Shedeur Sanders passes over Grambling linebacker Joshua Reed. (Photo credit: Marcus Plummer/Grambling Athletics)

Deion Sanders — or Coach Prime, as he much prefers — was clearly perturbed when TV reporters approached him coming off the field at halftime Saturday of what was eventually a 66-24 trouncing of Grambling.

His Jackson State Tigers led the G-Men 21-17, but had been their own worst enemies after taking a 14-0 early lead. Sanders told the announcers his team had played poorly, had been out of character. He said that they were not fundamentally sound. He said more. He clearly was frustrated.

Rick Cleveland

The TV announcers correctly predicted Sanders was about to give his team a tongue-lashing.

So, what did he say? Or holler?

“I was so mad I don’t remember,” Sanders said after the game. 

Put it this way: Whatever he said worked.

Jackson State, with Sanders’ quarterbacking son Shedeur Sanders leading the way, out-scored Grambling 45-7 in the second half for the lopsided victory before a sun-baked yet enthused crowd of approximately 35,000 at Veterans Memorial Stadium. This was the W.C. Gorden Classic, played in honor of the late Jackson State coaching legend who led the Tigers to eight SWAC championships.

Gorden most assuredly would approve of the Tigers’ performance Saturday, especially in the second half.

Big picture: Jackson State moved to 3-0 on the young season and has now defeated three traditional HBCU powers Florida A&M, Tennessee State and Grambling by a combined score of 141 to 30. The Tigers are clearly a lot more talented than most of the teams they have played — or, for that matter, will play.

And clearly the most talented Tiger of all is the one named Shedeur, who accounted for six touchdowns and threw some of the prettiest passes you’d ever want to see. Shedeur Sanders, a 20-year-old sophomore, plays with the poise of someone much older. He plays smart. He throws accurately. He is as talented as he is resourceful. He can throw the long ball, as he did on a perfectly thrown 52-yard strike to speedy Christian Allen that resulted in an 84-yard touchdown play. He can throw short passes and intermediate, too. He can throw fast balls and he can throw with touch. And, when the situation arises, he can run with the ball, too.

Shedeur threw so well and so productively Saturday that a reporter asked his father if this was the best passing game he has had in his short college career.

“No,” Deion Sanders replied. “I did not like the first half whatsoever. He missed a couple or this game would have been over a lot sooner. He did hit them all in the second half. As he goes, we go.”

Shedeur Sanders completed 21 of 31 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns. He scored two more touchdowns running the ball.

But the Tigers are far from a one-man gang. Sy’veon Wilkerson, a bowling ball of a running back, displayed quick feet and much strength running for 141 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.

And you should have seen the leaping one-handed catch Shane Hooks made on a Sanders pass that appeared to be overthrown until Hooks went up and snatched far above Grambling defenders.

Defensively, especially in the second half, the Tigers suffocated the visitors. They were clearly faster and apparently much stronger than Grambling, coached by former Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson. Jackson, in his first season at Grambling, apparently has a major rebuild on his hands. 

“Hue Jackson is a great coach,” Deion Sanders said. “… He’s where we were that first spring season. When he gets his players in there, they will be something to deal with.”

That may be, but for now Grambling and the SWAC has to deal with the monster that Jackson State football has become. Mississippi Valley State is next up for the Tigers at the Vet this Saturday. It likely won’t be pretty.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.