WHAT: SWAC Championship
WHEN: 3 p.m. CST
In a matchup of two teams looking to win their first conference championship in over a decade, the SWAC East champion Jackson State Tigers collide with the SWAC West champion Prairie View A&M Panthers Saturday in Jackson at 3 p.m.
In the Tigers’ first full season with Deion Sanders as head coach, they finished with a 10-1 overall record and a perfect 7-0 record in SWAC play.
This is the first time Jackson State has finished with a record above .500 in an 11-game season since 2013.
It’s also the first time the Tigers have finished with an unbeaten conference record since 1999, one season before the SWAC transitioning to a seven-game schedule.
The Tigers are making their first SWAC championship appearance since 2013 and are seeking their first championship game win in 14 years. They do not have the best track record in conference championship games, losing four of their five contests.
On the other side, the Panthers finished the regular season with a 7-4 record and a 6-2 record in SWAC play.
Their six conference wins are the most they have had in a single season since 2016, while this is their second SWAC championship appearance.
The last time Prairie View A&M played in the SWAC championship game was in 2009 against Alabama A&M in a game the Panthers won.
Keys to Victory
Jackson State was among the top defenses in the FCS, allowing 13.8 points per game and 258.3 yards of total offense, each ranking fourth in the country.
Their pass rush was their strongest area leading the country with 49 total sacks. Leading the attack for the Tigers was linebacker and All-SWAC selection James Houston.
Houston stuffed the stat sheet for Jackson State, recording 59 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks, eight quarterback hits, and seven forced fumbles.
He was one of three top linebackers that anchored the defense of Jackson State along with Aubrey Miller and Keonte Hampton.
Miller finished the season with 91 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks, while Hampton had 68 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, and three sacks.
To further explain how deep the Tigers’ defense is, they had four players record at least five passes defended, including Shilo Sanders, who led the team with three interceptions and Al Young who led with ten passes defended.
While Prairie View may not be the most explosive team the Tigers have faced this season, the Tigers will still need to be sharp against the Panthers as they are capable of having a big performance.
Although their offense was not as potent compared to their defense, they were still very effective with their passing game taking center stage led by SWAC Freshman of the Year Sheduer Sanders.
Sanders was super efficient this season completing over 68% of his passes (third in FCS) while scoring 28 touchdowns (tied for eighth) to just five interceptions.
While efficient, Sanders has been prone to being sloppy, including throwing two interceptions against Mississippi Valley and Southern. The latter of these led to them trailing by 10 points going into the fourth quarter needing a spectacular fourth-quarter performance to pull out the win.
He was aided by fellow freshman and receiver Malachi Wideman who was tied for eighth in FCS with 11 receiving touchdowns, while senior Keith Corbin led the team with 80.6 receiving yards per game.
An efficient passing game will be key to the Tigers claiming the SWAC crown.
Prairie View A&M
The Panthers survived a late-season scare to squeak into the conference championship game losing each of their last two games in their conference schedule after winning their first six.
Their offense was the catalyst to their success led by transfer quarterback Jawon Pass who like Sheduer Sanders was very efficient.
Pass threw for 235.6 passing yards per game completing 63% of his passes scoring 16 touchdowns adding four touchdowns on the ground.
He is guided by a very strong offensive line that allowed the second-fewest sacks in the conference.
The offense is prone to turnovers, however, with Pass throwing nine interceptions and the team surrendering 11 fumbles during the season. That is a disaster waiting to happen going against the top defense in the country.
The Panthers have a solid run game led by their duo of running backs Jaden Stewart and Lyndemian Brooks who combined for 12 rushing touchdowns.
Their signature performance came against Southern when they combined for 191 rushing yards, scoring two touchdowns each in a 48-21 beat down.
Establishing their duo of backs early could be key to the offense building momentum and putting points on the board.
While the Panthers’ defense was not particularly strong during the season, they do have playmakers that could have a big impact on this game.
As a team, they had 64 pass breakups including nine interceptions led by All-SWAC First Team defensive back Drake Cheatum who had nine passes defended with a SWAC leading five interceptions.
Fellow All-SWAC DB Darius Campbell led the team with 14 pass breakups followed by Jamias Presley who had 11.
On the defensive line, they were led by Jason Dumas who was third in the SWAC with 7.5 sacks and fourth with 13.0 tackles for loss.
All of these players will need to have their best game of the respective seasons to give the Panthers a chance in this game.
The key to this game will be can Prairie View A&M’s defense get stops aiding an offense that will have an uphill battle against Jackson State’s defense. Hopefully, the offensive line of the Panthers have been in the weight room and have their cardio up because they will need to be alert for the full 60 minutes to pull out the win. In the end, the Tigers have too many playmakers on defense for Prairie View to handle and they will walk away victorious on their way to the Celebration Bowl.
Jackson State 31-10