This Saturday the Florida A&M Rattlers will go back on the road to face conference opponent South Carolina State. The Rattlers will look to extend their overall series advantage against the Bulldogs (29-25-2).
FAMU is riding a four-game winning streak following Saturday’s 28-21 homecoming victory against North Carolina Central. Against the Eagles, the Rattlers came out with energy but penalties and bad snaps and allowed the Eagles to stay in striking distance.
FAMU coach Willie Simmons talked about the past three games being decided by 7 points or less during his Tuesday press conference.
“Well again I think the most important aspect of it all is that we’re winning, and that’s what we take away from it every week. We look to see how we can improve win, lose or draw,” Simmons said.
“When you come back to work on that Sunday you look for ways to get better as a football team. When they hit the field it’s the same thing: how can we get better,” Simmons said.
Since Oliver “Buddy” Pough took the helm at S.C. State in 2002 the Rattlers have managed to beat the Bulldogs only one time. In last year’s match against the Bulldogs, FAMU lost to S.C. State 44-21 at Bragg Memorial Stadium.
“Well, Saturday is my birthday and so I’m going to have either a rewarding birthday saying that we won another game and our quarterback baring some unforeseen event becoming the school all-time leading passer, or for the first time in my coaching career lose a game after homecoming,” Simmons said.
“The two main storylines are obviously is Ryan close to breaking to record, Buddy Pough one win away from becoming the all-time winningest coach there,” Simmons said.
“But there are a lot of other stories that make this game very special and we’ll be looking forward to going up this weekend making sure that we focus on what we need to do, to be on the win side of all the history.”
FAMU quarterback Ryan Stanley needs just 27 yards to pass Quinn Gray (7,378) to become FAMU’s all-time leading passer.
The Rattlers are first in the MEAC in pass offense averaging 296 yards per game. Xavier Smith will be the player to watch against the S.C. State defense, which is ranked first in the MEAC in passing defense giving up 174 passing yards per game.
Simmons raved about his star wide receiver, his performance the last three games and how important it is to place the ball in his hands for this upcoming game.
“Xavier is the best receiver in the conference right now. I don’t think anybody will disagree with that,” Simmons said.
“He’s shown that he’s a weapon and I think the only thing at this point that can stop Xavier Smith is me, and not giving him the ball enough. We got to find innovative ways to get the ball in his hands and allow him to continue to be the dynamic player that he is.”
An area of concern is FAMU’ running game. It ranks eighth in the MEAC while S.C. State’s rushing defense ranks third in the MEAC. Without a running game, there is more pressure on Stanley to make plays and extend drives down the field.
For FAMU to win this game, Bishop Bonnet must lead and set the tone with the ground game and get started early. Yes S.C. State is ranked third in the MEAC in rushing defense, but opponents average 135 yards per game on the ground against them.
By running the ball efficiently, it can open opportunities for the passing game and take some pressure off Stanley.
Another area of concern is FAMU’s passing defense which they ranked dead last in the MEAC giving up 251 yards per game, while S.C. State ism second in pass offense averaging 230.2 yards per game. Simmons explained how important defensive back Markquese Bell is and how he sets the tone.
“Well what Xavier has been to our offense Markquese has been to our defense. He’s a big-time playmaker but then again that’s not a surprise when you see the way he works,” Simmons said.
“If you come watch us practice, he flies around. He’s full speed, he’s a leader even as a sophomore on the field.”
The game takes place at 2 p.m. Saturday at Oliver C. Bulldog Stadium and it will be broadcast on ESPN3.