2021 Celebration Bowl Preview

2021 Celebration Bowl Preview

The 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl kicks off at noon on December 18th. The game will feature the South Carolina State Bulldogs (6-5) and the Jackson State Tigers (11-1).

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will host its first bowl game of the season as the 2021 Celebration Bowl gets underway. The champions of the MEAC and the SWAC will meet head-to-head in a battle between two HBCU heavyweights.

This is the first year the Celebration Bowl has been played since 2019. From 2015-2019, there have been five Celebration Bowls played, with North Carolina A&T winning four of them. The only MEAC has only won once when Grambling State defeated North Carolina Central in 2016.

Notably, this game features two head coaches at different points in their careers. Oliver Pough is finishing his 19th year at South Carolina State, while Deion Sanders is only in his first full season at Jackson State.

Will Coach Prime win the first bowl game of his career? Or will the Celebration Bowl continue to favor the MEAC?

2021 Celebration Bowl Preview

South Carolina State

Unfortunately, 2021 has been a tumultuous season for Pough and the Bulldogs. South Carolina State started the year 1-4 but rallied to win five of their last six games. They earned a bid to the 2021 Celebration Bowl by going undefeated in their conference and claiming the crown.

The offense is led by Corey Fields at quarterback. Fields have thrown for 2,144 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions with a 50.6 completion percentage. Field’s favorite receivers are Shaquan Davis and Will Vereen. The combo has produced 1,336 yards and eight touchdowns on 82 receptions this year.

The most reliable player on the South Carolina State offense is running back Kendrell Flowers. He has run the ball 158 times in 2021, rushing for 811 yards and ten touchdowns.

Bulldogs Defense

Meanwhile, on defense, Octaveon Minter and Shaeem Haltiwanger lead the charge upfront. BJ Davis and Chad Gilchrist run the defense from the middle of the field, and the two linebackers are the leading tacklers on the Bulldogs’ defense.

Ultimately, the best playmakers on the team are defensive backs Decobie Durant, Zafir Kelly, and Jaylen Evans. They all have great ball skills and can make quarterbacks pay if they are careless with the football.

The defense is the Bulldogs’ strength, as they have the top scoring defense in the MEAC, the top rushing defense, and the second-best passing defense.

Jackson State Tigers

Sanders has only coached for one full season but has already turned Jackson State into an HBCU powerhouse.

Sanders went 4-3 in the Spring season in 2021. But after only his first full season, he has his first conference championship and his first bowl appearance. They punched their ticket to the 2021 Celebration Bowl with an 11-1 record, only losing by five points to Louisiana-Monroe.

Sanders put his son, Shedeur Sanders, under center, and it’s worked out well for the Tigers. Sanders is the second-leading passer in the SWAC with 3,056 yards, a 67.9 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns, and only six interceptions.

Keith Corbin is the Tigers’ leading receiver, with 65 receptions, 897 yards, and six touchdowns. Jackson State splits rushing duties evenly, with Peytton Picket and Santee Marshall only separated by three carries and nine yards. Pickett does have five touchdowns to Marshall’s three, but they combined for 201 carries and 861 yards.

Tigers Defense

Jackson State’s offense is impressive and ranks as the second-scoring offense in the SWAC, but their defense is first.

Defensive lineman Antwan Owens, along with linebackers Aubrey Miller and James Houston are the reason Jackson State is the leader in the conference in sacks. The trio combines for 24 sacks, with Houston racking up a solid 14 solo. Miller is only one tackle shy of the conference lead, as he has an even 100.

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With Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders at head coach, the defensive backfield was bound to be outstanding. In fact, Jackson State led the conference in interceptions, with Silmon-Craig Cam’ron and Shiloh Sanders, yet another member of the Sanders family, pitching in to help.

Watch out on special teams as well, since Isaiah Bolden is the SWAC leader in kick return yards and Warren Newman is second in punt return yards. The duo nearly combined for 1,000 yards in returns in 2021, and they share three special team touchdowns between them.

The Jackson State team has been unstoppable against FCS competition, which is why Las Vegas favors them by ten points. However, the Bulldogs are hoping for an upset in the 2021 Celebration Bowl, hoping Pough’s experience will win out in Deion Sanders’ first bowl game.