The Sports Network
By John Hooper, FCS Correspondent
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 13th, 2 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Event: SWAC Championship. Annual: 10th. Site: Legion Field (71,594) -- Birmingham, Alabama. Surface: Artificial Turf. Television: ESPN Classic. Home Record: Jackson State 3-1; Grambling State 4-0. Away Record: Jackson State 3-1; Grambling State 3-2. Neutral Record: Jackson State 1-2; Grambling State 3-0. Series Record: Grambling (35-22-1). Last Meeting: September 20, 2008 (Grambling, 14-5 at Grambling). Series Streak: Grambling has won four of the last five meetings. Nicknames: Jackson State Tigers; Grambling State Tigers. Sheridan Broadcasting Network Poll Rankings: Jackson State (7); Grambling State (1). Sports Network Rankings: Jackson State (Not ranked); Grambling State (Not ranked). Coaches: Jackson State - Rick Comegy (21-13 at Jackson State, 129-64 Overall); Grambling State - Rod Broadway (18-6 at Grambling State, 51-17 Overall).
GAME NOTES: In a rematch of the 2007 Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game, Grambling will look to avenge a 42-31 loss at the hands of Jackson State that it suffered last season.
Jackson State, the champion of the West Division, has won six straight after starting the year 1-4. East Division titlist Grambling enters the matchup riding a nine-game winning streak, including a 29-14 victory over Southern in the Bayou Classic to clinch a spot in the title game.
Grambling earned a hard-fought 14-5 home victory over Jackson State on Sept. 20. A 46-yard touchdown pass from Grambling quarterback J.P. Tillman (10- of-20, 103 yards passing) to Nick Lewis with 5:21 left in the first half was the game's only offensive touchdown.
Jackson State cut the lead to 7-5 with a safety and a 26-yard Eric Perri field goal in the third quarter. The game wasn't decided until Bruna Foster of Grambling intercepted a Trae Rutland (20-of-34, 255 yards, two interceptions) pass and returned it 34 yards for a score with 44 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
JSU managed just 12 yards rushing that day and 267 yards of total offense, while Grambling managed just 231 yards, including 128 on the ground.
Like it did that day, Grambling has been reliant on a defense that tops the nation in both passing efficiency defense (88.36) and turnover margin (1.75), while ranking seventh nationally in rushing defense (87 yards per game) and 10th in total defense (267 yards per game).
Powering Grambling's defense is linebacker Keefe Hall, who leads the Tigers' defense with 94 tackles. to go with 7.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Defensive end Melvin Matthews (eight sacks, 18 tackles for loss) has been a stalwart at defensive end, while safety Desmond Leonard (six interceptions, one interception return for a school) anchors the Grambling secondary.
Offensively, Grambling has done much of its damage on the ground (161 yards per game) led by Cornelius Walker, who has rushed for 686 yards and four TDs this season. Quarterback Greg Dillon (1,242 yards, 15 TDs, seven interceptions) hasn't been flashy, but has managed to play a significant role over the nine- game streak for the Tigers. Dillon moved into the lineup eight games ago and is undefeated as a starter.
Like its championship opponent, Jackson State owes much of its success to a defense that ranks second nationally (233 yards per game). Leading the charge is defensive end Marcus Benard (77 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss). Linebacker Marcellus Speaks, the SWAC's defensive player of the year, leads the defense in tackles.
Cornerback Dominique Johnson, who has been invited to the Senior Bowl, has been the biggest contributor in the secondary, tallying a team-high four interceptions this season, including one he returned for a score. Johnson made a big play in last season's meeting returning a Brandon Landers pass 35 yards for a TD.
Offensively, the Tigers counter Grambling's attack with a balanced offense that averages 150 yards per game on the ground and another 154 yards through the air. Leading the ground attack is quarterback Trae Rutland, who's amassed 490 yards and four TDs on the ground, while throwing for 1,333 yards, seven TDs and eight interceptions.
His top targets through the air have been Carlos Simpson (41 catches, 9.0 average, two TDs), Keenan Tillman (20 receptions, 13.5) and Marcel Frost (14 receptions, 18.4, two TDs).
In last season's championship matchup, Jackson State used the arm of Jimmy Oliver (16-of-30, 249 yards, three TDs) and the legs of Lavarus Giles (117 yards, two TDs) to defeat Grambling. But those players have moved on.
Four of the eight times that teams have met in the SWAC championship game, the squad that lost the earlier game has won the title clash, including last year.
To clinch a second straight title, Jackson State will need Rutland to be successful passing the ball to open up the ground game. Becoming too one- dimensional is always tough to avoid when facing a staunch defense like the one Grambling will put on the field Saturday. For that reason, Grambling should end Jackson State's reign.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Grambling State 24, Jackson State 20.
12/11 11:01:35 ET