Hornets battle Tigers for SWAC Championship
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 11, 2:05 p.m. ET.
FACTS & STATS: Event: SWAC Championship. Annual: 12th. Site: Legion Field (72,000) -- Birmingham, Alabama. Surface: Artificial Turf. Television: ESPN Classic. Announcers: Anish Shroff, Jay Walker, Charlie Neal. Home Record: Alabama State 4-2; Texas Southern 4-0. Away Record: Alabama State 2-2; Texas Southern 3-1. Neutral Record: Alabama State 1-0; Texas Southern 1-2. Current Win/Loss Streak: Alabama State 1L; Texas Southern 7W. Series Record: Tied, 11-11-2. Last Meeting: October 2, 2010 (Texas Southern, 21-7 at Alabama State). Series Streak: Alabama State has won six of the last eight meetings. Nicknames: Alabama State Hornets; Texas Southern Tigers. Sheridan Broadcasting Network Poll Rankings: Alabama State (10); Texas Southern (5). Heritage Sports Radio Network Poll Rankings: Alabama State (7); Texas Southern (3). Sports Network/Fathead.com Rankings: Alabama State (51); Texas Southern (31). All- Time Records: Alabama State (438-418-41); Texas Southern (242-308-15). Coaches: Alabama State - Reggie Barlow (19-25 at Alabama State and Overall); Texas Southern - Johnnie Cole (18-16 at Texas Southern, 33-32 Overall). SWAC Championship Record: Alabama State (1-2); Texas Southern (0-0).
GAME NOTES: The winning team has scored at least 30 points in eight of the 11 SWAC championship games, but it appears unlikely to happen on Saturday. The regular-season meeting was a defensive battle - Texas Southern won at Alabama State, 21-7 - and this game has the makings of another one.
Alabama State turned the ball over five times in its loss to TSU, completing only three passes and managing only 149 yards. Incredibly, three of the Hornets' six second-half possessions started at their 2-yard line, and another two possessions started inside their 16.
ASU, the Eastern Division representative in the title game, often uses three wide receivers, and 6-foot-5 quarterback Devin Dominguez (121 of 233, 1,508 yards, 18 TDs, 14 INTs) has excellent targets in wide receivers Nick Andrews (47 receptions, 615 yards, 7 TDs) and T.C. McWilliams (38, 560, 7). The Hornets didn't muster much of a running game against TSU and that also was the case in their most recent game, a 17-10 loss to Division II Tuskegee in the Turkey Day Classic on Thanksgiving Day.
You wouldn't think rushing the ball would by a problem by looking at the Hornets' offensive linemen. Four starters stand 6-5 or taller, including 6-9, 320-pound sophomore left tackle Terren Jones. Running back Andrew Pitts (110 carries, 534 yards, 4 TDs) hopes to follow their lead and establish a run game.
ASU is tied with Grambling State for first in scoring defense in the SWAC (19.3 points per game). The Hornets' defense has excellent balance. Sophomore free safety Kejuan Riley is tied for the team high with 58 tackles and shares the league lead with seven interceptions and 13 passes defended. Defensive end Jimmy Daniels is a force with 17.5 tackles for losses and 50 tackles, while middle linebacker Brandon Roberts (58 TT) and weakside linebacker Demarques Taylor (57) also are over the half-century mark.
The Hornets have strong special teams, including an assortment of return men in Andrews, Jacques Rickerson and Quendarius McKibben.
SWAC Western Division representative Texas Southern is playing in the SWAC Championship for the first time, but it's on a seven-game winning streak which started with the win over ASU. The Tigers scored twice in the final five minutes to secure the 21-7 win.
TSU allows 19.5 ppg and rank nationally within the top three in six defensive categories. They are first in sacks (3.73 per game), tackles for loss (9.36 per game) and pass efficiency defense (81.67 rating), second in total defense (217 yards per game) and pass defense (132.1 ypg), and third in rushing defense (84.9 ypg). Linebacker Dejuan Fulghum (91 TT, 9 sacks) is the one for Dominguez to fear, but pass rushers come from all directions, including linebacker Shomari Clemons, defensive end Marquis Jackson, defensive tackle Jonathan Hollins.
Offensively, TSU will look to establish the run with Marcus Wright, whose 1,089 yards are second-best in the SWAC and only 115 shy of the school single- season record, and quarterback Arvell Nelson, who has rushed for 529 yards and, like Wright, eight touchdowns. The Tigers average 211.9 rushing yards per game, which ranks 14th in the FCS.
Nelson's problem has been interceptions. The Iowa transfer has thrown for 21 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his two seasons at TSU, including 15 picks this season. A solid run game will set up a safer passing game. Joseph Anderson (52, 769, 2) is Nelson's favorite target.
Place-kicker Robert Hersh is solid inside 40 yards and has connected on 10- of-14 field-goal attempts. His kickoffs aren't particularly long, which ASU's returners can use to their advantage.
Both head coaches, ASU's Reggie Barlow and TSU's Johnnie Cole, are in the running for SWAC coach of the year honors. Barlow is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award (sponsored by Fathead.com), which honors the FCS coach of the year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas Southern 21, Alabama State 14.
12/08 12:41:49 ET