In what is arguably the most anticipated matchup in all of HBCU football this season, the reigning SWAC champion Jackson State Tigers will face off against the Florida A&M Rattlers this Sunday in the Orange Blossom Classic at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Each team enters this game with unfortunate circumstances surrounding them. While FAMU has been battling eligibility issues throughout its team roster including their top two defenders Isaiah Land and BJ Bohler, Jackson State has been bogged down by a city-wide water crisis.
These are two of several storylines that fans will need to watch for in this all-important game that could determine who represents the SWAC East division in the conference championship game.
Last season, the two teams faced each other in what was a defensive chess match with Jackson State escaping with a 7-6 victory.
This was Florida A&M’s only conference loss clearing the way for Jackson State, who finished a perfect 8-0 against the SWAC, to appear in the SWAC championship game.
Keys to victory for Florida A&M
Despite the issues surrounding Florida A&M entering its season opener, the Rattlers put up an impressive performance against North Carolina led by quarterback Jeremy Moussa.
The Vanderbilt transfer put the world on notice finishing with 279 passing yards on 28-of-38 passing scoring two touchdowns.
Moussa was not alone in his efforts completing passes to 10 receivers with Xavier Smith leading the way recording ten receptions for 78 yards.
The Rattlers will be looking for a better outing from their running back group who only managed 56 net rushing yards against the Tar Heels.
This was a source of success for them in their matchup against the Tigers last season recording 109 yards on the ground. Florida A&M’s offense will need to be up to par considering the Rattlers are facing a defense that is elite in its own right.
On defense, FAMU will need to contain Jackson State’s passing attack similar to how it did last year. The Rattlers were the only team that did not allow the Tigers to reach the end zone through the air.
The good news for the Rattlers is they will have the aforementioned Land and Bohler back in the lineup which will certainly give them a boost.
How Jackson State wins a second straight Orange Blossom Classic
The majority of eyes on this game will be on Jackson State’s five-star recruit Travis Hunter who will be making his collegiate debut.
He will be featured on a defense that also includes All-SWAC linebacker Aubrey Miller, All-SWAC safety Shilo Sanders and star sophomore safety Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig.
On offense, SWAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Shedeur Sanders will look to have a big performance to start the season.
While he did not score a passing touchdown against Florida A&M last year, Sanders was extremely efficient completing 18-of-24 pass attempts for 221 yards and did score the lone touchdown of the game on a QB sneak.
With leading receiver Keith Corbin III no longer on the team, Sanders will likely rely heavily on sophomore Malachi Wideman who tied for the most receiving touchdowns in the SWAC last season.
The JSU offense also got a big boost in the backfield acquiring Delaware State sophomore transfer Sy’Veon Wilkerson. Last season, Wilkerson amassed 848 rushing yards scoring eight touchdowns nearly out gaining Jackson State’s top two rushers from last season (899 rushing yards).
With Florida A&M bringing back most of its roster from ineligibility, Jackson State’s offense could have a much tougher task moving the ball downfield.
Jackson State 21-10
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