The Bayou Classic has a new kickoff time and a new network home.
But when viewers tune in to the NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. Saturday, chances are they will see a very familiar Southern-Grambling shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Both teams have standout quarterbacks, dynamic backs and receivers beaucoup and dependable lines that allow for consistent orchestration in both phases of the offense.
As a result, the Tigers (8-2, 8-0 Southwestern Athletic Conference) have averaged 46.8 points in league play and the Jaguars (6-4, 6-2) have averaged 42.1. In other words, this game could be a repeat of last year’s shootout — a 52-45 Southern win that ended, oddly enough, with Grambling unable to score a tying touchdown from about 18 inches on the game’s final play.
Still, the teams combined for 995 yards, a number that might be attainable again Saturday.
“Both of us have high-powered offenses,” Jaguars receiver Mike Jones said. “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shootout and a fun game to watch. It’s basically a track meet.”
Jones knows all about track meets. He’s not only a former sprinter on the Southern track team, he had 130 receiving yards, including touchdowns from 45 and 55 yards, in last year’s game.
This game features the MVPs from last year’s matchup. They happen to be the most productive passer in the SWAC (Grambling’s Johnathan Williams) and the most efficient one (Southern’s Austin Howard).
Williams leads the SWAC in total offense, and Howard appears to be playing his best of late. During the Jaguars’ two-game winning streak, he has completed 75 percent of his passes for a game average of 270.5 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. In both games, he was pulled early in the second half because the outcome was no longer in doubt.
“I think he’s gotten better in the month of November,” coach Dawson Odums said. “He’s executing at a high rate. His efficiency is great, but their guy is undefeated. He’s willed his team to win in the close ones and in the blowouts. I think our guy will play very well. I think we’ve got just as much talent around our guy as they have around theirs.”
Williams is a dual threat who averages 303 yards per game in total offense.
“They’re high-powered, and they’re able to make explosive plays at any given time,” Southern linebacker Daniel Brown said. “They’re very athletic at wide receiver. The quarterback is very agile; he’s very shifty in the pocket. He gets out of there and gives the skill players opportunities to make plays and they do.”
Grambling has two of the top players in the SWAC in receiving yards per game in Chad Williams and Chester Rogers. Southern has Randall Menard in the top five and Willie Quinn in the top 10.
The Jaguars have the leading rusher in the SWAC in Lenard Tillery, but Grambling is just as effective with a more democratic backfield. The Tigers average just 6 rushing yards per game fewer than the Jaguars. Martez Carter and Jestin Kelly have nearly equally divided 1,028 rushing yards.
No SWAC team has held the Tigers to fewer than 34 points, which is a primary reason no SWAC team has beaten them.
“Nobody has shown us on film how to beat them,” Odums said. “We’ve got to figure it out ourselves. There isn’t any blueprint.”
The only blueprint for stopping the Jaguars offense included torrential rain and a sloppy field that affected the game against Alcorn State. Otherwise, Southern has scored at least 40 points in every conference game.
“They are a very talented group,” Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said. “They have a really good, young quarterback who is very dynamic. They have a very good running back. They have really good receivers and dynamic playmakers who also make an impact on special teams.
“For us, it’s about making sure that we stop the run and force them to do some things that they don’t want to do. But they can throw the football well, too, so we have to have a balanced defensive effort.”
The offenses figure to take center stage, but the defenses could make the difference.
“Whichever defense can stop the other offense,” Odums said, “is the one that’s going to have the upper hand.”
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.