Just The Facts: FAMU-Bethune-Cookman Florida Classic Gameday Preview – Tallahassee.com

FAMU FOOTBALL: Just the Facts

No. 23 Florida A&M (8-2, 6-1 SWAC) at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (2-8, 2-5 SWAC)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (EST) – Camping World Stadium, Orlando  

Live Stream/Radio: ESPN+/Rattler Sports Network/90.5 WANM-FM

The skinnyThis is the 76th meeting overall and 41st under the moniker of the Florida Classic for FAMU and B-CU.

The Rattlers lead the all-time series at  50–24–1. They are 21-19 playing in the Florida Classic. B-CU closed the gap with its current nine-year winning streak.

Saturday’s game marks the first time these in-state foes will square off as members of the SWAC. They both left the MEAC after the 2019 season. 

Last year’s game was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

FAMU enters the contest nationally ranked at No. 23. Its record is 8-2 and 7-1 in the SWAC.

With a win, the Rattlers have a strong chance to earn an at-large bid in the FCS playoffs. Seeding in the national tournament will be announced on Sunday.

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B-CU’s debut season in the SWAC hasn’t gone according to plan. The Wildcats were 0-8 before winning two in a row. They stand at 2-5 in conference play.

However, this is a rivalry game. So, it’s a case of picking a favorite cliché when describing this historic matchup.

“This has been a game we’ve been keeping on the back of our minds for two years now. We haven’t been able to talk about much – remembering the phrase of being where our feet are,” FAMU head coach Willie Simmons said. 

“Our guys have done a good job of being focused. Our playoff chances are on the line. There are two streaks. The winning streak we’re on and the nine-game losing streak in the Florida Classic. We don’t talk about the streak. We’re focused on playing our best game.”

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Rory Sharrock, Tallahassee Democrat

Best case scenarioFrom an offensive standpoint, FAMU can dominate in the run and passing game.

This all starts with the protection of the offensive line. These heavy hitters up front have improved the most of all the position groups throughout the season. 

“Our thoughts are going in with a level head and not making the game too big. We know what we have to offer and what we need to do,” FAMU offensive lineman Jalen Brayboy said. 

“It’s about being where our feet are at. We’re not focused on the streak because we’re thinking about losing.” 

The hat-on-hat blocking creates space for the running back trio of Bishop Bonnett, Terrell Jenning and Jaylen McCloud to carve through the defense.

Each back presents a different style.

Bonnett is the elusive dasher and home run hitter. He uses his agility and breakaway speed with his runs.

Jennings and McCloud are the downhill players. They shed tacklers and fall forward on their carries.

The rushing total for FAMU goes between 150 and 200 yards. This also results in the Rattlers milking minutes in the time of possession battle.

Quarterback Rasean McKay takes advantage of the Wildcats for stuffing the box with darts to slot receiver Jah’Marae Sheread. 

They have great chemistry. Sheread has scored a touchdown in five straight games.

Although the numbers are down from last year, deep threats Xavier Smith and David Manigo still must be respected. In a flash, they can still bring down long passes for scores.

On defense, FAMU feasts on quarterback sacks.

Linebacker Isaiah Land leads the nation with 17 this season.

If he’s not wrapping up quarterbacks, he’s making them roll out faster than they’d like. This leads to rushed throws that could result in overthrown balls or interceptions.

The Rattlers are seventh in the country in third-down stops at 28%. This leaves the Wildcats little to work with in terms of sustaining drives. 

Over time, fatigue sets in and FAMU begins to pull away with ease.

Worst case scenarioB-CU has some mojo following its modest two-game winning streak.

The Wildcats excelled over Alcorn State and Grambling State by forcing seven turnovers.

They beat FAMU in 2018 and 2019 by collecting six turnovers. 

This level of aggression on defense becomes an issue for the Rattlers.

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There has been a lack of consistency with B-CU in 2021.

However, tight end Kemari Averett has been a steady hand. He’s used his mitts to have 45 receptions, 812 yards and eight touchdowns. 

Despite the attention, Averett still gets open on routes. These completed targets move the chains and ultimately put points on the board.

Who wins and whyThis is the third Florida Classic for head coach Simmons. 

As a native of nearby Quincy, he knows all about the history of this rivalry.

Since taking the job at FAMU, he has restored relevance to the program.

The head Rattler has several popular sayings referred to as “Willie-isms.” One of the most popular phrases is “excellence is the standard.” 

During his tenure, FAMU has been a model of excellence. 

It’s featured on an ESPN+ docuseries. It’s a magnet for top high school recruits and collegiate transfers. It’s a trending buzz search on social media.

However, a win over the arch-rival Wildcats has eluded Simmons and stands as the lone blemish on his FAMU résumé. 

Another popular Willie-ism is “do the little things right.”

This year, the Rattlers do the little things right by minimizing penalties. 

This year, the Rattlers do the little things right by taking a sack instead of forcing a pass that gets intercepted. 

This year, the Rattlers do the little things right by using proper angles while pursuing ball carriers.

This year, the bus ride back to Tallahassee is full of laughter and not trip sulking over regrets.

Simmons wore No. 7 as a quarterback back in the day. He gets a two-point conversion on Saturday and ends nine years of frustration for the Rattler.

Final score: FAMU 31, B-CU 14

Follow FAMU beat writer Rory Sharrock on Twitter @rattlernews and @married2game1.

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