As Howard and Florida A&M intensify preparations for the Celebration Bowl on Saturday, both teams will be focused on their strengths.
Larry Scott’s Bison want to establish the run, while Willie Simmons and the Rattlers want to put a stop to Howard’s running backs.
“For me, that’s a mindset of the brand and style of football we want to play. It’s also the biggest way you can dictate the tempo of a game,” Scott said during the Celebration Bowl coaches’ conference. “When you can establish that and do it with a high level of consistency, you usually can dictate the outcome of a game.”
For Simmons, he knows the outcome of games are decided at the line of scrimmage. A usual indicator of that is which team is able to dictate what occurs in the backfield.
“When you get into championship football, it’s about the mental and physical toughness of your team,” Simmons said. “There’s no greater indicator of those two factors of your team than running the football and the ability of the other team to stop the run.”
In winning their first outright Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship since 1993, Howard rushed for nearly 181 yards per contest, second only to South Carolina State’s 225 per in the MEAC. Their 24 touchdowns on the ground were second only to North Carolina Central’s 28.
A successful running attack is a point of pride for both Scott and his team.
“Our last game against Morgan State, we were struggling with protection, so when we got the ball with 8:37 left, we made our minds that we weren’t going to give it back,” he said. “That’s a mentality that we created in camp. Not just our offensive line and tight ends but our running backs and receivers took it personally as well. That’s something that’s near and dear to my heart as a former offensive lineman, that we’re going to establish the run.”
Conversely, Florida A&M’s defense finished second in the country in fewest yards allowed per game (267) and allowed the fewest yards per play (4.23) in the FCS.
“We had the goal to be the number one defense in the country and it starts with our commitment to stopping the run,” Simmons explained. “That’s something we’re going to have to do against a really good football team. We’re looking forward to that challenge, the game within the game. That’s going to be one of the keys, our ability to stop one of the top rushing offenses in the country.”