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The big question facing Jackson State coming into this season was could the Tigers find an adequate replacement for Casey Therriault, their record-setting All-American quarterback of the past seasons.

The big question facing Jackson State coming into this season was could the Tigers find an adequate replacement for Casey Therriault, their record-setting All-American quarterback of the past seasons.

The jury is still out after three games. However, University of Akron transfer Clayton Moore made a strong case that there is life after Therriault with a scintillating performance in his first start for the Tigers as Jackson State Texas Southern 45-35 last weekend,  and he will under center Saturday against Southern University in the W.C. Gorden Classic at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

Moore replaced Dedric McDonald who started the Tigers’ first two games – both losses – and Therriault-like stat line against Texas Southern. He completed 18 of 36 passes for 363 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Moore also rushed for 101 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground en route to being named SWAC Newcomer of the Week. His stats compared favorably to those that Therriault (328.5 yards passing a game) put up during his two-year career as Jackson State’s starter.

Jackson State had by far its most productive offensive game of the season with Moore at the helm The Tigers amassed 542 total yards after averaging 318.5 and only scoring two touchdowns in their first two games.

“We wanted to do a little bit more in terms of running the quarterback more,’’ Jackson State coach Rick Comegy says, who indicated he didn’t necessarily change quarterbacks because McDonald was playing poorly. “We felt Clayton could do that, check down and run the ball. He’s not a bad runner and will take a hit. Sometimes you need a change for the team. He gave us the spark that we needed to fight hard. It worked out well for us.’’

Comegy hasn’t ruled out the possibility of McDonald getting back on the field. But he says unequivocally that the starting job at this point is Moore’s to loose.

“I’m a 60-minute guy, old fashioned guy,’’ Comegy says, ruling out the possibility of Moore and McDonald splitting time. “If a guy is the quarterback, he’s our quarterback. I’m not looking to change. I had to make a change. McDonald may not be happy about the change. But as head coaches we have to make decision while thinking of what’s best for the body. If he’s not hot, we’ll go with McDonald if he’s hot. He has done that. What he does is he will keep us competitive.’’

Moore, a native of Louisville, Miss., where he was a one of the state’s top prospects, took a circuitous route to Jackson State. He was kicked off his school team late in his senior season following an altercation with his coach. That led Ole Miss to pull the scholarship it had offered him. Moore still went to Ole Miss as a walk-on, but he didn’t play. The following year, he started for Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and threw for 2,395 yards and 23 touchdowns.

That paved the way for him to enroll at the University of Akron. There Moore started all 12 games in 2011 and threw for 1,655 yards as the Zips posted a 1-11 record. However, he was the odd man out when a new coaching staff was hired at the end of the season and told him he would be No. 3 on the depth chart when spring drills began.
Moore packed his bags and transferred to Jackson State as the heir apparent to
Therriault’s job. But at the end of preseason practice, McDonald, not Moore, was named the starter. Moore was regulated to mop up duty in the Tigers first two games, a 56-9 thumping by Mississippi State and 38-12 loss to Tennessee State. His stats: 23-for-38 and 201 yards passing and 45 yards rushing on 11 carries.

Moore was one of the Tigers’ few bright spots in their loss to Tennessee State as he completed 18 of 28 passes for 184 yards in relief of McDonald.

Moore’s debut as Jackson State’s starter will be a difficult act to follow considering his lack of familiarity with the offense since he didn’t go through spring practice the team. However, Comegy is encouraged by how quickly Moore has picked up the Tigers’ offensive scheme, and he is optimistic that he will have an even better grasp of it in the coming weeks.

“He’s in sync and learning the offense,’’ Comegy says. “He hasn’t gotten it all down yet. He will catch up.’’

Moore’s second start comes against a Southern University team that’s in flux after Stump Mitchell was fired following a 6-0 loss to Mississippi Valley State last week and replaced by defensive coordinator Dawson Odums on an interim basis. The Jaguars are 0-2. Mitchell, who was in his third season at the Jaguars’ helm, was 6-18 after replacing Pete Richardson.

Odums is lavish in his praise of Moore for how well he played against Texas Southern.

“He makes great decisions and he has good grasp of the offense,’’ Odums says. “If he’s in a bad play, he gets them in good situation. Everything about him you would like to have in your quarterback. He has lot sof poise. He stays in the pocket and makes plays.’’

Southern’s coaching change presents a conundrum for Comegy and his staff in their efforts to draw up a game plan for the Jaguars. They aren’t familiar with Odums’ philosophy on offense or defense since this is his first opportunity as a head coach.

“Southern is definitely a team we don’t know much about,’’ Comegy says. “We have to prepare for everything from a defensive standpoint. On offense we have to continue to put points on board.’’

Saturday’s game is critical both teams in their respective division races. Southern is 0-1 in the West Division. Arkansas-Pine Bluff was atop the division with 1-1 record going into the Golden Lions’ game at Alabama State Thursday night Defending conference champion Grambling State, the preseason favorite, and Prairie View A&M are both 0-2. Texas Southern is ineligible for the title. A Southern victory against Jackson State would keep the Jaguars within striking distance of the division lead.

“We have an opportunity to play for the SWAC title,’’ Odums says. “We only lost one (conference) game. Our goals are still in front of us.’’

