Preview: Florida A&M at No. 4 Ohio State

By Kyle Rowland on September 20, 2013 at 9:15a
Let's take this to 16.
Ohio State Buckeyes #4 Ohio State 3-0, 0-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 12:00 PM ET - BTN —— Ohio Stadium Columbus, OH[Tickets] Florida A&M Rattlers Florida A&M 1-2, 0-0 meac Roster | Schedule

Few probably realize it, but Ohio State and Florida A&M already share a strong history. The Rattlers have had a luxury not many FCS schools have been able to replicate – a rich tradition dating back decades. Two of the school’s all-time great coaches earned degrees from Ohio State.

Jake Gaither received his master’s degree from OSU in 1937 before winning more than 200 games and six Black College National Championships at FAMU. In between, he was a victim of racism. Gaither was beloved by his fellow coaches, though, and legends such as Woody Hayes, Bear Bryant, Darrell Royal and Frank Broyles were attendees of his annual coaches clinics.

Gaither was the creator of the famed Split-T offense, which took off at big-time programs around the country. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1975.

One year earlier, Rudy Hubbard was named the head coach at FAMU. He arrived from Old Columbus Town, where he was a running back for the Buckeyes and then an assistant for six years under Hayes, including the 1968 national championship season. Hubbard became the first black assistant coach at Ohio State when Hayes hired him following his playing career.

He was the Buckeyes’ running backs coach and quickly made a name as a recruiter. He lured Archie Griffin, Pete Johnson, Cornelius Greene, Leo Hayden, John Hicks and Neal Colzie to Ohio State, and he would help coach Griffin to two Heisman Trophies.

Hubbard sent several players to the NFL during his time at FAMU, including Nate Newton, Gene Atkins, Frank Marion and Greg Coleman. Stolen base extraordinaire Vince Coleman also played for the Rattlers, as a kicker.

Hubbard led the Rattlers to two Black College National Championships and the 1978 Division I-AA national title. It was the first and only instance where an HBCU was crowned the national champion of the entire division. But it was the next season when FAMU notched the biggest win in school history, defeating the Miami Hurricanes 16-13.

Opponent Breakdown

Florida A&M has two more connections to the state of Ohio. Head coach Earl Holmes was a member of the Cleveland Browns and athletic director Michael Hill is a graduate of Ohio State pipeline Cleveland Glenville.

Following a standout career at FAMU, Holmes played 10 years in the NFL, six with the Steelers, three with the Lions and one with the Browns. His lone season in Cleveland came in 2002, coinciding with the Browns’ only playoff appearance since they re-entered the league in 1999.

Holmes has arguably the biggest play in the New Browns’ franchise history. In the final week of the season, Cleveland had a must-win game to clinch a playoff berth. Leading 24-16 late in the fourth quarter, the Browns forced Atlanta to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the 1. It looked like Warrick Dunn had a clear path to the end zone until Holmes stuffed him just shy of the goal line to preserve the victory.

Earle Holmes, the Last King of Cleveland
Still eats for free in Cleveland.

After the game, Cleveland players stayed on the field and celebrated the moment with their fans. That’s what Holmes remembers most: the fan base.

“There’s a lot of support in Ohio,” he told Eleven Warriors. “As a player, you have to appreciate that. There’s always that 12th man out there, from high school to college to the pros.”

His team will find that out quickly, possibly even Friday night in Columbus. FAMU will be playing in front of the largest crowd in the program’s history on Saturday. Some might be surprised at how rich that history is.

The Rattlers have won 67 percent of their games – 567 total – 12 Black College National Championships, one Division I-AA national title and sent dozens of players to the NFL. The school has four College Football hall of famers to its credit and one of the most famous bands in the world. The Marching 100 has appeared at Super Bowls, foreign countries and even the White House.

FAMU is a national brand, and a football game in Ohio Stadium on national television only adds to the exposure.

“Any time you can help yourself and help your brand in recruiting it’s always a plus,” Holmes said.

Winning that game is Mission: Impossible for the Rattlers. They’re 1-2, coming off losses to Tennessee State and Samford. FAMU is scoring just 18 points per game behind a quarterback and run game that have been sub-par at best.

Running back James Owens is on NFL scouts’ radar, though his season hasn’t gone according to plan. He’s gained 66 yards on 23 carries and caught three passes for 34 yards. Owens is yet to reach the end zone.

He’s only 5-foot-9 and weighs 185 pounds, but Owens has been clocked running a sub-4.3 40. He’s in the mold of a Chris Johnson or C.J. Spiller-like back. Holmes calls him “crafty” when he gets in space.

Quarterback Damien Fleming was an All-MEAC selection a year ago after completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 2,157 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. However, his completion percentage is under 50 percent for this year and he’s tossed five interceptions and only two touchdowns.

