Struggling Florida A&M comes up against Top 25 FBS team at worst possible time

So far this season, Florida A&M has blitzed on roughly 70 percent of the downs it’s played. If anything, that number may go up on Saturday, as the Rattlers face No. 20 FBS South Florida.

USF, who opened the year by offing then-No. 16 Notre Dame 23-20 on Sept. 3, are in the national Top 25 for the first time in two seasons. That’s thanks in part to the steady play of junior quarterback B.J. Daniels, who has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 487 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception. Meanwhile, FAMU has allowed a staggering 414 yards a game, squeaking by against Division II Fort Valley State and then falling to fellow FCS program Hampton in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference matchup.

The first half could be particularly challenging for FAMU, which just saw Hampton gain 240 of its 427 yards of total offense before the bands played. South Florida, meanwhile, has outscored opponents 46-0 in the first half so far this season.

FAMU coach Joe Taylor – whose team earned a share of the MEAC crown last season — is taking a measured approach, insisting that to panic now would be premature: “Oh no,” Taylor told St. Clair Murraine of The Tallahassee Democrat. “No, no. It’s much too early; just the second ballgame.”

Of course, that’s before FAMU faces Daniels, MVP of last year’s Meineke Bowl victory over Clemson. The passer helped South Florida finish 8-5 in head coach Skip Holtz’s first year, and has entered this season on a roll. Last week, as South Florida notched a 37-7 home-opening win over Ball State, the junior set career highs for completions and passing yards. He is already just 16 rushing yards away from passing Vince Brewer for 10th all-time in school history.

For Taylor, who came to FAMU four seasons ago after spending 17 at Hampton, this is his second head-to-head meeting with Holtz-led squad. Taylor’s Hampton team lost 42-34 to Holtz and Connecticut in the 1998 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. South Florida won the only other meeting between the schools 37-3 in 2005. On that day, USF held Florida A&M to to 85 yards of total offense; the Rattlers finished with just four first downs — and two were by penalty.

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