Last week, Florida A&M played its most important game of the young season. After losing to Alabama State in the season opener, FAMU got a much-needed victory over Morgan State at home.
Saturday, the Rattlers (1-1) will play in their biggest game this year, as they travel to Gainesville for a meeting with No. 20 Florida.
The Gators (1-1) are coming off of a 23-point meltdown against Miami in the Orange Bowl. While they may be looking at this match-up as a chance to fine-tune their team for next week’s game against Tennessee, the Rattlers want to make a game out of it.
“We just have to start out strong,” receiver Rod Miller said. “We started off slow in our first two games, and then came on strong. With a team like Florida, every little bit counts.”
Because of the slow starts, special teams played a big role in deciding FAMU’s first two games. In the opener, short punts and long returns caused the Rattlers to be down two touchdowns before they could blink. Last week punter Damon Miller averaged over 45 yards per punt.
“We focused a lot on punting this week,” linebacker Shedrick Copeland said. “It’s going to take us some time to adjust to Florida’s speed, so I’m assuming we’re going to punt a lot early in the game.”
FAMU may match up better against the Gators than it did against its two I-A opponents a year ago, Miami and Troy State. The Rattlers were simply outmatched by the Hurricanes, and lost 63-17 in the season opener. By the time FAMU met up with Troy State in the second-to-last game of the season, the Rattlers were too decimated with injuries to be a threat to the Trojans. Troy State won 24-7.
This time around, the Rattlers, are healthy for the most part and in their eyes, not playing an overly superior team.
“I’m not intimidated,” Copeland said. “Some of the younger guys might be, especially playing in front of the big crowd in the big stadium, but I’m not.”
FAMU quarterback Ben Dougherty has played very well in the team’s first two games, racking up 693 total yards and five touchdowns so far. He threw for 317 yards and two scores last week.
“[Dougherty] is so cognizant in the pocket,” FAMU coach Billy Joe said. “He has become acclimated to the Gulf Coast Offense so fast. I’ve been extremely pleased with his performance so far this season.”
Joe started two freshmen receivers last week, Gerard Morgan and Cardan Alexander, over two of his experienced wideouts. The result was a combined 10-catch effort, and an offense that moved the ball with ease. Saturday, Morgan and Alexander will start again.
Defensively, the Rattlers will have their hands full. FAMU’s secondary got beat deep on several occasions, but Morgan State’s quarterbacks failed to hook up with its receivers.
With the Rattlers facing the speedy Carlos Perez and Kelvin Kight on Saturday, Joe says that getting pressure up front should help the secondary.
“We need to keep the heat on the quarterback,” Joe said. “Given time, most receivers will beat a [defensive back]. The best pass defense is a good pass rush.”
Kevin Fair can be reached at email@example.com.