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Florida A&M reeling from 2-week skid

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 17, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The autopsy was quick and grisly Saturday.

Florida A&M players, their season virtually over after a stunning 30-10 loss to North Carolina A&T at Bragg Memorial Stadium, struggled to explain how in two weeks a 5-0 team with title dreams could turn into a 5-2 team that will be fortunate to reach the post-season.

The Rattlers' two-game losing streak has dropped them from No. 3 to No. 20 in the USA Today/ESPN Division I-AA poll.

What happened to the hopes of an undefeated season? Gone in an ugly 12-10 loss to Grambling on Oct. 7, along with a 10-game home win streak.

What happened to FAMU's bid for its first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship in four years? Gone after being routed Saturday by the defending champions.

What happened to hopes of finishing No. 1 in the Sheridan Broadcasting Black College poll and winning the school's 13th national title? Gone after consecutive losses.

Hopes for an invitation to the I-AA playoffs? Still alive, but in serious jeopardy.

After averaging a gaudy 48 points in its first five games, the Rattlers have scored 10 in their past two. After committing eight turnovers in those five games, they have turned the ball over nine times in the past two, and the once-high-powered Gulf Coast Offense is averaging 127.7-yards less per game.

So what happened?

Coach Billy Joe's assesment was blunt: FAMU doesn't have the depth to contend with 10 of its starters either out or playing hurt.

"They're playing as hard as they can possibly play," he said. "But the talent level, when we dip down to the second, third and fourth-string ballplayers, is not of the quality to compete against an outstanding football team such as North Carolina A&T.

"We knew going into the season we needed to keep everyone healthy, and that has not occurred."

However, even the starters who have been able to play aren't producing.

"The problem with the offense is turnovers," receiver Jacquay Nunnally said. "Teams are basically saying, they know our offense has big-play capability, and they're not going to let us beat them with the big play. They're going to make us drive 12 plays for a score and hope we can't finish."

With four interceptions and fumbles in those losses, quarterback Quinn Gray shouldered much of the responsibility.

"I'm killing us, personally," Gray said. "I'm taking all the pressure because I'm responsible for all these turnovers. I'm the culprit."

What makes it even more frustrating, Gray said, is the Gulf Coast Offense cannot -- or rather, should not -- be stopped.

But when the four wide-receiver, no-huddle scheme is contained by deep coverage; when the offensive line is hit with injuries and can't even execute the center-snap smoothly; when receivers drop balls; when Gray carelessly throws downfield or fumbles the ball, then FAMU will continue to lose.

"There really is no way you can stop it," Gray said. "But when you make mistakes, you stop yourself."

POLL POSITION: Bethune-Cookman's success is being recognized. The 7-0 Wildcats are ranked No. 23 in the Sports Network I-AA poll (B-CC even got a first-place vote) and have 52 votes in the USA Today/ESPN poll; No. 25 Eastern Washington has 54.

NUNNALLY WATCH: With the game out of hand Saturday, FAMU seemed to make a concerted effort to get the ball to Nunnally as the senior continues to chase Jerry Rice's Division I career receptions record. Nunnally caught eight passes for 70 yardsto give him 280 in his career, moving from fifth to a tie for fourth on the all-time list. His main competitor for the record, Louisville's Arnold Jackson, who caught nine passes for 58 yards, moved from eighth to sixth on the list.

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