If Southern has any chance of toppling Jackson State and ending its 13-game SWAC winning streak with the eyes of the country focused on Deion Sanders and Co., the defensive front will have to take the reins.
In Jackson State’s two losses over the last calendar year, opposing linemen were able to disrupt its Air Raid passing attack by penetrating the offensive line and getting to star quarterback Shedeur Sanders.
In a loss to Louisiana-Monroe last September, Sanders — then a true freshman starter — was sacked three times and pressured throughout during the 12-7 defeat.
Against South Carolina State in the Celebration Bowl, Sanders had his worse performance of the 2021 season. He threw two interceptions, took three sacks, and was flushed out of the pocket on the majority of his 35 pass attempts versus a physical and talented Bulldogs defensive line.
The outcome was so jarring that Jackson State plucked five offensive linemen from the transfer portal in the offseason to address what was a considerable weakness.
The Jaguars, at least as the statistics have borne out through seven games this season, might be best equipped to orchestrate a similar performance.
Its defensive line features several of the top pass rushers in the SWAC. That group includes former Buck Buchanan Award winner Jordan Lewis, Prairie View transfer Jason Dumas, edge rusher Trey Liang and former Houston commit Tahj Brown.
That group has combined to compile 27 sacks on the season, tied for first in the SWAC along with Jackson State.
“That has to be the strength of your team,” said SU head coach Eric Dooley. “If you want to go somewhere, you have to be real good in the trenches, and thank god — on both sides of the ball — we have some guys who can help us get there.”
While Dumas and Lewis received much of the attention off the field from the press, and on it by opponents due to their reputations, Brown has arguably been the anchor of the unit.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder paces Southern with 6.5 sacks, which is second in the SWAC behind Mississippi Valley State’s Ronnie Thomas, who has 7.5 on the season.
“I’m always a guy who loved to sack the quarterback,” Brown said this week. “That’s what all defensive linemen want to do.”
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