SWAC Championship on the line as Grambling battles Jackson State
Birmingham, AL (Sports Network) - DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 15th, 2 p.m. (et). FACTS & STATS: Event: SWAC Championship. Annual: 9th. Site: Legion Field (71,594) -- Birmingham, Alabama. Surface: Artificial Turf. Television: ESPN Classic. Home Record: Jackson State 4-2; Grambling State 3-0. Away Record: Jackson State 3-1; Grambling State 3-2. Neutral Record: Jackson State 0-1; Grambling State 2-1. Series Record: Grambling State (34-21-1). Last Meeting: October 20, 2007 (Grambling, 30-20 at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium). Series Streak: Grambling State has won the last three meetings. Nicknames: Jackson State Tigers; Grambling State Tigers. Sheridan Broadcasting Network Poll Rankings: Jackson State (11); Grambling State (5). Sports Network Rankings: Jackson State (Not ranked); Grambling State (16). Coaches: Jackson State - Rick Comegy (13-9 at Jackson State, 121-60 Overall); Grambling State - Rod Broadway (8-3 at Grambling State, 38-14 Overall).
GAME NOTES: Two of the storied programs in the SWAC meet on Saturday in the league championship game. Grambling beat Jackson State 30-20 in the regular season on Oct. 20. Brandon Landers passed for 348 yards and one touchdown and Tim Manuel kicked three field goals to lead the win. Grambling broke a 17-all tie before two Manuel field goals and Zaire Wilborn's four-yard fumble recovery return sealed the win for JSU.
Both teams have seen ressurgences under new coaches. Rick Comegy has rebuilt Jackson State's fortunes in just two years at the helm. The Tigers were 2-9 overall and finished last in the East Division the year before Comegy was hired. Rod Broadway has worked his magic even quicker at Grambling in his first year since leaving North Carolina Central. Grambling was 3-8 overall and finished third in the West Division last season.
If Grambling wins on Saturday, its six-game improvement would be the most in FCS this season. Grambling is currently tied with Fordham for that honor. Grambling reached the title game by winning the West Division crown with an 8-1 record. Jackson State captured the East Division title with a 7-2 mark.
OFFENSE - Grambling has taken a balanced approach to offense. Frank Warren and Cornelius Walker have combined for 1,389 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Landers has thrown for 2,374 yards and 21 TDs, with 15 interceptions. Landers is ranked 38th in total offense with an average of 211 yards per game. The Tigers have quality receivers in Clyde Edwards (50 catches, 12 TDs) and Reginald Jackson (63 catches, four TDs). Grambling is 44th in passing (222 yards), 86th in rushing (130 yards), 73rd in total offense (353 yards) and 53rd in scoring (27 points).
Jackson State has relied heavily on quarterback Jimmy Oliver, who is 18th in passing efficiency and 27th in total offense (231 yards). Eric Haw is the top runner for the Tigers with 630 yards and seven TDs. Jamar Jackson has been a clutch receiver with 33 catches, seven of them for touchdowns. Carlos Simpson leads the receivers with 39 receptions. Jackson State is 81st in rushing (137 yards), 29th in passing (237 yards), 56th in total offense (374 yards) and 42nd in scoring (28 points).
DEFENSE - Grambling has been a solid blue-collar team on defense, allowing just 97 yards rushing (seventh nationally) and is sixth in scoring defense (15.8 points), sixth in turnover margin (1.4) and ninth in total defense (295 yards). If the Tigers are vulnerable anywhere, it is in pass defense, where they have allowed 198 yards per game (57th). Christian Anthony and John Scroggins have combined for 12 sacks. Defensive back Jeffery Jack leads a balanced defensive with 74 tackles, while Zaire Wilborn has 71 from the secondary.
Jackson State has made it tough for teams to run the ball. The Tigers are allowing only 88 yards per game on the ground to rank fifth nationally. JSU is also sixth in total defense (285 yards) and have given up only 197 yards through the air (51st). The Tigers rank sixth in tackles for loss (8.3 per game), seventh in sacks (3.0) and 13th in passing efficiency and give up 21.6 points per game (24th). Marcus Bernard (eight sacks) leads the defensive line. Cory Clark has 15.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Marcellus Speaks leads in tackles with 77. Malcolm Palmer and Domonique Johnson have combined for eight interceptions.
Special Teams - Grambling has a dangerous punt returner in Jackson (10.0 yards per return) and Manuel is averaging one field goal per game. But the Tigers rank only 94th in net punting (30.3 yards).
Jackson State is also good on punt returns, with Johnson picking up 10.5 yards per return. Brett Bennet averages 37.1 yards per punt and 32.7 net yards for Tiger team that is rated 60th.
Summary - Grambling has had an outstanding year and has never lost a SWAC title game (4-0), but the Tigers have dropped back-to-back games to Louisiana- Monroe and Southern after starting the year 8-1. But Jackson State has also struggled since losing to Grambling on Oct. 20. JSU has gone 3-2 down the stretch with one of the wins coming in overtime. Jackson State also hasn't played a game in a month. With two of the SWAC's premier teams playing, the atmosphere at Legion Field should be electric, but look for Grambling to win its second game this year over Jackson State in a close game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Grambling 24, Jackson State 20.
12/15 12:02:46 ET