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Experience, Depth Give JSU Edge In SWAC East

Jackson State cornerback Qua Cox is one of the best defenders in the FCS this season. (Expanded Sports photo)

Conference: SWAC East
Coach: Rick Comegy
2012 Record: 7-5 (SWAC Runner-Up)
2013 Non-Conference Schedule:  Tulane, Tennessee State
2013 Classics: W.C. Gorden Classic (9/7 vs. Alabama State), Southern Heritage Classic (9/14 vs. Tennessee State)

Running back Tommy Gooden helped JSU rush for over 2,200 yards in 2012. (Advocate Photo)

Offense

Quarterback: We talked about quarterback battles in the MEAC on Monday, but there is no controversy here. Former Akron quarterback Clayton Moore had a solid first year at JSU last year, completing 127 of 246 pass attempts for 1,863 yards while leading the team to the SWAC East title and the championship game. He also finished second on the team in rushing 631 yards and 11 touchdowns. As long as he stays healthy, there is no question Moore is the guy.

Running Backs: The current roster shows only three running backs, but JSU fans shouldn’t worry too much. The Tigers have the best rushing duo in the conference in Rakeem Sims and Tommy Gooden. The pair combined to rush for nearly 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2012. Combine that with Moore and the team rushed for over 2,200 yards last season, good for second in the SWAC.

Receivers: Jackson State’s passing game was also solid, ranking third in the SWAC with an average of over 214 yards per game. Last season’s leading receiver, Rico Richardson, is now trying to make the final cut of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Richardson’s production (60 catches, 1123 yards and 11 touchdowns) won’t be easy to replace, but the Tigers have a veteran group of receivers returning, led by Zach Pendleton. The 6’3 190 pound senior from Jackson, MS was a solid compliment to Richardson last year, catching 33 passes for 415 yards. Look for those numbers to jump this season.

Offensive Line: JSU’s offensive line is a mix of youth and experience. The experience is largely concentrated on the outside, exemplified by preseason All-SWAC selection Jordan Arthur. The interior of the line, however, is another story. Other than guard Jonathan Smith and JUCO transfer Jaydell Roy, everyone else is either a true freshman or redshirt freshman. Two freshmen will also fight for the starting center spot. This will be a unit worth watching this season.

Ryan Griffin returns as one of the leaders for JSU’s defense. (Advocate Photo)

Defense

JSU finished third in the SWAC in total defense last year, second in run defense.  However, the Tigers suffered big losses on the defensive line with the departure of Joseph LeBeau and Johnathan Billups. The defensive line is deep, at least numbers-wise, with thirteen defensive ends and tackles. None of those players put up particularly big numbers, though, so defensive line will be another area to watch as the season kicks off.

The best of a solid linebacker corp is Tedderick Terrell. The 6’2, 230 pound OLB/DE recorded 37 tackles, but nearly a third of them (10.5) came behind the line of scrimmage. Inside linebacker Todd Wilcher is the Tigers’ leading returning tackler, as he recorded 64 tackles. Ryan Griffith is another outside linebacker to watch for JSU.

Despite ranking in the bottom half of SWAC pass defenses last year, the defensive backfield features several key players for JSU. It starts with cornerback Qua Cox, who is perhaps the best NFL prospect in all of HBCU football right now. Cox picked off five passes last season as a junior, and was named the preseason SWAC Defensive Player of The Year at media day. This 6’0, 185 redshirt senior will have the attention of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks all season. Whoever plays the other corner will undoubtedly be the target of most passing plays.

One of the big reason’s Cox was able to go for those interceptions was the security blanket that Cameron Loeffler provided him. The JUCO transfer made an immediate impact his first year in Jackson, leading the team with 84 tackles (16 TFL) and 4.5 sacks. He also broke up five passes.

Outlook

JSU was only a few plays away from winning the SWAC title last season. A big pass play and a goaline fumble away as a matter of fact. Granted the losses on the defensive and offensive lines are not ideal, there is still plenty of talent in Jackson.

Looking at the schedule, the standout date is the Sept. 7 matchup with Alabama State. It’s an early season game that could mean a lot by the end of the season. With so many new pieces in key positions at ASU, I like JSU at home. While I feel more comfortable picking Jackson State to win the SWAC, I don’t know that there will be that much separation between the two schools. The could end up with identical records, let’s say 7-4, the winner of that game would hold the tie breaker and represent the SWAC East.

Prediction: 8-3, SWAC East Champs

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