By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — There were some good things on display in the opener for Tennessee State, a game marking the debut of former All-Pro and Titans star Eddie George as the Tigers’ head coach. But unfortunately there weren’t enough of them to prevent TSU from taking a 16-10 loss at the hands of Grambling in the 2021 Black College Hall of Fame Classic, held in Canton, Ohio. It was the renewal of a formerly fierce HBCU rivalry that hadn’t been resumed before Sunday since 2002. The game was nationally televised on the NFL Network.
The first major problem concerned offensive and defensive discipline. The Tigers were called for 10 first half penalties, 18 in all, and they lost more yards in penalties than they gained either running or passing. TSU had a total of 230 yards, 118 through the air and 112 on the ground. The second was inconsistent quarterback play. The Tigers played three quarterbacks and none distinguished themselves. Tucker Pope started and played a couple of first quarter series. Geremy Hickbottom, a Grambling transfer, entered next and Deveon Bryant was in the lineup for the lone touchdown. Pope had started due to COVID-19 tracing issues. Hickbottom had the most success, completing eight of 10 passes for 65 yards. Bryant was only four of 12 and Pope one for two. Running back Devon Starling was TSU’s best player during the spring, and looks to be that way in the fall. Starling had 88 yards on 18 carries and got the only Tigers’ touchdown in the third quarter. Had he not been going against overly stacked defensive lines in the second half he might have gotten over 100 yards rushing. As it was he’s thus far the only dependable offensive weapon. A second possible one, if the Tigers can find a reliable passer, is receiver Vincent Perry.
The former Hillsboro and Tennessee player had four receptions for 44 yards, including a 31-yarder in the first quarter that led to a 39-yard field goal from Antonio Zita. He’s another formidable scoring threat, but the Tigers simply cannot make as many mistakes on both sides of the ball as they did Saturday against anyone and expect to win.
The Tigers will have their second straight high-profile game Saturday in Memphis, with the resumption of the Southern Heritage Classic against Jackson State. The coaching matchup between TSU’s George and Jackson State’s Deion Sanders has been discussed for weeks and provides even more interest for a game that unfortunately has been cancelled the past two seasons due to weather one year and COVID-19 the next.
National interest will be quite high.