Who – Alcorn State vs. Southern
What – 2018 Toyota SWAC Football Championship
When – Dec. 1, Kickoff at 3:33 PM CST
Where – Spinks-Casem Stadium, Lorman, Miss., Watch on ESPNU
Last Meeting – Alcorn won, 20-3 (Sept. 29)
Last SWAC Championship Game Meeting – Alcorn won, 38-24 (2014)
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Alcorn State lines up across from Southern this Saturday afternoon for the 2018 Toyota Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship, the matchup will pit two teams who have been on different trajectories to get to this destination.
The Braves (8-3, 6-1 SWAC) boast the league’s top-ranked total offense and total defense, and with a packed home crowd set to be on its side, Alcorn seeks to claim its third conference championship game win, and first since 2015, when it defeated Grambling in a record-setting effort by a score of 49-21. Fresh off claiming its fifth-straight Eastern Division title, the Braves are more than accustomed to a stage of this magnitude.
However, the Jaguars (7-3, 6-1 SWAC) have arguably been the most dominant team in the SWAC over the second half of the season. A key change at quarterback as well as a ferocious defense has fueled Dawson Odums’ squad to the doorstep of its first SWAC championship game win in five years. The Jaguars earned their place with a 38-28 win over Grambling during the 2018 Bayou Classic, claiming the Western Division in the process.
Here are a few storylines to pay attention to heading into this weekend’s marquee clash.
A dose of home-cooking:
Due to Alcorn’s head-to-head win over Southern earlier in the year, Jack Spinks-Marino Casem Stadium – the home venue for the Braves – will play host to this year’s SWAC championship game, an unprecedented move for the conference. Alcorn is 19-7 against SWAC teams inside Casem-Spinks Stadium dating back to 2013. Given that a packed house is expected on the Reservation, the Braves may be able to parlay their home field advantage into success, not that they’ve needed extra help against Southern because …
Alcorn is 5-1 against Southern over the teams’ past six meetings, with an average score of 43.1 points per game compared to 22.6 points allowed per game. Meaning, Alcorn has beaten Southern by an average of roughly three touchdowns per game. The Braves’ normally elite rush attack has had a lot to do with it, as Alcorn has rushed for at least 400 yards as a team in three of those wins. In the team’s earlier meeting this season, Alcorn put up 243 rush yards in a 20-3 win over the Jaguars. But a lot has changed since that contest, especially Southern, who are frankly a much different and much tougher opponent since that loss.
A new leader on the Bluff:
Following the setback versus Alcorn, Odums made the move to insert Ladarius Skelton as QB1 for the Jaguars, who were 2-3 at the time. From that point on, the Jaguars have run through all comers thanks in large part to Skelton’s dynamic play. In short, he’s been exceptional, passing for 803 yards with a sparkling 9:1 touchdown-to-interception ration and running for 465 yards and five more scores. Southern is 5-0 this season when Skelton starts, and the Jaguars have outscored their opponents by an average of nearly 28 points a game.
Drop, Set, Sack:
A lot of Alcorn’s effectiveness this season has been through trench work, as not only do the Braves get to the quarterback with the best of them – their 45 sacks lead the nation – but they also do a fabulous job of keeping 2018 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year Noah Johnson clean, only allowing 14 sacks all year. They’ll have their hands full with Southern, however, due to an undersized one-man wrecking crew in the form of freshman edge terror Jordan Lewis. Though listed at 195 pounds, Lewis paced the conference with 11 sacks on the season and his emergence as of late has sharpened the teeth of what has arguably been the stingiest defense in the SWAC over the past month or so.
Benn There, Run That:
Yes, it’s common knowledge that Alcorn’s game is based around an overwhelming rush attack as powered by Johnson, 2018 SWAC Newcomer of the Year De’Shawn Waller, and 2018 Preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year P.J. Simmons. However, the Jaguars’ rush attack realized some of its potential thanks to bowling ball back Devon Benn, who rolled through Grambling to the tune of 167 yards in the Bayou Classic. On the heels of what Odums called the best game of the season for his increasingly aggressive offensive line, Benn and company will look to replicate those numbers this weekend. Alcorn put the clamps on Benn earlier this year, but the bruising runner has found success against the Braves before with 164 total yards – 134 rushing – and two scores in the teams’ 2016 meeting.
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