Grading Jackson State football's loss to South Carolina State in Celebration Bowl: How many D's in defeat?

Khari Thompson
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

ATLANTA — The number 21 carries special significance for Deion Sanders.

He wore the number for more than a decade in the NFL. He's the 21st football coach in Jackson State  football history. Jackson State scored 21 points when he returned from toe surgery against Southern in November. 

And on Saturday, Jackson State lost the Celebration Bowl to South Carolina State by 21 points, which is the largest margin of defeat in the game's short history. 

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The Tigers had their worst defensive performance of the season, one Sanders said made him stop looking at the scoreboard after a certain point in the game. 

Shedeur Sanders had a pair of crucial red zone turnovers that set up a pair of short touchdowns for South Carolina State. 

And Buddy Pough, the seasoned eight-time MEAC championship coach, went toe to toe with Deion Sanders and got the win. 

Here's how The Clarion Ledger graded the historic loss: 

Offense

Jackson State's inability to run the football caught up with it at the worst possible time. The Tigers had fewer than 30 yards rushing, forcing them to turn to the passing game in a one-dimensional manner. 

Shedeur Sanders went 16-for-36 passing with two interceptions and a touchdown. One interception came in the red zone, putting South Carolina State on the Jackson State 10-yard line. He also fumbled on the 3- yard line, setting up the first of a Celebration Bowl-record three receiving touchdowns for South Carolina State's Shaquan Davis.

The offensive line allowed Sanders to be sacked three times and hurried much more. 

Sanders' opening-drive touchdown saves the offense from getting an F. 

Grade: D

Defense

The defense allowed a season-worst 31 points. The turnovers in the red zone didn't help, but Davis' three touchdown catches can't be ignored. 

South Carolina State quarterback Corey Fields went 12-for-31 passing, but four of those completions went for touchdowns. That's mostly thanks to the 6-foot-5 Davis, for whom Jackson State didn't have an answer. 

Jackson State's run defense held up fairly well, holding the Bulldogs to 128 yards on 37 carries. 

Grade: C- 

Special Teams

While Jackson State's offensive performance forced the Tigers to punt more than they would have liked, Marcus O'Neal averaged 38.4 yards on five punts, which is a decent performance. Bailey Raborn went 1-for-1 on field-goals. The returners, who had been a plus all year for Jackson State were pretty much held in check. 

Grade: C+

Coaching

Jackson State looked overwhelmed and underprepared in nearly every facet of the game. Deion Sanders admitted the team was overconfident and that South Carolina State "kicked their butts." He said after the game that the Tigers have to get better players but a significant portion of the blame must fall on him for not having a team as talented as this year's historic Jackson State squad ready to play. The Tigers, who won 11 games for the first time, got caught up in the hype of signing No. 1 overall prospect Travis Hunter on Wednesday and got blown out in Deion Sanders' return to Atlanta. 

Grade: D

Overall

It's the worst Celebration Bowl loss in history. A blowout loss from an underdog opponent that outhustled, outexecuted, and outcoached the Tigers. A great season ends with a bizarrely bad loss for the ascending JSU program. 

Grade: D+