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Jackson State shows familiar dominance under new coach at MEAC/SWAC Challenge

Coach T.C. Taylor’s Tigers defeat South Carolina State Bulldogs in season opener

Jackson State, the reigning two-time Southwestern Athletic Conference champions, defeated South Carolina State 37-7 on Saturday night at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta, starting the T.C. Taylor coaching era in dominant fashion.

“We’ll put that [trophy] on the shelf [and] start getting ready for the next one. Now, we’re not gonna sneak up on nobody. I guarantee you that,” Taylor said after the game. “We’ll have everybody on the schedule. They watching that film tomorrow and starting to get ready for Jackson State. So we understand it, we get it.

“That’s what I said at media day – they don’t know – and that’s what I said tonight. Now they do know, and we’re not going to stop.”

The win Saturday night in Atlanta ended Taylor’s 0-4 record, which included a loss in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in 2018 when he coached at North Carolina Central and three Celebration Bowl losses, one with North Carolina Central (2016) and two with Jackson State (2021 and 2022).

Before time ran out on the game clock Saturday, Jackson State fans erupted into a “T.C.” chant, congratulating their coach on his first win. It reminded Taylor of when he was playing for his alma mater.

“Man, I’m like, wow, I cannot believe this is coming around once again. You know, I love these JSU fans. … I want to put this one behind me [and] keep going,” Taylor said. “I feel like this is one of many. We got to continue to build this football team. We got a long way to go … so we got to continue to put it all together. But I’ll never forget that moment.”

When Taylor was named coach in December 2022, he knew the high standards and expectations he would be expected to follow. The Tigers haven’t lost a conference game in two years and have lost only three times over the previous two seasons.

After spending the offseason answering questions about whether Jackson State could continue its winning tradition, Taylor hopes this victory answers most of them. 

“Everybody has been asking me, you know, how are you ready. Are you ready? I’m like, just, you know, put the ball down. Put the ball down, let me show you what we’ll be talking about,” Taylor said. “It was a lot of people [who] didn’t think we were gonna be what we were tonight. That’s what I’m most excited about. You know what? This football team came out and showed.

“We talk about a plan for a physical brand [of football], but going forward, this one we wanted to come out and set the tone. [We had] a lot of turnover with the roster, but we knew we had a bunch of good players. … We just tried to get the culture right, make these guys understand what’s at stake.”

Virginia Tech transfer Jason Brown, whom Jackson State announced as the starting quarterback shortly before the game, set the MEAC/SWAC Challenge game record for passing yards and completion percentage, completing 26 of 33 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. 

“I wanted to win my last year, and I wanted the opportunity to play. That was one thing that [the coaches] told me that I would have,” Brown said. “I just wanted to come here … and ultimately compete for a championship, because that’s what Jackson State does.”

Jackson State stifled South Carolina State on offense, holding the Bulldogs to 201 total yards during the game while the Tigers finished with 499. On defense, the Tigers held South Carolina State quarterback Corey Fields Jr. to just 59 passing yards while forcing an interception.

“They didn’t know what we had. We came out and showed them from the jump,” said junior wide receiver Duke Miller, who finished the game with eight catches for 57 yards for Jackson State. “We came out and got down on they neck. That’s how it was supposed to be.” 

Despite going into the matchup not fully knowing what to expect from Jackson State’s new roster and coaching staff, South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough could see the difference in this year’s opening matchup from the 2021 Celebration Bowl, when the Bulldogs were the dominant team.

For Pough, the Tigers’ performance was reminiscent of what Pough saw years ago when Taylor was an offensive coordinator at conference opponent North Carolina Central.

“They were a good bit different today than they were [last time]. And what they really did that really hurt us on defense was they played us a lot tougher coverage than what we had seen in practice. So those guys did a nice job of leveraging us and doing things of that sort,” Pough said.

“I worked against T.C.’s teams before, and I had a pretty good idea that they’d be better prepared for us. They knew us better than the previous staff would have.”

The Tigers will head back to Jackson, Mississippi, to prepare to face SWAC rival Florida A&M on Sept. 3 in the Orange Blossom Classic in Miami Gardens, Florida. The last two winners of the classic have gone on to win the SWAC East and earn a berth in the SWAC championship game.

“I’m not going to allow us to get complacent. We’re going to keep going,” Taylor said. “This is just one of many, like I said, but the sky’s the limit.”

Mia Berry is the senior HBCU writer for Andscape and covers everything from sports to student-led protests. She is a Detroit native (What up Doe!), long-suffering Detroit sports fan and Notre Dame alumna who randomly shouts, "Go Irish."