The 20th Annual Bank of America Football Classic is in Atlanta this weekend. The rivalry between Florida A&M and Tennessee State Universities are the hottest ticket in town.
The Rattlers are hoping to grab their fifth consecutive victory-their first under head coach Joe Taylor. Last year’s 18-17 nail biting victory was the product of a four-quarter defensive battle.
The Rattlers will enter the game at (2-1) compared to Tennessee State’s undefeated record of (4-0). Sophomore cornerback LeRoy Vann is ranked first in the MEAC for accumulating 339 kick return yards and two touchdowns on the season.
“We’ve been working on getting to the ball quicker during defensive practice, basically playing faster after the snap,” said LeRoy on defensive improvements.
Rattler players admit the Tigers may have one of the most athletic defensive lines that they have faced all season. Junior offensive lineman Anthony Collins has been a key factor in the success of the Rattlers offensive pass and run game.
“During practice game planning has been one of our main focuses,” Anthony said. “Working out is always a physical key to being prepared on Saturdays.”
The Tigers transfer quarterback, Antonio Heffner who was named Ohio Valley Conference player of the week two consecutive times, led TSU to a conference victory over Eastern Kentucky, completing 20-of-28 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers 34-20 victory.
All-American senior linebacker Vernon Wilder is off to a great season with 21 tackles. Wilder is an imperative asset to the Rattler’s defensive core.
“We’ve prepared mentally and physically for their offense by simply practicing hard everyday,” Wilder said.
Wilder has displayed vital nuts and bolts at the linebacker position earning a mark in the top 10 of the MEAC defensive rankings.
“A key element we’ve worked on daily is the proper execution of our personal assignments,” Wilder said.
Rattler defensive coordinator Tim Edwards said, “We focus on the basic fundamentals and techniques. We’re headed in the right direction to a successful defensive package as a whole.”
He also said, “It’s a long ride and we’re still early into it. Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s are the days we grind the hardest.”
Tiger’s moved up to the number 23 spot from number 25 in The Sports Networks FCS poll for the week of Sept. 22, 2008.
The Tigers are off to their best start in several years with the help of Antonio Heffner as well as All-Americans Cornelius Lewis and Javarris Williams.
Williams is the top returning rusher in the Ohio Valley Conference for 2008. He finished the 2007 season with 1,187 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He ranks third nationally as the active rusher in the FCS and has 15 over 100 yard career rushing games.
“We’ve made the proper adjustments on defense to fit their type of offense. Their quarterback is very athletic he can hurt you with his arm and his feet,” said assistant defensive head coach George Small. “Maintaining the defenses discipline while they execute carrying out their assignments has also been a focal point of our coaching.”
Rattler quarterback Eddie Battle presently is 26 for 48 with 359 passing yards on the season. With the help of transfer quarterback Curtis Pulley the Rattler offense may have added another dimension to their offensive passing game.
“Our coaching staff prepared us very well during training camp for every scheme a defense may show against us,” Battle said.
“On offense our motto is to take what the defense gives us.” Battle also said the team watched films to prepare themselves for the game.
“We watched film on TSU to determine what type of coverage’s they run,” Battle said. “Any great team doesn’t change what they do they only get better at it.”
Taylor said, “We watch film not only to learn our opponents, but to study ourselves and correct our own mistakes.”
During each of the past three years the winner of this intense rivalry has been decided in the last few minutes of the game.
Taylor said, “Alignment and assignment is a key tool we must utilize daily in order to be successful on game day.”