FAMU VS NCCU Football Preview

Florida A&M Head Football Coach Willie Simmons answering questions at his weekly press conference
Photo submitted by Bobby Rondil

In Saturday’s homecoming game between Florida A&M University and North Carolina Central University, the Rattlers will look to deliver a win over the Eagles and extend their overall series lead to 7-4-1.

Currently, FAMU is coming off a three-game winning streak with their last win coming against Norfolk State in which they won 30-28. Against the Spartans, the Rattlers played somewhat sloppy, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  FAMU allowed them to convert on more than 50% of their third downs.

In his weekly press conference, FAMU Head Coach Willie Simmons felt that after their high- scoring thriller against Southern University, the team was running on fatigue in their first conference road game.

“To go on the road after the biggest non-homecoming crowd ever to an environment that was nowhere near that, I thought (that) took an early toll on our team,” Simmons said.

“I thought they were a little flat at times, and we didn’t have the juice that we needed,” Simmons added.

Expect for a different Rattlers team to show up this week around against the Eagles. Although the team is already motivated to get their second win in a row against NCCU this week, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of home cooking. Being that this is homecoming week, the Rattlers should be more than equipped to handle business.

In last year’s contest against the Eagles,  FAMU cruised their way to a 55-14 victory, making it the highest margin of victory in the fourteen meetings the teams have played.

This win should be even more easy to grasp with NCCU having a first-year head coach in Trei Oliver calling the plays. Oliver is in his first head coaching stint as he originally spent his last three years as Southern University’s defensive coordinator.

However, one cause for concern for the Rattlers should be the Eagles’ rushing attack behind the  running back duo of Isaiah Totten and Jordan Freeman. Combined, they average 170-yards rushing per game, which currently ranks second within the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), only trailing behind reigning conference champions North Carolina A&T.

Also, another statistic that may be a cause for concern is the number of points the Rattlers have given up so far this season.  Currently, the average amount of points FAMU has given up on the defensive side of the ball sits at a gut-wrenching 32 points per contest.

Coach Simmons explained why the defensive scoring statistic should be looked at even further and why there’s more than numbers when it comes to the Rattler defense.

“I think it’s very important for everyone to understand that the statistics at this point are really skewed (because) we’ve played one of the top offenses in America in the University of Central Florida (UCF),” Simmons stated.

“That’s gonna skew the stats a lot and again a big chunk of that is when we went up against UCF.” “Look at us the last couple of weeks and how we played against our competition, that’s what I like to judge our stats off of,” Simmons exclaimed.

A bright spot for the Rattlers, however, will be in the trenches as the stout rushing defense led by FAMU Defensive Coordinator Ralph Street, currently, ranks second in the MEAC, as they are only giving up an average of 120 rushing yards per game.

To win this game FAMU should focus on running the ball to keep the Eagles defense gasping for air. The reason this sentiment is so important is because NCCU’s defense gives up an average of 170 rushing yards per game, while completely allowing nothing through the air, only giving up 165 passing yards per game. (first in the MEAC)

By running the ball FAMU can win the time of possession while wearing out the Eagles defense allowing them to open up their passing game downfield.

The problem that may come with that strategy is the fact that FAMU averages less than 100 yards rushing per game. When asked about the team’s lack of success running the ball Simmons expressed disappointment

“It has been surprising and frankly disappointing,” Simmons said.

“We knew coming out of the first week we probably weren’t going to run the ball against Central Florida, but then playing against a Division II team (Fort Valley State University) and then two FCS teams (Southern University and Norfolk State University) in the last few weeks and still not being able to eclipse 150 yards rushing has been disappointing,” Simmons stated.

If FAMU can run the ball well while holding the Eagles ground game in check, this could put another “W” in the win column for the Rattlers.

The game will take place at Bragg Memorial Stadium at 2 p.m. and will broadcast on ESPN3.