There's a big reason why Jackson State and Bethune-Cookman have been playing extremely well this year. It's because of their quarterbacks.
Jackson State signal caller Casey Therriault is the No. 3 rated passing quarterback in the FCS.
Therriault, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior, has completed 154-of-257 passes for 2,089 yards including 20 touchdowns and just three interceptions. As a result, the Tigers have the No. 1 passing offense in the nation and are averaging 34.67 points a game, 10th in the nation.
HBCU football on ESPNU
Bethune-Cookman quarterback Matt Johnson has been impressive making plays with his arm and his legs. Johnson has connected on 86-of-127 passes for 1,269 yards with nine TDs and two interceptions. He has the Wildcats ranked No. 1 in total offense, averaging 507.00 yards and 43.87 points a game.
Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy recruited Therriault out of Grand Rapids Community College. A year ago, he threw for 2,169 yards and 24 TDs while leading GRCC to a JUCO national championship game appearance before losing to Snow College, 41-37.
Comegy knew he landed a special player when Therriault decided to play for the Tigers.
"We knew he could throw the football," Comegy said. "You don't know about leadership until you meet a person. He's a humble guy. He's under control. He's not running around here thinking that he's a prolific passer or great or anything like that. He's got the team pretty much following him as the offensive leader the way a quarterback should be I think. You know, I like the level headness of him, but yet in still when he's on the field he's a good leader. He's demanding out there on them. The quarterback has to be demanding. You come along every once in awhile you get a kid like that. We're happy to have him."
Comegy was very happy to have him during Jackson State's 49-45 win over Southern last week when he threw a 28-yard game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Rico Richardson with four seconds remaining.
"He under control no matter what," Comegy said. "He keeps the offense under control. They're very confident that he can deliver and try to find a way to get open. Rico Richardson did a fine job of making a beautiful catch down there. He made that final catch for us to win the game."
Like Therriault, Johnson also stepped up in a huge MEAC game. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 198 yards to lead Bethune-Cookman to a 14-0 win at two-time defending MEAC champion South Carolina State. The Wildcats snapped the Bulldogs 21-game conference winning streak. Johnson engineered an important 90-yard drive in the third quarter, which produced a one-yard TD run by running back Androse Bell.
This wasn't one of Bethune-Cookman's high-scoring games. Nevertheless, it was Johnson's brilliant play that made the difference. Wildcats head coach Brian Jenkins feels Johnson has benefited from watching a lot of tape and good coaching.
"I think it's a couple of things that's contributing to Matt's performance," Jenkins said. "One is Matt is a young man that studies film. He does it religiously. That's one of the reasons he's having success. Two, he has a great setup for a guy who is playing the quarterback position. He has a great [offensive] coordinator in Mark Orlando who is very experienced at the quarterback spot. He played quarterback at Florida State and has been a coordinator for many, many years and won many championships doing some of the things we're doing.
"His quarterback coach Danny Barrett who I consider one of the best in college football and one time was an All-American quarterback for Cincinnati. He was the second African-American head coach in the CFL. He was the coordinator at Buffalo and knows the passing game very well. He's been working with Matt diligently on his skills. Surrounding Matt with the best of coaching and Matt taking in the initiative to master the skills is why he's getting the results that he's getting."
Therriault and Johnson aren't just putting up numbers. The statistics have helped to propel their teams to the top. Jackson State (5-1, 3-1) is in first place in the SWAC's Eastern Division. Bethune-Cookman (6-0, 4-0) is tied for first place with Hampton (5-1, 4-0) in the MEAC.
Jackson State will visit Texas Southern (3-3, 3-1) in Houston on Saturday, while Bethune-Cookman travels to Durham to play North Carolina Central (2-4). You can bet both teams will have their hands full trying to stop Therriault and Johnson.
• Florida A&M running back, Philip Sylvester was selected as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Sylvester rushed for 153 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns in the Rattlers 31-0 shut out win over Savannah State. Sylvester posted 8.5 yards per rush with a long run of 69 yards.
• Delaware State defensive tackle Andre Carroll was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Carroll had 16 total tackles, eight solo with 4.5 for a loss of 21 yards in the Hornets 31-26 victory over North Carolina A&T.
• Antwon Chisholm came up in a big way to earn MEAC Rookie of the Week honors. Chisholm rushed for 98 of Hampton's 153 yards and scored the only touchdown of the game as the Pirates edged Norfolk State, 7-6. The freshman running back scored on a seven-yard run to keep Hampton undefeated in league play.
• Grambling State running back Frank Warren was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Warren carried 29 times for 202 yards and four rushing touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 19 yards and another score. The Tigers defeated Alcorn State 38-28 to remain undefeated in conference play. Warren is currently the second leading rusher in the nation at 155.5 yards a game.
• Arkansas-Pine Bluff linebacker Jer-ryan Harris was selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Harris had 12 total tackles (three solo) and two tackles for loss (11 yards) in UAPB's 21-14 win over Alabama A&M. He also forced a fumble. Harris, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound freshman, is currently ninth in the nation and leading the SWAC in tackles (11.5 a game).
• When Bethune-Cookman defeated then-No. 1 ranked South Carolina State in black college football, that loss shook up the HBCU football polls. SBN Sports Network and Boxtorow.com/BASN have replaced South Carolina State with a new No. 1. Both polls have Grambling State (5-1) in the top spot. The HSRN Division I FCS top-10 has Bethune-Cookman at No.1.
• Kory Kowalski had a big day punting the football in Bethune-Cookman's win over South Carolina State. Kowalski punted the ball seven times for 262 yards (37.4 average), including three inside the South Carolina State 20-yard line. He also recorded 162 yards on three kickoffs in the Wildcats' victory.
• Cliff Exama continues to be one of the SWAC's best play-making defensive players. The Grambling State linebacker recorded 17 tackles (seven solo) and one interception in the Tigers win over Alcorn State.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.