College football teams don’t often get the opportunity to redeem themselves against a team that beat them earlier in the same season.
Yet that’s exactly what the Southern Jaguars will have when they take on Jackson State at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game at Reliant Stadium in Houston.
Jackson State, in fact, is the one team SU quarterback Dray Joseph wanted to face the most.
“The way we lost (the first meeting), yes,” Joseph said. “I have a chance to redeem myself. What better way to get your revenge than in the championship game?”
The Tigers enter Saturday’s contest seeking to rebound from their lone conference loss of the season Nov. 16, when they fell to rival Alcorn State 48-33.
“We got our butts handed to us in the Alcorn game,” Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said. “That might have been the greatest thing in the world to happen to this team.”
Although the Jaguars (8-4, 7-2) will have revenge on their minds, it will be a difficult task to avenge their 19-14 defeat, which happened Sept. 28 at A.W. Mumford Stadium.
Jackson State (8-3, 8-1) ranks third in the conference in total defense, allowing 358.5 yards per game.
“We dodged a bullet in the first game,” Comegy said. “They had a guy (tight end Bradley Coleman) wide open in the end zone, and the quarterback came up short on the throw. That’s not going to happen often with this team now. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and grit.”
In Joseph, Southern typically has an advantage at the quarterback position; the senior leads the SWAC with 3,236 passing yards and 27 touchdowns.
Yet Jackson State has signal-caller in senior Clayton Moore who is nearly equal in ability.
Moore — who ended up at JSU after a well-traveled college career that included stops at Ole Miss and Akron — is a similar threat in his passing and rushing capabilities, ranking third in the conference in total yards per game with 260.4 — just 2 yards less than Joseph.
“I think (Moore) is a stellar guy for them,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “He understands their offense. He’s another mobile guy, (and) that’s something that we see every week.”
Moore has a reliable target, too. More often than not, when drops back to pass, he typically eyes senior receiver Zach Pendleton. He had 92 yards on five catches in the first matchup against Southern — is a big, physical receiving threat at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. He averages more than 20 yards per catch.
“He’s an extraordinary receiver,” Comegy said. “He can run and he’s got great hands. We do bank on him for some big catches, and we’re happy he’s healthy and ready to go.
“Hopefully he’ll make a few big catches for us in this game and help us in certain situations where we need him.”
Tommy Gooden and Rakeem Sims lead the Tigers rushing attack, which averages more than 200 yards per game.
The tandem combined for 36 carries and 137 yards in JSU’s first matchup with Southern.
“This is a game where we’re going to have to buckle up and bite down on our mouthpiece,” Odums said. “Because we’re going to have to stop the run.”
On the other side of the ball, Comegy recognizes that although his defense is playing well of late, they will certainly have their hands full in attempting to contain a potent Southern offense.
“From a defensive standpoint, I think we’ve settled in,” Comegy said. “We let them play instead of trying to dictate everything going on – we let them make the adjustments they need to make. (Southern) has really stepped it up in the passing game. (Joseph) is one of the better quarterbacks I’ve seen in a long time. He’s very accurate and he knows what he wants to do.”
“We have to make sure we don’t give them the looks to give them an easy time. We need to keep (Joseph) on his guard and try to get to him a little more.”
Although the Tigers have had ample time to prepare for Saturday’s championship — remember, their last game was Nov. 16 — Comegy said they’ve placed an emphasis on fundamentals.
“We’ve been practicing, trying to stay sharp,” Comegy said. “We’ve been going at it every day, a lot of it just technique work.
“We’re a hungry football team. I think we maintain our hunger in our desire to win a championship. Hopefully, we’ll play up to the level of our desire. I’m looking forward to a great game.”