Jackson State needs a victory to keep pace with East Division leaders Alabama State, the favorite, and Alabama A&M, who are both 2-0 in the conference.

“We haven’t reached the level I’d like to reach,’’ Comegy says. “I can see it coming. We definitely need to taste victory this week to get everything rolling.’’

Key Games
Tennessee State (3-0) at Bethune-Cookman (2-1):  This is matchup of two of the top teams in black college football. Bethune-Cookman is No. 1 in all three black college polls while Tennessee State is No. 2 in Heritage Sports Radio Network FCS Poll and the Boxtorow media poll. The Tigers are third in the Boxtorow coaches poll. Tennessee State is off to its best start since 2008 when the Tigers finished 8-3. Defense has been the catalyst for Tennessee State this season. The Tigers haven’t allowed an opposing ball-carrier to rush for 100 yards in their last five games. Opponents average 93.3 rushing yards a game against the Tigers this season. They held Jackson State to just 46 yards on the ground two weeks ago. The Tigers will face a supreme challenge against Bethune-Cookman, which excels at running the ball. The Wildcats had three ball-carriers – running backs Isidore Jackson and Rodney Scott and quarterback Brodrick Waters – with 100 more yards on the ground against Alabama State in their season-opener. They are coming off a 38-10 loss to Miami, but they gained 233 yards on the ground against their Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. The Wildcats average 254.3 rushing yards a game. Tennessee State relies on a balanced offense. The Tigers average 161.7 yards a game rushing and 240.7 passing. Trabis Ward (95.7 yards a game) and Telvin Hooks (66.3) are a formidable tandem at running back. Quarterback Michael German has been efficient, completing 63% of his passes with just two interceptions.

Miles (2-1, 0-0 SIAC) at Albany State (1-2, 0-0 SIAC): This is rematch of the last season’s inaugural SIAC Championship Game and a potential preview of this year’s title game. Both teams are picked to win their divisions. Miles has gotten off to an impressive start – especially on offense – and could easily be undefeated. The Golden Bears’ lone loss, 31-30 was against North Alabama in the season-opener. Coach Reginald Ruffin chose attempt a two-point conversion instead of kicking the extra point and playing for overtime after Miles scored in the waning seconds. The Golden Bears average 34.0 points a game, tops in the SIAC. They are No. 1 in passing offense with 294.3 yards a game, and No. 2 in total offense at 392.3 yards a game. Quarterback David Thomas averages 269.3 passing yards a game, best in the conference, and Antonio Pitts has a conference-best 17 receptions. The Golden Bears’ defense has been inconsistent, allowing 379.7 yards and ranking in the bottom third of the conference. Albany State has yet to hit its stride. The Golden Rams opened the season with an emotional victory against North Greenville in rematch of their 63-6 first round Division II playoff loss. They are coming off a gut-wrenching 13-12 loss to Elizabeth City State. Albany State has been strong against the run, only allowing 65.3 yards a game. The Golden Rams have been vulnerable against the pass, however, allowing opponents to complete 61.9% of their pass attempts. That could spell trouble against Miles.

MEAC
Florida A&M (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Delaware State (1-2, 0-0 MEAC)
Norfolk State (2-1) at Ohio (3-0)
North Carolina Central (1-2, 0-0 MEAC) at Savannah State (0-2, 0-0 MEAC)
South Carolina State (1-2) at Texas A&M (1-1)

SWAC
Alabama A&M (3-0, 1-0 SWAC) at Texas Southern (1-2, 1-1 SWAC)
Alcorn State (1-2) at Arkansas State (1-2)
Miss. Valley State (1-2) at Northwestern State (La.) (1-2)
Prairie View A&M (0-3) at North Dakota State (2-0)

CIAA
Bowie State (3-0, 0-0 CIAA) at Saint Augustine’s (2-1, 0-0 CIAA)
Chowan (1-2, 0-0 CIAA) at Shaw (1-2, 0-0 CIAA)
Elizabeth City State (1-2, 0-0 CIAA) at Fayetteville State (1-2, 0-0 CIAA)
Virginia State (1-2, 0-0 CIAA) at Johnson C. Smith (1-2, 0-0 CIAA)
Winston-Salem State (3-0, 0-0 CIAA) at Virginia Union  (2-1, 0-0 CIAA)

SIAC
Benedict (0-3, 0-0 SIAC) at Fort Valley State (2-1, 1-0 SIAC)
Concordia (1-2) at Clark Atlanta (1-2)
Kentucky State (1-1,0-0 SIAC)  at Stillman (1-2, 0-0 SIAC)
Lane (1-2, 0-0 SIAC) at Morehouse (1-2, 0-0 SIAC)
Miles (2-1 0-0 SIAC) at Albany State (1-2, 0-0 SIAC)
INDEPENDENTS
Central State (1-2) at Saint Joseph’s (1-2)
Cheyney (1-2) at East Stroudsburg (1-1)
Concord (1-2) at West Va. State (1-2)
Edward Waters (2-2) at University of New Orleans (Club Team)
Langston (1-1) at Lamar (1-2)
Lincoln (Mo.) (0-3) at Pittsburg State (Kan.) (3-0)
UNC-Pembroke (2-1) at Virginia University of Lynchburg (0-2)

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