We’re three weeks into the college football season, and it’s already been a rough year for Florida A&M.
Not that there haven’t been any highlights. The Rattlers won their opener against Mississippi Valley State. The famous FAMU band returned after a 22-month ban that was the result of a hazing death of one of its members. Trayvon Martin’s father came and gave the team a pep talk.
Otherwise, about everything that can go wrong for the 1-2 Florida A&M squad has gone wrong.
Offensive coordinator Quinn Gray had to be hospitalized with an undisclosed illness. He’s not expected to rejoin the team until after the Ohio State game, which means another week of receiver’s coach Ernie Mills filling in. At the worst possible moment during a 27-7 loss to Tennessee State, the team’s headsets stopped working. There has even been an off-the-field tragedy, one that makes all the other struggles pale in comparison: Former player Johnathan Ferrell died after an apparent misunderstanding with North Carolina police.
The Rattlers will try to honor Ferrell with their performance this week, but they are facing a formidable challenge in Ohio State.
First, they’ll have to rectify the lack of discipline they showed in a 27-20 loss to Samford, a loss in which they were whistled for ten penalties.
They can’t blame that on a lack of experience. Coach Earl “The Hitman” Holmes, (who incidentally played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns in 2002), is in his first full year leading the team, but the team itself returned 17 starters, according to the MEAC media guide.
Second, they’ll have to improve on what, to this point, has been a disappointing offense.
Starting quarterback Damien Fleming is in his third year as a starter, and was named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Preseason Co-Offense Player of the Year. Despite this, the Rattlers are only averaging 129.3 passing yards a game, good enough for 97th in the FCS.
Fleming plays behind a line that’s not undersized. The five starting offensive lineman listed on the preseason depth chart average 314.2 pounds. However, they average fewer than 100 rushing yards a game, and they’ve given up 5 sacks so far.
Comparatively speaking, the Florida A&M defense has been okay. They’re tied for 23rd in the FCS in total defense, and in just three games, they’ve forced their opponents into eight turnovers.
Some of the players making an impact there include safety John Ojo, whom Coach Holmes describes as a defensive coordinator on the field. Fellow defensive back Patrick Aiken already has two picks this season. Michael Ducre is the team’s leading tackler. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Brandon Denmark is a team leader who will play out of both a 2-point stance and 3-point stance.
The Buckeyes play FAMU this Saturday at noon on 97.1 The Fan.