Southern Heritage Preview: Tennessee State takes on Jackson State


NASHVILLE – Head Coach Eddie George and the Tennessee State football team seek their first victory of the season this Saturday at 6 p.m. CT against Jackson State in the 32nd Southern Heritage Classic at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. 

The Big Blue fell 16-10 to Grambling State in George’s debut on Sunday at the Black College Football Hall of Fame Classic in Canton, Ohio. Star running back Devon Starling had 88 rushing yards and a score on 18 carries and the TSU defense held Grambling State to 184 yards of total offense, but the Tigers committed 18 penalties. 

“We are going to rectify that,” George said after the game. “Whether you win, lose or draw, from the first week to the second week is where you make your greatest improvement. When our players look at the tape and see that we lost by six points. They will see we left a lot of plays on the field. We have to learn to play with discipline. That is the name of the game. We are going to be disciplined and we are going to give ourselves a chance to win.”

TSU had a short week to prepare for Jackson State, which won its season-opener, 7-6, over Florida A&M in the Orange Blossom Classic. 

Jackson State is coached by Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders, who is in his second season at the helm, making for a high-profile showdown of former NFL stars. George rushed for more than 10,000 yards for the Tennessee Titans and won the 1995 Heisman Trophy at Ohio State.  

This will mark the 54th meeting between the teams, who are both nicknamed the Tigers. Tennessee State holds a 30-21-2 edge in the all-time series.  

How to Watch and Listen 

The game will be televised live on ESPN3

Fans can listen to the radio broadcast in Nashville on WPRT 102.1 FM and nationally on Sirius XM Channel 388 and Sirius XM Online Channel 978. 

Last Game 

In addition to Starling’s 88-yard performance, wide receiver/returner Dayron Johnson had 137 all-purpose yards, including two punt returns of more than 30 yards, but Tennessee State couldn’t close the gap in the 16-10 loss to Grambling State at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Field. 

Led by linebacker Jashun Bryant’s nine tackles, the TSU defense held Grambling State quarterback Elijah Walker to 4-of-11 passing for just 43 yards and safety Cory Rahman had an interception in the second quarter. Walker did most of his damage on the ground, though, rushing 17 times for 77 yards and a touchdown. 

The Big Blue played three different quarterbacks in the game with freshman Tucker Pope getting the start under center. Geremy Hickbottom entered in the second quarter and completed 8-of-10 passes for 65 yards, while fellow signal-caller Deveon Bryant played the bulk of the second half and finished with 24 yards rushing and 22 yards passing. 

The Classic Rivalry 

The Southern Heritage Classic began in 1990 with the goal to enhance the regional rivalry between Tennessee State and Jackson State, two HBCU powers. The two schools have faced off in the game 29 times with TSU holding a 17-10-1 edge in the series. Twice, in 1991 and 1993, JSU could not play in the game with Mississippi Valley State and Grambling State filling the void. 

Read more about the Southern Heritage Classic in the digital game day program here

HBCU Tradition 

TSU’s legendary coach John Merritt guided Jackson State to a 60-32-4 record from 1953 to 1962 before taking the helm of Tennessee State in 1963. He finished a remarkable 172-33-7 as Tennessee State’s head coach, while winning seven black college national championships from 1963 to 1983. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. 

Jackson State’s legendary coach, W.C. Gorden, played football at Tennessee State from 1948 to 1952. Gorden led Jackson State to eight SWAC Championships from 1976 to 1991, winning the 1985 black college national championship. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. 

Tennessee State and Jackson State have combined for 16 black college national championships with TSU claiming 13 titles. The two programs each have had seven players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. TSU’s Ed “Too Tall” Jones remains the only player from an HBCU to be taken with the first overall pick. He was selected No. 1 by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1974 NFL Draft. Tennessee State has produced a pair of Pro Football Hall of Famers in Richard Dent (2011) and Claude Humphrey (2014), while Jackson State has seen four former players ascend to Canton, Ohio, led by Walter Payton (1993). 

Jackson State at a Glance 

JSU is 1-0 on the season after defeating Florida A&M, 7-6, to open the season in the Orange Blossom Classic. The Tigers’ defense recorded eight TFLs and three sacks, while holding the Rattlers to 234 total yards and a pair of field goals. JSU was led on offense by quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who scored the game’s only touchdown on a 1-yard rush and finished 18-of-24 passing for 221 yards. Linebacker Aubrey Miller paced the defense with nine tackles and one sack. 

Jackson State finished 4-3 in Sanders’ debut season in the spring of 2020-21. JSU averaged 35.7 points and 414.3 yards per game. 

Last Meeting 

Jackson State won a shootout at the 2019 Southern Heritage Classic, 49-44, snapping a six-game TSU win streak. Both teams returned their opening kickoffs for touchdowns and neither squad committed a turnover. JSU was able to build a big lead by totaling 344 rushing yards. TSU rallied behind 384 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Cameron Rosendahl, but it wasn’t enough. 

Looking Ahead 

Tennessee State welcomes Kentucky State to Nissan Stadium for the home opener on Sept. 18 at 2 p.m.  

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