The Jackson State Tigers will look to carry over the momentum from their MEAC/SWAC Challenge victory into week one when they face the Florida A&M Rattlers in the Orange Blossom Classic.
This game has been the de facto SWAC East championship game since its revival, with the winner, Jackson State, claiming the division title on its way to winning the conference title.
For Florida A&M, on the other hand, this game has been the team’s only conference loss since officially joining the SWAC in 2021.
Last year, Jackson State won overwhelmingly, defeating the Rattlers 59-3.
“So we’re gonna do some things a little differently, you know, not get too far away from who we are because we’ve been successful,” FAMU coach Willie Simmons said. “We won nine games three years in a row now, so the formula is there.
“We just have to figure out how to maybe do what we’ve done at the end of the season, where we’ve had winning streaks, and get ready to do that the first game.”
Entering the season, the Rattlers have been tabbed as the favorite to win the SWAC due to the immense questions about Jackson State due to its roster’s mass exodus.
However, following a dominant 37-7 win over South Carolina State in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, the Tigers might have jumped over the Rattlers as the favorite in this contest.
The biggest storyline in this game will be the quarterback battle between Florida A&M’s Jeremy Moussa and Jackson State’s Jason Brown.
Both players had similar roads, transferring from Power Five programs (Moussa from Vanderbilt; Brown from South Carolina and Virginia Tech) to their respective schools, going on to have impressive debuts.
How Florida A&M wins
Moussa, the SWAC’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, burst on the scene for the Rattlers last season with an impressive performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
He finished with 279 passing yards, completing 28-of-38 attempts and scoring two touchdowns. The same can not be said about his performance in the Orange Blossom Classic, as he recorded a season-low 102 passing yards on an inefficient 11-of-27 passing.
Working with a receiving corp that includes Jah’Marae Sheread and Bethune-Cookman transfer Marcus Riley, Moussa will set his sights on victory.
Although the Rattlers’ defense took some hits in the offseason, some big names in that unit will make an impact in this game.
One of the most notable names to look out for is linebacker Isaiah Major, one of the few positives from last year’s Orange Blossom Classic for Florida A&M.
He posted eight tackles, 1.0 tackles for loss, and 1.0 sacks, ending up on the All-SWAC First Team at the end of the year.
Jackson State must also contend with a dynamic secondary duo that includes Javan Morgan and Kendall Bohler.
How Jackson State wins
While the Rattlers’ quarterback is looking to bounce in this year’s contest, Brown will carry his incredible performance from last week into the SWAC competition.
The Virginia Tech transfer was super efficient, completing 26-of-31 pass attempts for 356 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
To spread the wealth, Brown completed a pass to eight different receivers led by Rico Powers, who caught four passes for 95 yards.
In addition, the Tigers were sharp on the ground, led by Wofford transfer Irv Mulligan. He finished with 13 carries for 110 yards and scored a touchdown.
As great as the offense was, the defense might have been even better proving that they were still just as dominant as in the team’s championship years.
“The chemistry has been great amongst them,” Taylor said. “A lot of new faces, but they’ve done a great job of coming together as a group and going out there and executing on a day-to-day basis. So I’m excited about all the new faces. We’ve got some guys that’ve been around for the last couple of years as well that we’re expecting a lot of also on this football team. So I’m excited about it. I think we’ve got a good mixture of kids. Our depth is pretty good and they understand the mission.”
The team defended the pass exceptionally well, allowing just 64 passing yards on 8-of-23 passing. In addition to the secondary doing well in coverage, JSU’s defensive line did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage disrupting a majority of South Carolina State’s plays.
As added motivation for Jackson State, two players currently on Florida A&M’s roster (Robert Lockhart III and John Graves III) both transferred to the Rattlers after de-committing from the Tigers program.