A week after dazzling and dominating with its offense, Jackson State used its vaunted defense to deny Tennessee State in a 16-3 Southern Heritage Classic win Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl.
Shedeur Sanders, who threw a career-high five touchdowns versus Florida A&M a week ago at the Orange Blossom Classic, completed 30 of 44 passes for 276 yards and the game-sealing TD pass to Willie Gaines with 2:20 in regulation to secure the win.
Kicker Alejandro Mata converted on three short field goals –27, 28 and 30 yards — to keep Jackson State (2-0) ahead for the better part of three quarters in a tightly contested defensive struggle.
“We’re thankful that we came out of here with a W,” said JSU head coach Deion Sanders. “We didn’t play our best game, but we’re not taking anything away from coach (Eddie) George and the team he placed on the field. They are not the same team we played last year.”
The story of this game, however, was the JSU defense, which recorded eight sacks and held Tennessee State (0-2) to 140 yards of total offense. It has not allowed a TD this season. TSU quarterback Draylen Ellis was 10-of-24 passing for 138 yards and was on the receiving end of all eight sacks.
Nyles Gaddy, one of many great Jackson State interior rushers, had three total sacks, two solo. Cam’Ron Silmon-Craig had seven solo tackles, 11 total on the night.
When asked to grade the defensive effort, Sanders gave the unit an “A+.”
“You have to understand that these guys are relentless,” he said. “They are picking up right where they left off a year ago.”
Travis Hunter, who had two pass breakups in the win over the Rattlers last Sunday, did not play against Tennessee State. Sanders said “he’s hurt” but will “be back shortly.” The coach previously indicated that Hunter, the nation’s No. 1 recruit for the 2022 class, was only 60 percent during his collegiate debut while nursing an undisclosed injury.
On the other side, Tennessee State was disappointed that it has not yet put a complete game together despite hanging in there with a pair of ranked opponents to start the season.
“I have to remind myself that we have 22 new guys on the team who have to gel,” said TSU coach Eddie George. “This is a situation where we have to learn from these situations in order for us to grow and evolve.”
With the loss, Tennessee State drops to 17-12 in the Southern Heritage Classic.