The 20th Annual Atlanta Classic served as a highly anticipated contest between the Florida A&M University Rattlers and the Tennessee State University Tigers. FAMU overran TSU 31-12 in front of 51,950 fans at the Georgia Dome Saturday.
“As a football player and as a competitor you should never shy away from any competition,” senior receiver Javares Knight said.
Going into the game, many expected senior Leroy Vann to break Football Championship Subdivision record for punt return touchdowns in a single season. TSU, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, knew the weapon FAMU possessed on special teams and successfully sought to shut him down. The Tigers covered Vann heavily for punt returns and he was kept relatively quiet, save for a 24-yard return in the second half. Vann, however, turned in one of his better defensive performances, with five tackles, including two tackles for a loss.
TSU relied on a strong running game, as evidenced by a 77-yard run near the end of the first quarter. In total, the Tigers rushed for 167 yards, and passed for 107 yards, keeping a mostly balanced offensive attack throughout the game.
Although head coach Joe Taylor expressed a desire to keep a balanced offensive attack, this game was one of FAMU’s more skewed efforts to date, with senior quarterback Curtis Pulley throwing for 315 yards, while the Rattlers only chalked up 85 yards on the ground. Running back Eddie Rocker led the FAMU rushing attack with 36 yards, 20 of which came on a single pickup late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
“You just watch film on the opponent, see where they might be vulnerable. Making a game plan is nothing less than really preparing for war. We knew going in that they were doing some things in the secondary that we didn’t think were sound,” Taylor said about the passing attack.
Although the Tigers led 12-10 at halftime, the Rattlers took control after the interval.
FAMU’s defense held the Tigers scoreless in the second half, while the offense scored 21 points on two Pulley touchdown passes and on a Mykel Benson 1-yard run.
This is FAMU’s best start since the Rattlers went 4-1 in the beginning of the 2002 season. At 2-0 the Rattlers not only lead the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference, but they are also in the mix of elite FCS teams, ranked at 25 in the AP Poll and on the rise.
These first four wins are also against teams that have given the Rattlers fits in the past. They dominated Delaware State University for the first time in years. Against TSU, a team that has kept every game against FAMU close over the past six years, they nearly tripled their opponent’s score and almost doubled their opponent’s offensive production with 402 yards.
“Everyone is having their own will to succeed; we understand our capabilities and our talent right now, so we’re all just moving together, trying to get toward the same goal,” Knight said.
The Rattlers are clicking in all aspects of the game. The defense is shutting out opponents throughout entire halves. The offense is putting up numbers behind Pulley’s passing game, not forcing the quarterback to sacrifice his body on long runs. The special teams set up scores behind Vann, who has four returns for touchdowns, and kicker Trevor Scott is hitting his stride, connecting on points after and from long range field goals.
The Rattlers get to rest during their bye week and then travel south to take on the No. 17- ranked Miami Hurricanes, who just suffered their first loss, a 31-7 defeat to Virginia Tech.
“We’re really not getting ready to relax,” senior offensive lineman Robert Okeafor said. “We still have work to do.”
“It’s always good to kind of exhale,” Taylor said. “It’s been a real challenging month because of the two Thursday night games, so it’s good to just really exhale for a little bit.”