Fleming’s top receiver, Lenworth Lennon, is averaging 76 yards per game after hauling in 71 catches, 699 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. FAMU also has a Clemson transfer at running back – Demont Buice, who is the thunder to Owens’ lightning.

“Most importantly, you want your guys to come out and compete,” Holmes said. “They understand what it takes because they have aspirations to play at the next level. Second of all, to gain experience, from the crowd all the way down. It’s all about the game-day experience.

“I don’t think [Ohio State] is going to underestimate us. I know our guys are going to be up for them. It’s all about that exposure. We know Coach Meyer will have his team ready to play and we’re going to go out and try and be competitive.”

The defense has struggled this season after losing All-MEAC linebacker Brandon Hepburn and lineman Padric Scott. Jonathan Pillow and Brandon Denmark are the top returnees on the defense, combining for 120 tackles, 13 for loss, 4.5 sacks and two interceptions. 

But it’s linebacker Michael Ducre who’s producing so far this season. He has team-highs across the board: 29 tackles, 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.

The defense will blitz about 95 percent of the time.

“We’re a pro-style offense and a 3-4 defense,” Holmes said. “We’re going to line up and we’re going to play. We plan on playing smart, physical football, and play with great effort. That’s what it’s about. We get after people.”

Buckeye Breakdown

Ohio State is used to being in the spotlight. Just last week the Buckeyes played in primetime in California. This week features arguably the least anticipated game in the program’s long history. Florida A&M comes to Ohio Stadium on Saturday, and it isn’t just the fans who aren’t enthused. From the sound of it, players and even coaches haven’t warmed up to the idea of playing a middling FCS school.

“I could give you some coach-speak up here, but it does make a difference,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “So we are going to have to really coach the players hard this week.”

At the top of the Not Excited List is senior safety Christian Bryant, who said he’d rather play a top-10 team.

“I like to showcase our talent,” he said. “I would like to play bigger games. But it’s really out of our control. I’m not really sure who makes the schedule, but we’ve still just got to go out there and face whatever team is put in front of us.”

Martin Jarmond, Ohio State’s executive associate athletic director, is the man in charge of football scheduling. He explained that there are many factors in putting together a football schedule. When the Buckeyes added FAMU to the schedule in 2011, there weren’t many teams with open dates available.

The original plan was to schedule Grambling, but it fell through. So Florida A&M, another HBCU, was tabbed because of its band. They won’t be there Saturday, though, due to a hazing scandal. Now fans are left shelling out almost $80 to see one of the biggest mismatches in Ohio State history.

“I would be careful to characterize any football game as a mismatch,” Jarmond told Ohio State. “We all can recite some of the biggest upsets in recent memory involving FCS and FBS contests. I believe seven FCS teams have already defeated a FBS team this season.”

No Marching 100 in the Shoe. :(What's the point of playing FAMU if you don't see the band?

Holmes has no problem playing the role of sacrificial lamb. He’s not bringing his team to Columbus with a negative mindset. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t realistic. Holmes knows it will take a Herculean effort to win in Ohio Stadium.

“It doesn’t bother me at all, simply because the kids gain that great game-day experience and you see where you stand against some of the best,” he said. “We have guys that are going to play in the pros, just like Ohio State will have guys play at the next level.”

Said Hill: “We’ve taken the opportunity to play Ohio State and use it as a recruitment and branding opportunity for the entire university. We’re not chasing the color of money. You can have too many of these games. We aren’t building our program on the backs of young men and young ladies in an undesirable way. It’s important we have a balance.”

Ohio State will have its marquee game wish granted the next two weeks when it plays Wisconsin and Northwestern. First, though, comes FAMU. The Buckeyes have been in this situation before, taking on Youngstown State twice during the Jim Tressel era. Both games resulted in big margins of victory for the home team.

But the days of over-the-top easy schedules are coming to an end, at least in the Big Ten. Jim Delany has been a big proponent of conference schools beefing up their future schedules, and Gene Smith has taken that torch and led the movement for the Big Ten.

Ohio State’s future features home-and-home series with Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia Tech, TCU, Boston College and North Carolina. The Buckeyes – and Big Ten – are going away from MAC and FCS matchups, though they’ll still occur sporadically.

Don’t bet on Ohio State being among the FCS schedulers, though. Saturday is more than likely the last call. The team will use it almost as a practice to improve on fundamentals and other areas that need addressed with two of the biggest games of the season looming – Wisconsin and Northwestern.

"The one thing I told my guys today, I said, ‘Listen, this week is about us,’” tight ends and fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said. “This is a challenge for us. The bottom line is how well do we do what we need to do. Normally, the odds are in our favor that if we do a pretty good job, we’ll win the game.”

