Florida A & M Preview Part II: The Offense

In the week leading up to the match up with Florida A & M, Jeff Murdock looks at the Rattlers, and their <i>Gulf Coast Offense</i>. The Rattlers are lead on offense by their quarterback Ben Dougherty who is coming a season last year where he threw for 2,502 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 674 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground.

As with any head coach who has the experience on the offensive side of the ball like Billy Joe does, the Florida A & M Rattlers are described best by their offensive prowess. This season will also be one of the first seasons that Joe will spend as much time on the sideline as he does in the press box. In the past Joe has preferred to watch the game from the lofty perch in the press box. But, with the addition of quarterbacks coach Mario Allen, Joe has said that he will work some games from the press box and some games from the sidelines as Allen provides the vision from the lofty perch.

Last season was Ben Dougherty's first season as Florida A & M's quarterback, and he was the focal point of the rather explosive A & M offense that averaged just under twenty-fours points per game. Dougherty is a threat with both his arm and his feet, but he will be without his best receiver Rod Miller, who will be serving the first game of a six game suspension for playing while ineligible.

Dougherty is coming off a season last year where he threw for 2,502 yards with thirteen touchdowns and nine interceptions in eleven of Florida A & M's twelve games. He did not play in Florida A & M's 28-14 victory over Tennessee State last season. His best game last season was the Rattlers 39-35 loss to rival Bethune-Cookman as he passed for 354 yards on 24-37 with two touchdowns and one interception. In that game he also add 32 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.

Dougherty will also hurt you on the ground. He was the Rattlers' second leading rusher last season with 674 yards on 155 attempts, and eight touchdowns. If the pocket collapses on Dougherty, he will use his feet to make a play, so that is something the Illini defense will need to take into account. His best performance on the ground was a 27-15 loss at South Carolina State where he rushed for 120 yards on twenty-four attempts. According to Joe, having a quarterback that can run in his "Gulf Coast Offense" is like having a twelfth offensive player on the field, but he prefers him to run by design instead of when he is flushed out of the pocket. Either way, Joe will not look past the advantage provided to him by Dougherty's feet.

The Rattlers return their leading rusher from a year ago, Rashard Pompey. Pompey totaled 721 yards on 163 attempts with six touchdowns last season. He is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield as last season he had 43 receptions for 322 yards and one touchdown.

To go along with last season's leading rusher, the Rattlers have two other backs that Head Coach Billy Joe is excited about: junior Paul Sharpe and red shirt sophomore Greg Arline. Sharpe was the Rattlers' power back last season and was used most of the time in short yardage situations. He averaged a team-best 5.3 yards per carry last season en route to his 123 yards on 23 carries with three rushing touchdowns.

Red shirt sophomore Greg Arline was playing on the scout team for the Rattlers last season, but Joe is looking to the sophomore to get some time in the Rattler back field.

The Rattlers will be playing without senior receiver Rod Miller because he has been suspended for the team's first six games by the NCAA for playing while academically ineligible. Miller was the team's leading receiver a year before, and became a crutch for quarterback Ben Dougherty. Without Miller, Dougherty will be looking to his other receivers including Ronnie Thomas, a transfer from Clemson.

Probably slipping into the number one spot now that Miller will be unable to play is sophomore Cardan Alexander. Last season Alexander was the second leading receiver for the Rattlers as he had 53 receptions for 589 yards, and three touchdowns. The only game in which Alexander did not catch more than one pass was the Rattlers victory over Tennessee State, a game in which Dougherty did not play. Alexander's best game of last season was against Jackson State when he caught five passes totaling 97 yards.

One player to watch for the Rattlers is true freshman receiver Ronald Wright who has impressed Joe so far in pre-season practices and scrimmages. The six foot 202-pound receiver from Miami has drawn comparisons from Billy Joe to Jacquay Nunnally in stature and size. Nunnally is the All-Time leader in receptions in Division I-AA football, so that is lofty praise being placed on the young receiver by his head coach. Nunnally also holds all the career receiving records at Florida A & M with 318 receptions, 4,245 yards, and 38 touchdowns.

The Rattlers are going to miss departed right guard Giduea Morris this season, but they are returning center Tarell Baldwin and guard Fletcher Williams. The offensive line will be tasked with slowing down opposing rushers and giving Dougherty enough time to find the open receiver, but they are lucky to know that he is fleet enough on foot to get away from some pressure. Last season the Rattlers allowed 32 sacks or just fewer than three sacks a game.

The average weight for the members of the Rattler starting offensive line is 326 pounds. They start two sophomores in right tackle Lenard Black (6-4/310) and left tackle Daniel Parrish (6-7/340). At center Tarell Baldwin lines up at 6-4, 340 pounds. At the two guards, the Rattlers come out with right guard seniors Fletcher Williams (6-6/300) and Mafileo Vakalaki (6-2/340).

The Florida A & M offense will bring a new look into Champaign, one that the Illini defense do not normally see in the Big Ten. This is a pass-first offense that likes to spread the ball out and use all corners of the field. The Illini secondary will be tested by Dougherty and the Rattler receivers, but the key to slowing down this offense will be to get pressure by the front seven which could be difficult against the Rattlers' massive offensive line. The Illini linebackers should also be ready to watch Dougherty scramble a lot, so the linebackers will have to be able to both rush the passer and contain his movement.

This offense is nothing that Illinois has not seen before in fact it is very similar to the offense run by the Northwestern Wildcats, but it is also something the Illini do not practice much against. Scrambling quarterbacks have given the Illini fits before in the past, but the skill level of the Rattlers is just not high enough here, especially without Miller to be a cause for worry. This offense should be a good tune up for the Illini defense, before they get their first true test against the UCLA Bruins.

The next part of this three part series will look at the Florida A & M defense.

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