Much has been made of the historical significance of Saturday’s game between Mississippi State and Jackson State, the first ever football meeting between an SEC school and a SWAC school.
History aside, MSU feels it has a challenge on its hands.
The Tigers are the defending Eastern Division champions – they lost to Grambling State, 41-9, in the SWAC title game – and have been picked to repeat. They return 10 starters on offense, including senior quarterback Tray Rutland, who’s quite familiar with the Bulldogs – he started five games for them in 2006 before transferring to JSU.
Rutland, who was not made available to the Journal for an interview, can do damage with his arm and his legs. The Atlanta native passed for 1,423 yards and seven touchdowns last season, completing 56.9 percent of his throws with 10 interceptions.
On the ground, he gained a team-leading 497 yards and scored four times.
And yet, he wasn’t guaranteed the starting job this season. He was challenged during preseason camp by redshirt sophomore Dedric McDonald.
“We didn’t want him to be just there and not having to work hard in camp, and he was really pushed by young Dedric, and it made him a better quarterback,” fourth-year head coach Rick Comegy said.
Will Rutland find extra motivation against his old team?
“I don’t think he’s too much worried right now about where he was or where he’s been,” Comegy said. “I think he’s worried about making sure that he can guide and direct this football team to a championship this year in our conference.”
Rutland’s got some big targets in senior Carlos Everett (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and sophomore Keenan Tillman (6-5, 220). Everett, who committed to North Carolina State but went to Hinds Community College before arriving at JSU, is the team’s top returning receiver. He caught 16 passes for 304 yards and two TDs.
Luther Edwards, a sophomore from Yazoo County, was the Tigers’ top running back last year with 445 yards and seven scores.
“Their receivers and running backs are real good athletes,” MSU linebacker Jamar Chaney said. “That’s one thing you notice when you see them on film.”
“Our guys have to be ready to handle the speed that Jackson State’s gonna put on the field there for us,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
The Bulldogs have been watching film on Jackson State for months. JSU, conversely, doesn’t have a lot to go on with Mullen bringing in a brand-new offense. Comegy said all he and the Tigers have seen is MSU’s spring game tape.
“We’ve watched the little that we have a lot,” Comegy said.
The last time a new MSU coach faced his first I-AA opponent, he lost. In 2004, Maine came to Starkville and stunned Sylvester Croom’s Bulldogs, 9-7.
This year’s MSU team, coming off a 4-8 season, isn’t worried about winning by a certain number of points.
“A win is a win today in college football,” Chaney said. “If you win by one point, it goes in the win column.”
Contact Brad Locke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-1571.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal