Shedeur Sanders, Jackson State football dominate Tennessee State in Southern Heritage Classic
MEMPHIS — A tight game at halftime turned into a rout for Jackson State in the Southern Heritage Classic on Saturday.
JSU coach Deion Sanders rode the record-breaking right arm of his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, to a 38-16 victory over Tennessee State at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. It was the first meeting between the schools since 2019, after last season's game was canceled due to COVID-19.
Shedeur Sanders was 30-for-40 passing for 362 yards and three touchdowns, setting Southern Heritage Classic records for most completions, highest completion percentage and third-most passing yards.
Former Whitehaven standout Aubrey Miller Jr., who transferred to Jackson State from Missouri, had a game-high tying 10 tackles in front of an announced attendance of 46,171.
Jackson State (2-0) never trailed. TSU (0-2) dropped its second straight game under first-year coach Eddie George.
Here are four takeaways from Jackson State’s victory:
If at first you don’t succeed
Jackson State was poised to make an early statement, driving to the TSU 22 late in the first quarter with a steady attack featuring Shedeur Sanders.
The freshman quarterback began the drive 6-of-7 for 46 yards, but he missed a wide-open Josh Lanier near the end zone, and his fourth-down throw into the end zone was dropped by Trevonte Rucker.
But Sanders didn’t give up on Lanier. After JSU recovered a fumble, Sanders connected with Lanier from 14 yards for his first touchdown pass of his career.
TSU had the ball and momentum.
With the game tied 7-7 midway through the second quarter, TSU quarterback Geremy Hickbottom connected with Dayron Johnson on a 36-yard pass play that got TSU into Jackson State territory. Hickbottom came up big again two plays later, when his 15-yard run on third-and-13 extended the drive.
Then, Jackson State stemmed the tide. Hickbottom was stopped on two of the next three plays for a loss of 23 yards, the latter play on a third-and-15 sack by James Houston, who finished with two sacks and three tackles for loss.
That critical sequence gave Jackson State the juice it needed to break the tie, turning its reversal of fortune into a 28-yard field goal that gave Sanders’ squad a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Three halves into Jackson State’s first full season under Sanders, the Tigers were leaving plenty to be desired in critical-down situations. In last week’s season-opening 7-6 win over Florida A&M, Jackson State was 3-for-14 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down.
It was more of the same in the first half against TSU. Jackson State converted only once on five attempts on third down and its only fourth-down conversion try – a Sanders pass to Trevonte Rucker that was dropped in the end zone – failed.
It got fixed early in the second half. Facing a third-and-7 on JSU's first possession after halftime, Sanders connected with Houston transfer Keith Corbin III on a 67-yard touchdown to give Jackson State a 17-7 lead. Later in the third quarter, his 10-yard touchdown pass to Shane Hooks gave Jackson State its third third-down conversion of the half.
Jackson State put the game away with 7:29 left to play. Warren Newman returned a TSU punt 81 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 31-10 advantage. It marked the second straight Southern Heritage Classic special teams touchdown for Jackson State. In 2019, Josh Littles returned the game's opening kickoff more than 100 yards for a score.
Reach Commercial Appeal sports writer Jason Munz at [email protected] or on Twitter @munzly.