1. Trench warfare
Coaches say games are usually won in the trenches, and there’s no doubt in this case. It will be strength against strength when the Southern offensive line, the “Gravediggers,” knock heads with perhaps the best defensive line in FCS football. Southern’s will to run the ball is unlike that of any other SWAC team because of their fivesome, which attacks with size and physicality. Jackson State also gets a good pass rush from the front four, which allows for creativity with blitzes, so communication up front has to be nearly perfect. Last spring, the SU offensive line ran roughshod over JSU, which is looking for payback.
2. Scramble time
The Southern defense has been beset by injuries and other absences but is finally becoming a dependable unit. It will need its best effort to stop or slow the Tigers behind the play of Shedeur Sanders, who is only a hair behind Aqeel Glass in the best-SWAC-quarterback derby. With only three interceptions, he’s proved much less fallible than most freshmen, and he’s making play after play, 8-1 as a starter. If there’s no pass rush, it’s going to be a long day, but pass-rush ace Jordan Lewis is back and closer to 100% than he was last week when he had some near misses. The defense needs not just to make stops but to make some plays and/or turnovers.
3. Bubba's bounce-back
Quarterback Bubba McDaniel has been steady all season; most Southern losses haven’t been on him. Last week’s was, more than any other game. He overthrew, underthrew and threw wide — especially in the second half, when the Jaguars needed to make plays. Southern receivers have got to help a little more, too, as three drops hurt momentum and killed drives. If missed opportunities were a statistical category, the Jaguars might have broken a school record last week. Bubba needs to come out strong and establish the offense. If Jackson State gets an early lead, it’s going to neutralize the Jaguars running game. Hitting a big play or two early will bolster confidence.
4. Atmospheric advantage
This should be Southern’s biggest non-homecoming crowd with the second-most-hated rival (after Grambling) coming in and sniffing an East Division title. The chance to stay in the hunt for a winning record and smudge the Tigers’ march to the SWAC championship game should produce a pumped-up crowd. Sixteen seniors are being honored at their final game on the Bluff, so they can be expected to leave everything on the field. There is no guarantee Deion Sanders will be on the sideline. There’s every reason to think the Jaguars can drop one of the biggest upsets in the series and send fans into the Bayou Classic with plenty of momentum.