NEW ORLEANS — This year’s meeting between Grambling and Southern was hardly the most exciting in the 38-year history of the Bayou Classic.
Maybe the fans knew something beforehand.
Only 40,175 of them filed into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to watch Grambling pound Southern in the second half for a 36-12 win Saturday.
It was the smallest crowd in Bayou Classic history, and a far cry from 2000-04, when the average attendance was 70,198.
The previous low was set last season, when 43,494 people came to the Superdome to watch the Jaguars lose 38-17 and finish with a 2-9 record, the worst in school history.
Before that, the all-time low was in 2006, the Classic’s first year back in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. That game, a 21-17 win for Southern, happened before a crowd of 47,136.
The best-attended in Bayou Classic history was in 1994, when Southern won the second of eight straight meetings 34-7 as 76,641 people watched.
Another QB concussion
For the second consecutive game, Southern made a change at the quarterback position — not because the coaches wanted to, but because a concussion left them with no choice.
“I didn’t make a quarterback change,” SU coach Stump Mitchell said. “Grambling made a quarterback change.”
Late in the first half, SU starting quarterback J.P. Douglas suffered a concussion after attempting a deep pass, which Bruná Foster intercepted.
Trainers tested Douglas on the sideline for concussion-like symptoms, then told Mitchell his freshman quarterback wasn’t allowed back in the game.
To that point, Douglas had thrown for 67 yards, one touchdown and an interception; he had also taken three sacks.
From that point, sophomore Dray Joseph entered the game. He was 12-of-24 for 138 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The scenario was stunningly similar to Southern’s previous game, a 26-23 win at Alabama State on Nov. 12.
In that game, Joseph started but suffered a concussion late in the first half, and Douglas came off the bench to lead the team the rest of the way.
Joseph had two weeks to recover, and as of Tuesday — four days before the Bayou Classic — he had not been cleared to play.
Joseph was sacked four times.
Louis, Payton grab honors
Wide receiver Mario Louis, who made four catches for 73 yards and three touchdowns, was named Grambling’s MVP for the Bayou Classic.
Linebacker Jamie Payton, who made a game-high 15 tackles, was Southern’s MVP.
On offense, Southern opened with seven offensive linemen, using Chris Browne and Brandon Thibodeaux at the tight end positions. Zach Brown started at left tackle; Aaron Hall at left guard and Donald Glover at right guard. Douglas started at quarterback but gave way to Joseph late in the first half.
On defense, Virgil Williams, the team’s top cornerback, started for the first time since Nov. 5, when he suffered a concussion at Texas Southern.
Saturday marked the first time since Oct. 22 that SU had its top two corners, Williams and LaMarkius Pettaway in the starting lineup together.
Pettaway was suspended two games for fighting against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Oct. 15, and Williams missed the Jaguars’ win at Alabama State on Nov. 12.
• Doug Williams made a grand return to New Orleans, winning the Bayou Classic in the first year of his second stint as coach.
Although he won three straight SWAC titles from 2000-02, Williams was 1-5 in the Classic during his first term, which ran from 1998-2003.
e_SBlt Zoltan Riazzo’s 53-yard field goal in the first quarter was the longest of his career, surpassing a 48-yarder against Jackson State on Nov. 5.
e_SBlt Seven seniors served as game captains for the two teams. Southern captains were Payton, center Lee Almanza, safety Demetric Rogers and wide receiver LaQuinton Evans. Grambling captains were Louis, Riazzo and linebacker Cliff Exama.
To the Grambling defensive line, which applied heavy pressure on Southern’s quarterbacks, sacking them seven times, and held the Jaguars to minus-31 rushing yards.