MEMPHIS — Jackson State football entered the Southern Heritage Classic feeling good after a juggernaut performance in the season opener a week ago.
But the Tigers met resistance against Tennessee State at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on Saturday, displaying a dominant offense and defense in a 16-3 victory.
Here’s how we graded JSU (2-0) and coach Deion Sanders in their final performance against TSU (0-2) in the Southern Heritage Classic:
Jackson State didn’t look sharp on offense. Sophomore quarterback Shedeur Sanders looked sporadic going through his progressions and his receivers struggled to get open.
Once Tennessee State started taking away the screen and slant passes, things were different. JSU was not the most physical team in the first half as Tennessee State forced two JSU turnovers. A hit was detected. the other took points off the board as JD Martin searched the goal line for a touchback.
Sanders was pressured throughout after taking a nasty first-half hit from TSU’s Tadarrius Patterson, who was ejected for targeting.
Jenny Riley threw a touchdown pass, forcing the Tigers to settle for a field goal.
JSU found itself in the red zone three times in the first half and ended with an onside kick and two field goals by Alejandro Mata.
Freshman defensive back/wide receiver Travis Hunter did not play for an undisclosed reason, but JSU’s defense was stellar overall.
Jackson State limited TSU to 140 total yards — 138 passing and just two rushing.
Tennessee State frustrated JSU defensive back Ke’Vric Wiggins at times, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty, but generally it’s hard to stand out by holding a team to three points.
Special teams: B+
Jackson State looked disorganized on a 39-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, which led to a fumble and a fumble. But Mata’s three goals made up for the mistake.
Punt returner Isaiah Bolden was spectacular returning a kickoff to the JSU 45-yard line, and punt returner Caleb Jolivette had an impressive impact.
The sputtering offense could be a concern, but given the atmosphere and energy surrounding this final performance of the Southern Heritage Classic, the Tigers will get the win. Mata succeeded when the offense did not and solid defense led to victory.
More:JSU’s Deion Sanders shares his thoughts on the team, Jackson and the water crisis.
More:Live updates: Deion Sanders, Jackson State football players speak at 2022 SWAC Media Day
More:Why Jackson State football’s No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter was walking at SWAC Media Day
This game was nothing like last year’s 38-16. JSU started playing power football on its final drive and Sanders finally threw a touchdown pass with 2:20 left to put the game away for good.
This article originally appeared in the Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson State football grades vs Tennessee State: A step back in Week 2