That shouldn’t be an issue against the Rattlers. Ohio State has had nary a problem against three FBS opponents this season. The Buckeyes have won handily while forcing twice as many turnovers than their foes. 

“Our job is to go out there and be ready to play 60 minutes of physical, tough, Ohio State football,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said.

Meyer has lauded his coaching, especially after two valuable members of the defensive line went down and the unit continued to perform as advertised. There is youth all across the defense and it was expected to improve as the season progressed. Consider them ahead of schedule.

Now the defense finds itself in a spot where depth has been developed, which has allowed coaches to get creative. At Cal, Ohio State fielded as many as seven defensive backs at one time. It’s called the “penny.”

This week – and the rest of the season – the Buckeyes will concentrate on forcing turnovers and correcting missed tackles. Ohio State has created turnovers at a 2-to-1 rate against opponents, but the missed tackle issue arose again at Cal.

“It’s just things we have to keep working on,” Bryant said. “Turnovers, that’s the key to the game as far as defense goes. We try to force as many turnovers as we can throughout every game and try and lead the nation in that category.”

How it Plays Out


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Ohio State will face little in the way of resistance. It has outscored opponents 68-14 in the first quarter this season, and that number is certain to grow come Saturday.

Many fans are hoping Braxton Miller rests again, but, in theory, this presents a perfect opportunity for him to get in a rhythm and then hand things over to Guiton. Playing a few series against an inferior opponent would go a long way in improving before next week’s test against Wisconsin.

Florida A&M has some talented players, but it doesn’t change the fact that Ohio State has the upper hand at every position, sometimes two and three deep. The advantage along both lines is where the Rattlers will be undone. Miller and Kenny Guiton should have gobs of time to throw the ball, and the running backs should find it easy to gain yards on the ground. FAMU’s blitz-happy defense stands little chance at slowing a potent Buckeye offense. On defense, the Silver Bullets, especially the defensive line, should find it easy to sail into the backfield.

This is the type of game fans hit the exits early. Why fight traffic? Well, on Saturday the reason to fight traffic is to see the future play in the present. The second half will give freshmen and other under classmen the opportunity to gain playing time and introduce themselves to college football.



Comments Show All Comments

Buckeye06's picture

We as fans hate this, but it is a valuable week none the less.
The SEC has been playing teams like this for years.  The difference is they play them in the middle of October or November, so no one says "oh look at this crap team Alabama is playing."  The B1G does all non-conference games early, so this looks like more of an eyesore than it should.  The SEC uses these weeks as an extra bye week during the year basically, where they can lick wounds in between big games.  In theory, that is what OSU would be doing if Cal had been a stronger team this year before a big game against Wisky
Alabama at home against Chattanooga November 23
LSU at home again Furman October 26
UGA at home against App. State Nov 9
A&M UTEP Nov 2
South Carolina Coastal Carolina Nov 23
Florida Georgia Southern Nov 23

Will in Arizona's picture

Alabama also plays Georgia State this year (Oct 5), which just started playing football (not FBS football, but just football) in 2010.  The opponent you list (Chattanooga) has already blown out Georgia State this year (42-14, a Georgia State home game).

fanatibuck's picture

Excellent points about the SEC mid season cupcakes. B1G still has a lot to learn to get up to par. It is amazing the B1G was the cream of the crop conference-wise before 2007. Boy how times have change. 


bucks_4_life's picture

You know what, call me crazy but im excited for this game! Im always excited to see my Buckeyes play some football, I dont care who the opponent is.

The juice is worth the squeeze

Seattle Linga's picture

I like being able to relax during the 2nd half and watch specific players however I also like the competition level of winning a close one. Pins and Needles in my home on Saturdays when the games are close. With our offense being run this year I am less stressed out then when JT was calling the plays.

fanatibuck's picture

+1 You are a true Buckeye for life Bucks4life. :)


RunEddieRun1983's picture

I think the perception is that fans are sick of tOSU playing soft OOC games.  The truth is, they do it in the most honorable way.  Knock the dicks in the dirt of the crappy like slack teams, then get to conference play.  My thing is, I wish they just had 1 out of the 4 games that really were statement games against a top tier program.
When they scheduled Cal they weren't a bad team (still offensively are pretty good), just like next year when they play Va Tech, even if they're "down," Tech is a big time program that produces tons of NFL talent, so I get it. 
Ohio State knocking all these games out early in the year, and making it so Oct-Dec they're playing for something is different than they way the powers in the SEC do it by scheduling Mama and Papa university at the end of the season.  Let's get this game done and over with and get ot what matters and play for a championship.

I don't always downvote, but I do always downvote a Michigan fan trolling the Buckeye boards.

