Once again the Jackson State Tigers will enter the Southern Heritage Classic looking to end a SHC losing streak, having lost the matchup six consecutive times. Only this year, they’ll be trying their luck with a new head coach.
“Tennessee State, over the last six years, has had their way with Jackson State,” said JSU Head Coach John Hendrick. “Our kids understand that and that it’s time for us to play better football against them. We were in a position to win it in 2017 and missed a walk-off field goal at the end. Hopefully, we’ll come out this year and play at a high level.”
Hendrick is in his first year with Jackson State, taking over for former coach Tony Hughes, whose contract was not renewed after last season. Hendrick was at the helm for the final three games of the year, going 2-1. That was enough to take the interim off his title, and fully promote the former defensive coordinator to head coach.
But he’s gotten off to a rocky start this season. With losses to Bethune-Cookman and South Alabama – both by 20 or more points – JSU is still seeking its first win.
“We’ve got to be better. We’re used to playing better defense than that around here,” Hendrick said.
In 2018, the Jackson State defense finished fourth in scoring and second in overall defense under Hendrick. Jackson State has not won its division in the SWAC since 2013 and have not won a SWAC championship since 2007. But that defense has struggled so far this season.
Hendrick has been coaching for 36 years and has been on 14 different staffs, including four SWAC and three SEC football teams. He also was head coach for Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, from 2003 to 2006 and had a record of 18-25.
Hendrick has not settled on a quarterback yet. True freshman Quincy Casey from Memphis Ridgeway High School got the start in the season opening loss to Bethune-Cookman. Casey completed four of four passes for 59 yards. Senior quarterback Derrick Ponder completed 8 of 21 for 130 yards. The Tigers amassed 273 passing yards and 233 rushing yards in the 35-15 loss.
Against South Alabama, Hendrick stuck with Derrick Ponder, who threw for 123 yards on 15-26 attempts. But JSU got trounced on the running game. South Alabama racked up 413 rushing yards to JSU’s 142 yards. They’ll need to do better than that against TSU.
“I think we’re still on course. I think we’re still on time. We just got to get things cleaned up in time to face Tennessee State,” Hendrick said Monday. “Their strength is going up against our strength. The strength of our defense is our secondary. I think our guys are capable of recovering and playing the football back there. So we just have to prepare for them as we would everybody else.”
QUICK HITS: There are three Memphians on JSU’s squad this year: Freshman Quincy Casey (Ridgeway); sophomore RB Greg Williams (White Station); and freshman QB Jalen Jones (White Station).
The Southern Heritage Classic kicks off at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Liberty Bowl Stadium.
Lee Eric Smith contributed to this report.