Southern vs. Jackson State — always a classic

Every year when football schedules are first released, Southern fans circle the dates of two games: the Bayou Classic against Grambling and the Jackson State game.

However, there is one distinct difference between the games for Jaguars fans: The Grambling game is more of a traditional contest between two close-knit, historical black colleges that is celebrated among neighbors, friends and families only separated by their devotion. And while the Jackson State contest is also a rivalry, it’s a far cry from the friendly natured, in-state game that is The Bayou Classic.

“It’s a different kind of environment,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “When two schools play home and home, it creates a different kind of rivalry. When you play a game in the Classic, you can’t really feel like that’s your place, but when you play a home and home, you have the support of your community and your fans.

“The proximity of the schools (is what makes the rivalry special),” Odums said. “The fans (at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.) are right there on top of you.”

Both schools are based out of the capital of their states, share an avid fanbase, and each boast a strong tradition of winning at a high level.

The two schools have combined for 32 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships in football, with Southern holding a slight 17-15 advantage.

Playing every year since 1958, Southern holds a slim advantage over Jackson State, winning 29 times while the Tigers have claimed 28 victories. The two schools met twice in 1999, once in the regular season and again in the inaugural SWAC championship game in Birmingham, Ala., that saw the Jaguars emerge victorious 31-30.

However, Jackson State holds an advantage over Southern in games played in Baton Rouge, winning 13 of 25 contests.

Jackson State (2-2, 2-0 SWAC) enters Saturday boasting one of the best defenses in the country, including a top-five defense defending the pass.

The Tigers rank sixth nationally, and first in the SWAC, yielding a mere 274.5 total yards per game and just 122.8 yards through the air.

The matchup proves intriguing as Southern (2-2, 2-0) features the 12th-ranked passing offense in the country at 305.8 yards per game.

Despite the Tigers’ vaunted pass defense, Odums remains confident in his team’s ability to move the football through the air.

“I think we can spread people out and throw the football,” Odums said. “I think we have one of the better receiving corps in college football so if (Jackson State) wants to stack the box and stop the run, and we spread them out and get some guys one-on-one, maybe we can take some shots and hit some big plays.”

Combining the historical significance of the matchup and the current records of the two teams in the SWAC standings, Saturday proves to be one of the more anticipated conference games this season for both schools.

“I realize that there’s going to be a lot of passion,” Jackson State coach Rick Comegy said. “There’s going to be a lot of wanting to win because of the two schools involved. I don’t think there’s any hate between the schools. These two teams have a history and a tradition.

“When you come up with two teams that have a tradition and a history in football, it’s always going to make for a good football game.”

Despite the importance that this weekend’s matchup brings in terms of bragging rights and for each team to remain undefeated in conference play, Odums is taking the one game at a time approach.

“The players understand that it’s a home game,” Odums said. “It’s a big rivalry, and if we do the necessary things that we’re capable of doing, we’ll walk out of (A.W. Mumford Stadium) Saturday with a victory.

“You can’t build too much into it in being a big game as a player and as coaches,” Odums said. “You’ve got to make sure that you prepare and that you understand that if you do the necessary things that it takes to win the football game then you’ll have a chance in the fourth quarter of winning.”