Well, we’ve reached the end of the 2022 HBCU FCS regular season, and we are exactly where the SWAC’s head coaches and sports information directors predicted we would be — at the league’s title game featuring Jackson State and Southern in Mississippi.
Statistically, the SWAC’s top two teams in points and yards per game offensively and defensively, this Week 9 rematch will not only determine the conference champion but who will represent the SWAC in this year’s Cricket Celebration Bowl and face MEAC Co-Champion North Carolina Central on Dec. 17.
Currently 11-0, the Tigers became the first SWAC team since 1991 to go undefeated in the regular season (Alabama State 10-0-1), and the first SWAC team to go undefeated and untied in the regular season since 1984 (Alcorn 9-0). But what is that college football adage? It’s difficult to defeat the same team twice in the same season. In the case of the SWAC, the team that has won the regular season matchup has gone on to win the championship game rematch 66% of the time (14-7).
After defeating arch-rival Grambling last week in the Bayou Classic and winning the SWAC’s West Division, the Jags are looking to move on past their 35-0 loss to JSU on October 29th and clinch their first SWAC Championship since 2013, also a win over the Tigers.
Jackson State enters the game as a 17.5-point favorite on BetMGM.
“You never look in the past. You’ve got to play the game for what it’s worth right now,” said Southern head coach Eric Dooley.
2022 SWAC Championship Game
Southern (7-4, 5-3 SWAC) at No. 5 Jackson State (11-0, 8-0 SWAC), Saturday, 4:00 PM EST (ESPN2)
When Southern Has the Ball
Finishing the season 2-2 while averaging 19.25 points per game in their last four contests, the Jaguars have found their way into the SWAC Championship Game despite the play of their starting quarterback Besean McCray.
Going 7-for-17 and 75 yards passing in the Bayou Classic, McCray has completed a whopping 26 total passes in his last four starts and hasn’t thrown for more than 100 yards in a game since Oct. 22, but he has rushed for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 52 carries during that span.
When asked about the expectations of his signal-caller, Dooley responded, “I need (McCray) to win the game. He has a big significant impact on what we do and how we do it.”
Translation: if he can win the game for us throwing the ball, fine. Chances are, he and RB Karl Ligon (543 rush yards, 5 touchdowns) will lead the nation’s 16th-best ground game against a JSU defense that leads the nation in total defense, scoring defense, defensive 3rd down conversion percentage, and first down defense.
When Jackson State Has the Ball
Led by SWAC Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Shedeur Sanders, JSU started the season on fire. Scoring 48 or more points in four of their first six games, JSU would go on to average 44 points per game during that span.
But, according to JSU head coach Deion Sanders, the offense has been “slacking” in the second half of the season. Be it the lack of innovative play calling or opponents catching up with them defensively, the Tigers’ points per game dropped to 29.8 in their final five contests. Coach Prime would love to see that explosiveness return offensively.
“We have explosive players, we just got to figure out a way to get them the ball,” said Sanders, but the Jaguars’ defense will look to make the Tigers’ offense stagnant.
The nation’s fourth-best total defense (288 yards per game), led by All-SWAC defensive lineman Tahj Brown (6.5 Sacks), LB Jalan Campbell (6 sacks), and DT Ckelby Givens (5.5 sacks), is also the nation’s best in team sacks. That type of disruption could force Sanders to make mistakes, something that he seldom does – only throwing six interceptions in 405 pass attempts.
“When our defense is playing on a high level, it gives us a great chance of winning the ball game,” said Dooley of his team that also leads the nation in defensive touchdowns (7).
JSU is 0-1 in the history of SWAC title game rematches, but Southern was 2-4 away from Baton Rouge this season. In their four losses, the Jags’ opponents have scored first while the Tigers have gotten out to the early lead seven times this year. Tigers 27, Jaguars 17