TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Bragg Memorial Stadium has long earned a reputation as an intimidating venue for opponents of Florida A&M.
Since 2002, South Carolina State under head coach Buddy Pough has shown an immunity to Rattler “venom." The Bulldogs have not lost in Tallahassee since 2002 and are 8-0 with Pough on the sidelines.
Having snapped the program’s 14-game losing streak to S.C. State two years ago in Orangeburg, Florida A&M head coach Willie Simmons would like to do the same for Pough’s perfect record in Tallahassee Saturday night.
“We’re arguably playing the (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) champs this weekend and so that adds a little spice to it as well, and the fact ... Coach Pough has not lost at Bragg Memorial Stadium,” said Simmons during Monday’s Southwestern Athletic Conference Zoom conference.
“I know Coach, a ton of respect for him. He’s on the last quarter of his coaching career and I want to put a little notch on his belt to make sure that he doesn’t leave saying that he’s never lost at Bragg Memorial Stadium.”
While the game is not a conference matchup as in years past, Simmons believes it can go a “long way” toward helping FAMU achieve its goals in its first season in the SWAC. The Rattlers (2-2, 1-0) are coming off a 28-0 shutout of Alabama State in their new conference opener.
It was the team’s first shutout since Oct. 6, 2018, against Norfolk State. Linebacker Isaiah Land had a career-best three of the Rattlers’ four sacks as they held the Hornets to 197 total yards.
Simmons described Land as playing “lights out football” in leading the defensive front along with Florida State transfer defensive end Deonte Williams. Going six-deep in the interior defensive line helps FAMU keep up pressure on the quarterback throughout the game, according to Simmons.
With the addition of Central Florida transfer safety Antwan “AC” Collier and improved play from cornerback Kourtney Cox, the defense has “all guys doing it, one to 11," Simmons said.
“That's their motto over there and they buy into that,” he said. “They’re playing for one another. They’re not looking for accolades. They’re looking for dominance on that side of the ball and four of the five games, we’ve done that.”
A similar effort will be needed Saturday against what Simmons called a “dynamic” passing offense that has averaged 30 points a contest and 41 in its two Football Championship Subdivision games. He called quarterback Corey Fields a “phenomenal football player” based on his performance in the 2019 meeting and said the key is to make S.C. State “one dimensional”.
"(Fields) is an elite quarterback and so, if we can make it where they’re one dimensional, then our defensive line with Isaiah Land, Deonte Williams, those guys can get after the quarterback,” Simmons said. “For us, that’s where it starts. We have to stop the run. We have to dominate the line of scrimmage and then we have to tackle and keep the ball in front of us.”
Offensively, it’s “running back by committee” with Bishop Bonnett, Terrell Jennings and Jalen McCloud forming a “three-headed monster,” according to Simmons. While quarterback Rasean McCay has played “solid football” and is improving each game, Simmons believes the running game will dictate the team’s success right now.
“It's going to be a hard-fought football game because that’s what you get when you play South Carolina State and Buddy Pough,” Simmons said.
Thomas Grant Jr. reported on The T&D Region sports scene for two decades as a Times and Democrat staffer. In 2014, he became sports editor of The Lexington County Chronicle and The Dispatch-News in Lexington.