Jdadams01's picture

I don't love playing FCS schools, but I love the opportunity to build depth before Big Ten play. The benches will be cleared in the second half and we'll see a lot of players get their first minutes as a Buckeye. And some units, like the LBs, need those game minutes to hopefully develop more.

Maestro's picture

Just want to see the team finish the game without significant injury (both teams), and get a win, and move onto the "real season".

vacuuming sucks

DJRoss926's picture

I understand FAMU was an emergency addition to the schedule this year (Hi, Vandy!) but going forward I'd like to see OSU stick to FBS opponents. Yes, they can use this game to build depth but I think the Bucks could build depth against lower tier FBS teams as well.

hetuck's picture

Not true. SDSU was the Vandy replacement. OSU sought this game 5+ years ago and I don't understand why. They are paying FAMU $900K. The FCS champion, North Dakota State, got $375K to play Kansas State. Oregon payed Nicholls State $315K. OSU was able to rewicker their schedule in less than a year because Vandy chickened out. Are you telling me more than five years ago no FBS team - Mountain West, Sun Belt, CUSA, MAC, lesser AQ school such as Colorado, would take $900K to come to Columbus? How about Ohio's FCS school, YSU? The fact OSU pursued Grambling tells me OSU wanted to play an historically black university. My fear is FAMU will be OSU's Citadel. An undefeated 2004 Auburn team got left out of the BCS Championship for that reason. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

DJRoss926's picture

My mistake. Even in that scenario though, no excuse to have FAMU on the schedule.

slippy's picture

Oregon opened the season against Nicholls St, and Alabama plays Chattanooga the 2nd to last game of the year.  If we get left out it's not because of FAMU.

fanatibuck's picture

Oregon and Bama playing these cupcakes but stay no. 1 and the Ducks move past us. But I bet we don't get the same luxury playing FAMU. Even if we win by 50. Something wrong with this bias picture. 


BUCKSOMIES's picture

Spot on Fanatibuck.  Seems others get the gold mind and we get the shaft!  We just gotta win and eventually everything will play out in the end.

CC's picture

I think SDSU was the emergency addition.

Hovenaut's picture

Nice look into the FAMU history, especially regarding Jake Gaither and Rudy Hubbard - and their respective contributions to college football/Ohio State.

In what won't be a competitive matchup, the game still serves purpose heading into the conference slate.

Hope to see an efficient, effective (explosive) offense...sustained. Hope to see many players get some pt in, especially eager to see El Guapo back in the fold.

Minimal penalties, zero injuries, all b'ness.

Young_Turk's picture

Amazing how similar this is compared to this posted in Skull earlier.
If I were coach of FAMU, I would not say a word, simply copy my players on both game Previews.  


gobucks96's picture

I want to see the young kids get some PT... Cardale Jones and new WR's, let's see what you can do..

ejoceans's picture

Great game to get Braxton back into the swing of things!!!! O  H baby!!

Lets do this Brutus

ejoceans's picture

Oh, and then we can rock them to sleep with the smooth sounds of Kenny G!! hahaha

Lets do this Brutus

ChazBuckeye's picture

I'm excited to see if Braxton will start or Kenny G.  I'm hoping they start Kenny and bring in Braxton to mop up.  I have a feeling that won't be happening though.   

Some people think we’re the hunted.I don’t feel that way at all.We’re the hunter.Everybody wants an angry football team.Everybody wants a team on edge and a hungry team.If you’re a hunter,that usually equates to being hungry.

MassiveAttack's picture

I'm excited for the game, as it the only one I will be attending this year.  Also the only one available below face value.  GO BUX!

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

KE's picture

I remember when this game was scheduled several years ago. I remember thinking how great it would be to see the FAMU band the TBDBITL on the same field. FAMU's band was great, a whole different style that Ohio State's band. FAMU plays a big rivalry game every year in Orlando against Bethune Cookman, and the competition between the bands was ususlly a bigger deal than the competition between the football teams.
You reference a "hazing scandal" that has affected the band. It's a lot more than that. Two years ago at the Bethune Cookman game in Orlando, the band's hazing of a drum major resulted in the drum major's death. He was beaten to death. Several now-former band members are still pending trial on manslaughter charges.
The band was suspended, the band director and college president were fired, and FAMU has taken a big hit in prestige. With the band gone, attendance at football games has crashed. The band was a huge money-maker for the school, and it has been gone for two seasons. FAMU has had all sorts of money problems as a result. Hazing in the band and in other campus organizations was deeply rooted at FAMU, and they have worked hard to eliminate it.
The band was reinstated this year with all sorts of hazing safeguards. I knew there was no chance they would make it for the game, which is too bad.