The next level
The last time a Bayou Classic was this hyped was probably back in 2003, and the game didn’t disappoint.
A 10-1 Southern team hung on to beat a 9-2 Grambling team in a 44-41 shootout that wasn’t decided until the Jaguars made a stop in the final minute. It was the quarterbacks who fired all the bullets.
Southern’s Quincy Richard threw for 552 yards and five touchdowns. Grambling’s Bruce Eugene countered with 409 yards and four TDs, two of which covered more than 70 yards.
Could history repeat Saturday? Possibly. The SWAC West powers bring their own talented quarterbacks to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome turf this season, and they have piled up points at a rapid rate.
Grambling’s DeVante Kincade has been a revelation in his first year in a Tigers uniform after transferring from Ole Miss. He’s completing 64.2 percent of his passes and has thrown for 27 touchdowns against just three interceptions.
On the other side, Southern junior Austin Howard has come into his own with career highs in passing yards (2,406) and touchdowns (26). He has accumulated those numbers while also taking care of the football, throwing just seven interceptions.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Tigers (43.1) and Jaguars (40.8) come into the game with the Nos. 1 and 2 scoring offenses in the conference.
Both quarterbacks will probably get their stiffest test of the season Saturday. In addition to having the best passing offenses in the SWAC, Southern and Grambling also feature stingy pass defenses.
But, as history has shown, the Bayou Classic has a way of getting sparks to fly.
1. TRENCH WARFARE
One of the best battles to watch Saturday should be the Grambling defensive front against the Southern offensive line. The Jaguars’ big men have enjoyed a fantastic season opening holes for Lenard Tillery to roam, but they face a daunting task in a Grambling unit that has yielded just six rushing touchdowns all year.
2. HEADS UP!
Southern’s special teams units best keep their collective head on a swivel Saturday. Grambling has blocked four punts and four field goals. That’s not great news for a Southern team that has struggled protecting its specialists at times. A blocked punt or kick is a huge momentum swing Southern wants to avoid.
3. BIG GAME WILLIE?
Willie Quinn went off on Grambling last season, hauling in 12 passes for 137 yards and a score in a losing effort. In a nationally televised game and what could be his final college game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the little man light up the Superdome one more time. He’s nothing if not a performer.
4. START FAST, STAY HOT
If Grambling has shown one weakness, it has been a proclivity to start slow. That happened last week, when it fell behind Texas Southern 28-7. The Jaguars can take advantage of this, but they better hold on, because these Tigers have closing speed: They scored 40 unanswered points last week to demolish that deficit.
Numbers worth knowing
21 — Wins by each team in the first 42 years of the Bayou Classic
0 — Times both teams have been undefeated in SWAC play for the Bayou Classic
62,507 — Attendance of last year’s Bayou Classic, the highest since Hurricane Katrina
Give Grambling the slightest of nods here. Southern’s Austin Howard is very capable but hasn’t taken over a game like DeVante Kincade has at times.
Grambling has a talented duo in Justin Kelly and Martez Carter (1238 yards, 14 touchdowns between them), but Lenard Tillery is in a class of his own.
Chad Williams and Willie Quinn are 1 and 1A when it comes to the SWAC receiver hierarchy, but the Tigers’ group behind Williams is more polished.
The Jaguars offensive line, with its three fifth-year seniors on the interior, has been the foundation the Jaguars built their offense on this season.
Southern’s Aaron Tiller has been turning it on during the latter part of the year, but Grambling’s front, led by senior Donovan McCray, has been ridiculously tough.
Arkez Cooper, Deontae Hatter and De’Arius Christmas have made a load of impact plays, with 26 tackles for loss and 13 sacks between them.
Few defensive backfields have affected the game as much as Southern’s has. The Jaguars DBs have 16 interceptions this year, led by Danny Johnson’s seven.
Both teams have struggled in the punting game, but Southern knows it can count on kicker Ruan Albuquerque, who is 12-for-14 this year. Grambling has attempted only six field goals, making three.