way to slow down the conference’s second-best scoring offense, which averaged 31.5 points per game against SWAC opponents.
Prairie View’s secondary, led by cornerbacks Darius Campbell, Jamias Presley, and All-SWAC First Team selection safety Drake Cheatum will have their hands full with Shedeur’s favorite targets, wide receivers Keith Corbin III and Malachi Wideman. The pair has accumulated 51 receptions for 651 yards and 10 touchdowns during the last four games.
Look for All-SWAC First Team selection Jason Dumas (five total sacks, nine tackles for a loss) and the rest of the Panthers defensive line to pressure the first-year signal-caller.
When Prairie View Has the Ball
Prairie View is a lot like Jackson State offensively, relying on the play of their quarterback Jawon Pass and the passing game. When asked about the role that the Louisville transfer will play in this coming Saturday’s contest, Dooley said “it’s extremely important. You’re talking about the quarterback. Where he goes, we go.”
When asked about the significance of the conference’s third-best statistical passer, Coach Sanders said “I think [Pass] is good. He can play the game really well … He’s a leader that’s going to have to make some plays. We’re going to apply a lot of pressure and he’s gonna have to stand and deliver because he’s gonna get hit a lot.”
Speaking of pressure, I anticipate that the Tigers — led by All-SWAC First Team selections James Houston, Aubrey Miller, and Antwan Owens — will apply it early and often. JSU leads the nation in total team sacks (49) and team sacks per game (4.45).
That Prairie View A&M offensive line won’t easily fold under duress. All-SWAC Second Team selection guard Danny Garza has assisted in this unit allowing only 11 sacks in eight conference games.
Anticipate the Panther running attack, led by running backs Jaden Stewart (654 yards, seven touchdowns), Lyndemian Brooks (464 yards, five touchdowns), and Pass (239 yards, four touchdowns) to alleviate some of the stress of JSU’s pass rush.
This is the second time in the history of the SWAC Championship game that its two participants did not face each other during the regular season. The other time, ironically enough, happened this past spring when Alabama A&M faced Arkansas-Pine Bluff at the end of the SWAC’s abbreviated season.
This contest has the potential to be a shootout if both teams can assess these stout defenses. Ranked in the top three in every major defensive category against conference opponents, both teams have allowed under 29 percent on third-down conversions.
This could be key, especially with Prairie View. In their last four games, the Panthers have started games slowly. Going 1-3 during that span, PVAMU has been outscored by opponents 103-26 in the first half of these contests.
Combine a potentially slow start with the pressure of this stingy pass defense, plus the actuality of SWAC teams who finished the regular season with a loss are 4-5 all-time in the conference title game, I would anticipate Coach Sanders’ team to be the favorite here. Hopefully, this game doesn’t come down to a field goal. Jackson State kickers are a combined 3-for-11 this season.
Prediction: Tigers 38, Panthers 27
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