This matchup should give a much clearer picture of where these two programs are headed this year.
Both Tennessee State and the Rattlers had the kind of game last week that drives head coaches nuts, namely where one aspect of the game (in this case, defense) works, but the other (offense) flails.
Last week, FAMU stopped Mississippi Valley State, 27-10, in the MEAC-SWAC Challenge (although it seems the only challenge in this series is for the SWAC to field a good team).
The Rattlers benefited from an atrocious Delta Devils squad that gave up three interceptions and fumbled at the drop of a hat.
Quarterback Damien Fleming completed just eight of 18 passes for 110 yards and was intercepted once. He also fumbled after a sack on the first series of the game. He did rush for the game's first score, though.
FAMU's leading rusher was Al-Terek McBurse, who ran six times for 55 yards and a touchdown.
Chase Varnadore connected on field goals of 23 and 27 yards, but missed from 40 yards.
Defense is where Florida A&M shined.
Freshman Patrick Aiken picked off MVSU quarterback Patrick Ivy at his own 44 and returned the ball to the Delta Devil 16. Fellow freshman Darren Parker also picked off Ivy at the MVSU 24.
After Fleming tossed an interception of his own at the FAMU 21, senior John Ojo got the ball back for the Rattlers when he stepped in front of backup quarterback Jeremy Collins' pass at the Mississippi Valley State 40.
On the downside, however, the FAMU defense was whistled four times in the second half for 15-yard penalties. An unnecessary roughness penalty and roughing-the-passer penalty came back to back and kept alive a Delta Devil drive in the third quarter that led to a field goal.
FAMU was also flagged for a personal foul and an illegal block.
That these penalties happened in the second half of a game where FAMU had a comfortable lead is troubling as it can fire up an opponent. This is especially true in the MEAC where teams like Bethune-Cookman and South Carolina State already have enough incentive to want to put FAMU in its place.
Three good drives for TSU ended in the Tigers settling for field goals. Jamin Godfrey connected on tries of 21, 26 and 44 yards.
Still, quarterback Ronald Butler, a sophomore, was the game's top passer, hitting 13 of 21 throws for 132 yards.
The running game still needs work, though. Telvin Hooks (47 yards) and Tim Broughton (45) yards accounted for 92 of the team's 110 rushing yards and that's just not going to get it done in any conference.
On defense, the Tigers were almost stellar, holding a powerful Wildcats squad to just 12 points.
David Van Dyke had an interception for Tennessee State.
Bethune-Cookman did not score a touchdown until five minutes left in the game.
Unfortunately for TSU, it's offense could not pass the one true test of offensive ability in football and that is to successfully answer a late-game score by the opponent, especially when the defense has kept the team in striking distance.
To win, Tennessee State will need to get going on offense, while Florida A&M will have to put together a game plan that doesn't depend on the other team handing the ball over upon request.