This year’s edition of the Bayou Classic will once again feature the two best teams in the SWAC West. Southern started the 2019 season off with a 1-3 record while Grambling State started 0-4, yet once again, these two rivals will fight for a division title as well as bragging rights.
The emergence of Grambling’s defense has been one of the highlights of this season. One of its calling cards was holding a very powerful Alcorn State offense to 16 points. GSU is second in the conference with its scoring defense, giving up an average of 21.6 points per game and sixth in total defense surrendering 397.7 yards per game. Cornerback Joe McWilliams has been having a stellar season for the Tigers as he leads the SWAC with six interceptions and he has taken half of those back for touchdowns. On the opposite side, sophomore cornerback Devanir Martin has three interceptions of his own.
Offensively the Tigers have improved since the early season. They average 415.7 yards per game which is fifth in the league. Their 212.5 yards per game on the ground is second to Southern. The passing game for the Tigers has been inconsistent pretty much all year. The G-Men have used Geremey Hickbottom the majority of the season but the last two ball games it has been Charles Wright who has done the heavy lifting. Wright only went 5-for-11 in the Tigers 19-16 win over Alcorn State back on November 9th but it was 29-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Ross which pushed the game to overtime.
The Tigers were in the same scenario a year ago against the Jaguars but fell short by the score of 38-28 which caused the Tigers to miss the SWAC Title game for the first time since 2014.
Southern run happy in 2019
Southern has lived the 2019 season on the edge since starting the season 1-3. These cardiac cats have stressed out their fans all year, winning four of their SWAC games by seven points or less.
The Jaguars started the season playing musical chairs at quarterback between returning starter Ladarius Skelton and Glendon McDaniel. Skelton has grabbed control of the quarterback job in the second half of the season but McDaniel has led the team in passing in two games this season, including a career high 252 passing yards against Texas Southern. Southern’s passing offense has a pedestrian average of 174.9 yards per game which is ranked ninth in the conference. But its rushing attack, however, leads the conference at 228.5 yards per game.
Skelton is currently fifth in the SWAC with 788 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns to go along with 1302 yards passing and 11 touchdown passes. Southern running back Devon Benn ran for 167 yards a season ago in the Bayou Classic and he looks to have another breakout game for the Jags.
Southern surrenders 393.1 yards per game which ranks fifth in total defense. The rush defense is tops in the conference, however, giving up just 121.4 yards per game on the ground. The part of the Jaguar defense which causes concerns is the secondary which allows 271.7 yards per game through the air which is ninth in the SWAC. Holes in the secondary have kept Southern’s opponents in ball games this season.
Sophomore defensive end Jordan Lewis will come into Saturday’s game with six sacks despite being injured a nice portion of the season. A season ago Lewis and the Jaguar front seven sacked Grambling’s quarterbacks five times and limited the Tigers to only 94 yards rushing. Sophomore cornerback Tamaurice Smith is tied for second place in the SWAC with four interceptions on the season, one of the bright spots in the Southern secondary. Smith will need to get maximum effort from his mates in the Jaguar secondary if they are to limit the Grambling pass game.
Bayou Classic decides the West
This will be the fourth consecutive year that this game will decide who moves on to the SWAC Championship Game with Grambling winning the 2016 and 2017 editions and Southern winning a year ago. Grambling has been the hottest team in HBCU football since October and hasn’t lost a ball game since the last week in September.
Southern has won six out of its last seven and its only loss during that stretch was to defending champ Alcorn State on the road. Saturday is the next chapter of this historic rivalry and over the course of the three hour battle a player or players will become legends in Bayou Classic folklore and more importantly one team’s SWAC Championship and Celebration Bowl hopes will remain alive while the other prepares for the 2020 season.