What went wrong for Jackson State in disappointing loss against Florida A&M?

Jackson State head coach T.C. Taylor watches during the first half of the Orange Blossom...
Jackson State head coach T.C. Taylor watches during the first half of the Orange Blossom Classic NCAA college football game against Florida A&M, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)(Lynne Sladky | AP)
Published: Sep. 3, 2023 at 5:39 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MIAMI (WLBT) - Everything that went right in Jackson State’s dominating season-opening win against South Carolina State last week took a u-turn for the majority of the 2023 Orange Blossom Classic against Flordia A&M.

The Tigers nearly held the Rattlers scoreless last season in a 59-3 victory.

This season, Florida A&M played like they took that result to heart in the two SWAC East programs’ final meeting in the Orange Blossom Classic. The Rattlers used a commanding 21-point first quarter to tame Jackson State 28-10 Sunday to hand T.C. Taylor his first loss as head coach and JSU its first SWAC loss since 2020.

So, what went wrong for Jackson State?

Special teams

A unit that has been praised all off-season and performed well in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge on August 26 against the Bulldogs was exploited on Sunday.

The Rattlers scored a 96-yard kickoff return on the opening play of the contest and saw themselves leading 7-0 with just 11 seconds gone from the game clock.

Immediately after the score, former Madison Central High School wide receiver Isaiah Spencer had a 37-yard kickoff return himself, but it resulted in the JSU offense failing to answer with a touchdown and the Tigers fumbling the field goal attempt due to a bad snap, giving Florida A&M excellent field position near midfield.

Momentum swung solely in favor of Florida A&M five minutes into the game, and the Rattlers’ offense took advantage of the short field and put together a touchdown drive directly after the missed scoring opportunity for JSU to take a 14-0 lead midway through the first.

The punt return defense didn’t execute either, giving up a 50 and 45-yard return in the second quarter and totaling 191 yards for the Florida A&M special teams.

Despite blocking two Flordia A&M field goal attempts, the Rattlers won the special teams battle by a wide margin.

Offensive line play

The newly reconstructed JSU O-line showed its inexperience and a lack of chemistry that wasn’t on display in their Week 0 matchup.

A unit that was able to physically dominate and push South Carolina State D-lineman five yards backward seemingly every play was bullied by the Florida A&M front seven on Sunday.

Quarterback Jason Brown had a hand in his face nearly every offensive snap and was sacked twice in the first half, which was last week’s total for South Carolina State.

The JSU big men gave up a total of 6 tackles for loss - that amounted to 24 yards lost - and three QB hits.

The run game started poorly for the Tigers, totaling -27 rush yards at one point in the first half. But that is where they found success in the second half between Former Ridgeland High School quarterback Zy McDonald - who entered the game starting the second half - and running back Irv Mulligan.

Brown was on his back almost every offensive play and the O-line was leaky all afternoon against the Rattlers, failing to create any offensive momentum and sustainable drives.

He looked like a shell of his MEAC/SWAC Challenge MVP self, with his decision-making being questionable at times. Brown completed just 10/19 passes accounting for 82 yards.

A tale of two halves

Sunday, the JSU faithful witnessed an unfamiliar side of the Tigers.

JSU thrived in the spotlight last week but was blindsided in the Orange Blossom Classic, and the lack of execution in all phases - specifically on special teams and on offense - was night and day compared to last week.

Jackson State’s defense performed up to its standard for the most part given the circumstances, but efficiency and execution offensively came too little, too late.

McDonald, whose performance was one of the bright spots for the Tigers, was able to generate some momentum with his dual-threat ability in place of the struggling Brown, who was in noticeable pain after his right hand was hit in the second quarter.

He completed 10 of his 14 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown. The Ridgeland native also rushed for 37 yards.

The Tigers failed to get on the scoreboard until the 1:10 mark in the third quarter, with T.C. Taylor opting to kick a field goal to end the scoreless drought and trail 28-3. Early in the fourth quarter, McDonald tossed the only touchdown of the game for Jackson State, which was a 66-yard touchdown throw to wide receiver Rico Powers.

JSU was able to brush off its first-half performance, but a comeback was out of the picture as Florida A&M beat Jackson State for the first time in 20 years.

Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please click here to report it and include the headline of the story in your email.