For Jackson State and Deion Sanders, an offseason to reset, reassess and reclaim their swag — ThePowerBloc

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ATLANTA – Jackson State coach Deion Sanders provided no excuses Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

He never does.

The Tigers’ offense played poorly. The defense, in Sanders’ mind, wasn’t much better.

That made the Cricket Celebration Bowl result predictable.

South Carolina State 31, Jackson State 10.

Jackson State, a 10-point favorite, riding a nine-game winning streak thanks to one of the best FCS defenses, wasted too many opportunities early against South Carolina State.

Then it made too many mistakes.

South Carolina State turned a fumble and two interceptions in 21 points. Their touchdown drives began at the Jackson State 4, 12 and 16.

“We kind of used Jackson State’s game plan all season against them,” said South Carolina State coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough.

Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who entered the game with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions, had thrown for more than 200 yards in every game this season. Five times he had passed for more than 300 yards.

Against South Carolina State he passed for just 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

“South Carolina State kicked our butts in every way and every fashion,” Deion Sanders said. “I feel we were overconfident and overlooked them as if they were going to hand us the game.”

So, did he sense an arrogant approach during the week? After all, South Carolina State was 6-5.

“I sensed it during the game,” Deion Sanders said. “We were a little lackadaisical. We had that fire in the locker room before the game because we turn up, but there was just something missing, and when I looked in their eyes, something was missing.

“I just gave them a good old-fashioned talking and I’m proud of each and every one of them because they accomplished some wonderful things that hadn’t been accomplished in a quite some time. There’s no reason to hang their heads.”

Not after JSU won a school-record 11 games, not after the Tigers’ earned their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 2007.

And certainly not after Sanders was named SWAC and national FCS Coach of the Year and his son Shedeur was named national Freshman of the Year.

Frankly, all of that talk fueled South Carolina State during the week as they visited local restaurants and hung out at malls.

The players heard chatter about not being able to score more than 21 points against JSU’s vaunted defense that had allowed just 240 yards and 13.5 points a game, while leading the nation with 44 sacks.

So they did something about it.

South Carolina State won because it took advantage of the flaws JSU had shown all season.

The Tigers rushed for just 74 yards on 29 carries, which meant it faced too many long-yardage situations on third down.

South Carolina applied plenty of pressure without blitzing. They sacked Sanders three times and hit him multiple times.

They also confused him with some zone-coverage looks.

“Shedeur is even-keeled. He’s rock steady,” Deion Sanders said. “He’s never too high or too low. He was just upset the game plan didn’t work. What he saw, they had an answer, too. He’s a smart kid. He’s checking off to put us in a better situation, but we can’t block it.”

Said Shedeur Sanders, “I just didn’t make the right reads and get the ball out of my hands.”

All week, Deion Sanders had talked to his team about owning the moment whenever it occurred on Saturday so they could win JSU’s first Black college championship in nearly 30 years.

Deion Sanders owned his own moment in the locker room before the game, keeping his promise to take a few steps on his own after having to use a motorized scooter since he returned to the sideline last month.

He missed a month after complications from toe surgery.

“Whatever situation we’re in, own it. Dominate it. Maximize it. I’m just teaching them about moments. Everybody has a multitude of moments. What are you doing with it? You never know when that moment is going to be, so you have to always go,” Deion Sanders said Friday morning after a light breakfast. “You have to always be on 10 ’cause you never know when that moment will be.

“You can’t come out of the game and say I didn’t get an opportunity to make a play. We don’t play that. Everybody in that game who touches the field from the kickoff team to the extra point team is going to get a chance to make a play. Do your job. Make that play.

“We’re serious about our moments. We don’t take that for granted because this stuff is real. We’ve had speakers come in and tell them how valuable these moments are. We’re dealing with last game of the season, which we need to put an exclamation point at the end of this sentence.

“I told some of these kids this is the last time you ever play football. What you gonna do with it? You have to go and do your thing because you don’t know when that moment is going to be and you can’t miss it.”

South Carolina State, which gained only 268 yards but committed just one turnover, owned the moment.

And that is why it is the 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl champion.

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.



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