MEMPHIS — Jackson State football entered the Southern Heritage Classic feeling good after a juggernaut performance in its season opener as week ago.
But the Tigers met resistance against Tennessee State at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium on Saturday, displaying a sputtering offense and dominant defense in the 16-3 victory.
Here's how we graded JSU (2-0) and coach Deion Sanders in what's expected to be their final appearance against TSU (0-2) in the Southern Heritage Classic:
Jackson State did not look sharp on offense. Sophomore quarterback Shedeur Sanders looked sporadic as he went through his progressions, and his receivers struggled to get open.
Once Tennessee State started taking away the screen and slant passes, things were different. JSU was was not the more physical team in the first half, as Tennessee State forced two JSU fumbles, including one on Santee Marshall that negated a touchdown.
Sanders was pressured throughout, once taking a nasty hit in the first half from TSU's Tadarrius Patterson, who was ejected for targeting.
Jency Riley dropped a touchdown pass, forcing the Tigers to settle for a field goal.
JSU was in the red zone three times in the first half and ended up with a blocked kick and two Alejandro Mata field goals.
Freshman defensive back / wide receiver Travis Hunter did not play for an undisclosed reason, but the JSU defense was stellar overall.
Jackson State limited TSU to 140 total yards — 138 passing and just two rushing.
Tennessee State did frustrate JSU defensive back Ke’Vric Wiggins at times, leading to an unnecessary roughness penalty, but overall it's hard to pick apart holding a team to three points.
Special teams: B+
Jackson State looked disorganized on a 39-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, leading to a rushed try and blocked kick. But Mata's three field goals offset the miscue.
Return man Isaiah Bolden was spectacular as he returned a kickoff to the JSU 45-yard line, and punt returner Caleb Jolivette made an impact.
The sputtering offense could be a concern, but given the atmosphere and energy surrounding this final rendition of the Southern Heritage Classic, the Tigers will take the win. Mata delivered when the offense didn't, and consistent defense led to the win.
This game was nothing like last year’s 38-16 drubbing. JSU started playing power football on its final drive, and Sanders finally delivered a touchdown pass with 2:20 remaining to put the game away for good.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson State football grades vs Tennessee State: A step back in Week 2