Rattler defense a critical unit for must-win games

Finishing next to last in defense in the MEAC conference left a bad taste in the mouth of Rattler football team last season. Despite a (1-2) record FAMU has improved game to game as the season progresses. In camp the main focus was to revamp a defense that struggled in 2006 as the coaching staff was forced to play underclassmen that had to go through growing pains.

The Rattlers worked on swarming the ball and finishing tackles.

The worth of those pains were felt this year until the breakout game against Howard where the defense was able to display their first dominating performance in front of the home crowd at Bragg Stadium.

On September 15th seniors Tyrone McGriff, Dannel Shepard anchored the FAMU defense as the Rattlers shut down the balanced attacking Howard offense. McGriff and Shepard had two sacks apiece while McGriff had four tackles for loss and Shepard had two. The Rattlers had five sacks compared to none the week before.

The constant pressure by the front seven was a result of an aggressive defense playing with a sense of urgency. “We had to attack their weakness, they couldn’t pick up the blitz,” said middle linebacker Vernon Wilder.

In a must win game, the Rattler defense was able to execute great defensive play calling by the coaching staff which set the tone for the game as the interior defense kept the pressure on Howard quarterback Brian Johnson. “When one person makes a play it motivates everybody to make plays,” continued Wilder.

Currently the Rattlers are third in the conference in total defense. After giving up 453 total yards to the Southern University the defense has buckled down and gained confidence in season that is far from being over. “The defense is a better unit together that plays off of each other, their time together has really helped in the development of the youth,” said head coach Rubin Carter.

In a 20-7 loss to Delaware State, FAMU held the Hornets to under four yards a carry and stood tall as the Hornets only converted 3 of 12 first downs giving up just under 300 total yards. Howard converted 2 of 11 first downs as the Rattlers gave up 221 yards and a season low 17 points.

With a defense built on speed the Rattlers fell the need to attack opponents and force turnovers to put the offense in position to put points on the scoreboard.

“Defense wins championships.” “If we don’t let them score then they don’t win,” said junior linebacker Victoriano Arboleda.

Progression is vital to boost the confidence of a young Rattler defense that has only four senior starters. Eight games remain on the Rattler schedule starting with the Atlanta Classic Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

After the Classic, The rattlers have seven must win MEAC conference games remaining on the schedule. The Rattlers will probably have to win all of those to make the playoffs.