The Rattlers knew as early as Wednesday or Thursday they would be without offensive coordinator Quinn Gray for Saturday’s game against Tennessee State University. They made plans to adjust.
But the headsets Florida A&M’s coaches were using gave no warning before they stopped working in the first quarter of FAMU’s home-opening, 27-7 loss to TSU.
“It was a recipe for disaster,” head coach Earl Holmes said.
The Rattlers (1-1) came out throwing the ball early. Junior quarterback Damien Fleming completed his first three passes for 21 yards before his fourth attempt was intercepted by David Van Dyke and returned 46 yards for the score two and a half minutes into the game.
The Tigers (1-1) would force a punt on FAMU’s next possession and drive 65 yards in eight plays to take a 14-0 lead with 6:31 remaining in the first quarter.
The Rattlers would get their lone touchdown on a 36-yard toss to the endzone a minute into the second quarter from Fleming to Lenworth Lennon, who finished with a game-high 66 yards on five receptions. But TSU responded immediately as Martine Stevenson returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown.
Stevenson was one of three Tigers with more than 100 all-purpose yards, joining running backs Tim Broughton (17 rush, 124 yards, 1 TD) and Telvin Hooks (12 rush, 77 yards, 1 TD), who also combined for 56 receiving yards.
The Rattlers rushing attack, which combined for almost 200 yards Sunday against Mississippi Valley State University, averaged less than one yard per carry against the Tigers.
“Their d-line, they were just giving us havoc all night,” said senior running back James Owens (9 rush, 24 yards), who finished with 100 all-purpose yards.
TSU head coach Rod Reed said the Tigers got a great pass rush all game.
“That’s one thing we want to do to quarterbacks, is get them uncomfortable in the pocket,” said Reed, adding that quarterbacks are less effective when they cannot just set up, step up and throw the ball.
Fleming, who was hurried twice and sacked three times, completed 12 of 27 passes for 134 yards. But Holmes said he commends him on his effort.
“I can’t put any blame on Damien …,” Holmes said. “He’s looking at us on the sideline to get something, but we couldn’t give him anything because we couldn’t communicate up top what was going on.”
Holmes said Fleming had to have the green light to call plays based on what he was reading from the defense.
“But at the same time, he needed somebody in his ear and there was no one there to be in his ear,” he said.
Senior linebacker Michael Ducre and senior safety Jon Ojo were bright spots on a defense that gave up nearly 400 yards but only two touchdowns. Ducre and Ojo finished with 12 and 11 tackles respectively.
“We gotta help each other,” Holmes said. “What I mean by that is you got to put together some drives so the defense can rest as well as trying to go out and get our offense back the ball.
“I can tell you that there’s a lot of things we can learn from this. I understand as a coach you can’t grow through the victories. You got to grow through the defeats.”
Holmes and the Rattlers expect to have Gray back for Saturday’s game against Samford University. Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Bragg Memorial Stadium.