Florida A&M, S.C. State Game Key for Both
Written by Roscoe Nance, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com Friday, 21 October 2011 21:53
When the season started, Saturday’s game between Florida A&M and South Carolina State had all of the makings of a showdown for the MEAC championship.
Instead, the Rattlers (4-3, 2-2 MEAC) and the Bulldogs (4-3, 3-1) will be playing to just stay alive in the title race when they square off in Orangeburg, S.C.
South Carolina State and Florida A&M shared the 2010 conference title with Bethune-Cookman. South Carolina State was the preseason pick to win this year’s championship, and Florida A&M was picked to finish third, just behind Bethune-Cookman.
However, all three teams have struggled. They have combined to lose five MEAC games already after losing just three among them last season and find themselves looking up at Norfolk State (6-1, 4-0 MEAC) and North Carolina A&T (4-2, 3-0 MEAC) in the conference standings.
“It’s one of those situations where both teams’ backs are against the wall,” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor says.
South Carolina State coach Buddy Pough paints an even bleaker picture.
“The team that loses is done,” Pough says. “I’m not so sure both aren’t done now. We know for sure that the loser is done.”
Both teams have suffered unexpected conference defeats. South Carolina State lost to Norfolk State 17-14 for just the third time in the 17-game series with the Spartans. Florida A&M lost Howard 29-28 on the Rattlers’ homecoming after leading 28-0 in the fourth.
The Rattlers and Bulldogs have had similarly inconsistent seasons. Both have been bitten by the injury bug; both have struggled offensively and have changed quarterbacks – South Carolina State because of injury, Florida A&M because of poor performance.
“It’s uncanny the way we seem to be up and down both of us,” Pough says. “We might have a little bit better conference record, but we’re both behind the eight ball. Both teams have seen big leads get away from us. It’s been an unusual year in our league. You got to be ready to play every week. I don’t know if both of us haven’t gotten caught off guard by some of that stuff.”
Richard Cue, a redshirt sophomore, replaced Derrick Wiley at quarterback for South Carolina State after Wiley suffered a knee injury in the Bulldogs’ 17-14 loss to Norfolk State and is likely out for the season. In games as the starter, Cue has completed 31 of 52 passes for 384 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and he rushed for 137 yards and three more scores.
“He’s doing some good things,” Pough says. “We’re getting a better idea about what he can do, and he’s feeling comfortable.”
After a slow start last week against Georgia State, Cue passed for 213 yards to lead the Bulldogs to a 23-13 come-from-behind victory.
“Looking at him on film, he might be even better (that Wiley),” Florida A&M coach Joe Taylor says. “He’s real accurate (passing). His athleticism is a tad better. We really have to keep an eye on him.”
Freshman Damien Fleming took over at quarterback for Florida A&M in the second of the Rattlers’ game against Southern in the Atlanta Football Classic, replacing Austin Trainor. He rallied them to a 38-33 victory, completing six of eight passes for 76 yards, and has been the starter ever since.
“Ever since he has come in, he has only added energy the football team, not just from an offense standpoint in terms of moving the ball,” Taylor says. “He’s excited the whole team. When he does things, people on the team say, ‘Did we really see that?’ Because of that he’s really put a lot of energy in the team.”
Fleming will face the biggest challenge of his brief college career when he goes against South Carolina State’s defense. The Bulldogs have 13 interceptions, fifth-best in the FCS and tied for No. 8 in turnovers gained with 19.
In addition, South Carolina State has dominated the Rattlers in recent years, winning the last eight times the teams have played. Taylor says it is no great mystery why the Bulldogs, who have won or shared the last three MEAC titles, have dominated Florida A&M and the conference.
“Sometimes it’s Xs and Os; sometimes it’s Jimmies and Joes., ,” Taylor says. “South Carolina State has built a tremendous talent base over the years. That’s what going to make the difference. If it’s ever going to end, it’s going to be because you’ve had a chance to recruit and get your talent base up to a level where you can compete legitimately.”
Taylor says in recent weeks, he has seen signs that the Rattlers have narrowed the talent gap on themselves and the Bulldogs.
“I’ve been encouraged by what I’ve seen the last couple of weeks, in terms of getting out of our own way,” he says. “The key is when you’re not turning the ball over, when your defense is getting off the field on third down and when you’re not dropping passes. I really feel like last week, I saw for the first time what you have to have to be competitive.”
The Rattlers had their most productive game of the season last week in their 47-7 victory against Savannah State. They had their season high for points, total offense (448 yards), rushing yards (291) and first downs (22).
Pough dismisses the Bulldogs’ recent success against Florida A&M.
“We don’t have an eight-game streak against Joe Taylor,” he says. “I don’t know if that has much significance. It’s something that kind of haphazardly happened. These guys will come here and play as good as they can play.”
Bowie State (4-3, 3-2 CIAA) at Elizabeth City State (5-2, 3-1 CIAA): Elizabeth City can take a giant step toward locking up the CIAA Northern Division title with a win. The Vikings are on a roll with five straight after opening the season with back-to-back narrow losses to a pair of nationally ranked NCAA Division II teams, Delta State ad Winston-Salem State. Tailback Daronte McNeill has rushed for 824 yards and 12 touchdowns during the winning streak. Moore has gained 997 yards for the season (142.4 a game), and is No. 7 in Division II. Bowie State’s defense only allows 120 yards a game on the ground.
Shippensburg (3-4) at Cheyney (1-6)
North Carolina A&T (4-2, 3-0 MEAC) at Howard (2-2, 3-4 MEAC)
Fayetteville State (2-5, 2-2 CIAA) at Livingstone (1-6, 0-4 CIAA)
Tuskegee (2-4, 2-2 SIAC) at Kentucky State (4-3, 1-3 SIAC)
Virginia State (3-4, 2-3 CIAA) at Lincoln (Pa.) (2-5, 2-3 CIAA)
Edward Waters (2-4) at Winston-Salem State (7-0)
W. Va. State (1-5) at Shepherd (4-2)
Concordia-Selma (4-3) at Alcorn State (1-4)
Tenn. State (3-4, 2-2 OVC) at Eastern Kentucky (3-3, 2-1 OVC)
Miss. Valley State (0-7, 0-6 SWAC) at Grambling State (2-4, 1-3 SWAC)
Emporia State (2-5) at Lincoln (Mo.) (1-6)
Langston (5-2) at NW Oklahoma State (3-4)
Texas College (0-7) Southern Nazarene (5-2)
Central State (0-7) at Texas Southern (2-4)
Stillman (6-1, 4-0 SIAC) Fort Valley State (1-6, 1-3 SIAC)
North Carolina Central (1-5, 0-3 MEAC) at Hampton (3-3, 1-2 MEAC)
Benedict (2-5, 1-3 SIAC) at Morehouse (5-2, 3-1 SIAC)
Johnson C. Smith (4-3, 3-1 CIAA) at Saint Augustine's (2-5, 1-3 CIAA)
Albany State (5-2, 3-1 SIAC) at Clark Atlanta (2-5, 1-3 SIAC)
Lane (3-4, 1-3 SIAC) at Miles (4-3, 3-1 SIAC)
Shaw (2-5, 2-2 CIAA) at Chowan (0-4, 1-6 CIAA)
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