There are few surprises for the coaches involved in the Bayou Classic. Some things even the most casual fans can count on.
Quarterbacks being the focal point is one of the obvious places to look when Southern and Grambling hook up in their annual matchup at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Last year, the Tigers watched Southern’s Ladarius Skelton walk away with the Most Outstanding Player Award in the Jaguars’ 38-28 victory after he passed for 217 yards and three touchdowns and had another 79 yards rushing.
It wasn’t like he sneaked up on the G-Men, coach Broderick Fobbs said.
“We knew what he was planning to do last year; it’s a matter of executing the plan,” Fobbs said. “Sometimes when you’re in position it doesn’t matter; you’ve got to bring him down and make the play. Our kids that have played him before know what to expect. He’s a gifted athlete and a runner. We have to play physical with them.”
For Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs, coaching in the Bayou Classic means facing Dawson Odums.
Fobbs can expect a steady diet of Skelton operating the triple option and scrambling when his receivers are covered. He’s Southern’s leading rusher with 788 yards and 12 touchdowns on 150 carries. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Skelton is as powerful as he is elusive.
Skelton left Southern’s last game with a twisted ankle but should be fully recovered with a week off. In the past three games, he’s rushed for 459 yards and six touchdowns.
“He’s coming off an injury, but he’s well,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “It all starts with him. When he’s locked in he’s as good as anybody. We expect him to play well. He missed some passes last time out that he’s going to make.
Both Bayou Classic coaches took their turns touting the excitement created by the Bayou Classic at Monday’s introductory news conference. A sh…
“He’s won championships at every level. One thing he hasn’t done is get us to a win in the championship game. He’s gotten us there, but we came up short. That experience is going to help him and our team.”
Skelton has completed 117 of 196 passes for 1,302 yards and 11 TDs, modest numbers by SWAC standards. But Grambling starter Geremy Hickbottom is nearly a carbon copy. Hickbottom (6-4, 210) is the Tigers’ leading rusher with 613 yards and five TDs on 110 carries. He’s completed 156 of 257 for 1,649 yards and 11 scores with seven interceptions.
“He’s played well,” Fobbs said. “He started a little slow. He’s done a good job throwing the ball and using his legs. Had a spell where he was kicked out of a ballgame; in my opinion it was questionable. He did a good job coming back from that last week.”
It’s usually best for Southern players, coaches and fans to ignore what happens to their rival Grambling State until the teams collide.
Fobbs said Hickbottom is a better quarterback than a year ago, when he completed 18 of 30 for 188 yards and a touchdown against Southern. The Jaguars built a 31-13 lead and held off a late Grambling charge, sealing the game with a 65-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Devon Benn, who rushed for 167 yards, capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run.
In fact, the Grambling passing game overall has improved, Fobbs said.
“In the first four or five games were running ball effectively,” Fobbs said. “In the Jackson State game, they stacked the box and forced us to throw the ball and become more successful. It gave us some confidence. We started clicking from there.”
Hickbottom will be taking aim at a Southern pass defense ranked ninth in the 10-team league, allowing 271.1 yards per game and 18 touchdowns.
“He’s a dual-threat guy,” Odums said of Hickbottom. “He has the ability to beat you throwing or with his legs. This game will come down to whoever makes the plays.”