There had to be plenty of emotion swirling for South Carolina State before Saturday night’s MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta. Earlier this week, legendary head coach Buddy Pough announced that this season would be his last as he plans on retiring at the end of the 2023. One of the greatest coaching runs in the sport’s history is gearing up for its final ride... that was surely on the minds of everyone in the SC State locker room.
That’s why it caught some off guard when it was Jackson State that got off to a hot start. After the defense forced a three and out on their opening series, JSU running back Irv Mulligan broke free for a 46-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers a quick 7-0 advantage. Not even three minutes into the game, the Bulldogs were playing catch-up.
After weeks of speculation, JSU gave fans an answer on who would get the nod at quarterback. Virginia Tech transfer Jason Brown started and he impressed early. He moved the ball efficiently and smoothly through the SC State defense and, early in the second quarter, threw his first touchdown as a Tiger. Brown hit tight end Jency Riley in stride and Riley did the rest.
Jackson State (TE) Jency Riley 35 yard TD pic.twitter.com/Q1xe2PBn3A— HBCU Premier Sports & More (@HBCUSports1) August 27, 2023
Now trailing 14-0, Pough’s team was in need of a spark but it was a spark that proved difficult to come by. Whether it was the emotion, nerves or combination of the two that was pulsing through the SC State sideline, they just couldn’t find any semblance of production.
Midway through the second quarter, the Bulldogs strung together a seven-play drive but it too yielded nothing. Quarterback Corey Fields failed to connect on a third long and for the fifth time of the evening, SC State had to punt away to a humming JSU offense.
On the ensuing series, Brown guided the Tigers into enemy territory once more and as the clock expired in the opening half, kicker Gerardo Baeza hit a 31-yard field goal. At the intermission it was all Jackson State. They led 17-0.
Unfortunately for SC State, the second half would not be any kinder to them. On the first drive, Brown tossed his second touchdown of the night, this one a 21-yard dart to D.J. Stevens.
It only got worse from there. Brown laced another touchdown to Andre Hunt and then the defense picked off Fields shortly after. The Tigers tacked on yet another score. The rout was on and it was ugly.
When the dust finally settled, the Bulldogs found themselves on the wrong end of a 30-point beatdown. The Tigers emphatically start the season 1-0.
This was a statement win for not only Jackson State but for head coach T.C. Taylor. All offseason the talk around the JSU program has been about how much talent left with Deion Sanders. Saturday night, though, proved that there’s still a lot of talent around. Taylor has done an excellent job utilizing the transfer portal and his head coaching debut was one to remember. With the way things played out in Atlanta, it certainly seems as though the Tigers aren’t missing a beat. SWAC be warned.
“It feels good,” Taylor admitted after the game. “We came out and set the tone. We just wanted to see how physical we could be.”
Brown threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns. Rico Powers led the Jackson State receivers with 95 yards on four receptions. Mulligan rushed for 109 yards and a score. Everyone in blue balled out.
If you’re on the other sideline, though, where do you go from here? This was one of the more lopsided losses in recent memory for South Carolina State and to a team they beat handedly in the Celebration Bowl not even two years ago. It could be an unceremonious final ride for Pough if things don’t turn around.
Fields completed just seven of his 20 passes for 59 yards and a score along with an interception. The defense surrendered 500 total yards and the team punted seven times. KeShawn Toney hauled in the Bulldogs’ only touchdown.
JSU will now prep for a big showdown with Florida A&M next Sunday in Miami. SC State will look to rebound against FBS Charlotte next Saturday.