Date: Saturday, December 2nd
Time: 4:00 PM (ET)
The Quick Hits
For the first time ever Florida A&M will play for a SWAC championship. After living in the shadow of Jackson State for the past couple seasons, the Rattlers have propelled themselves into the conference’s driver seat with an impressive 10-1 record. Riding a nine-game win streak, FAMU has just one more obstacle standing between it and the program’s first Celebration Bowl appearance; Prairie View A&M.
The Panthers, after losing five of their first eight games, have reeled off three in a row to nab the top spot in the SWAC West and reach this game. Hoping to win their first SWAC title since 2009, Prairie View A&M will playing the role of underdog in this one. This will be the second time the Panthers have played the Rattlers this season. FAMU won 45-7 during the first meeting in late October.
Willie Simmons has been the head man at Florida A&M since 2018 and has been a winner everywhere he’s been. Before the Rattlers, Simmons coached Prairie View A&M to a 21-11 record from 2015 to 2017. He’s elevated FAMU to a whole new level of success in recent seasons though, getting the program to at least nine wins in each of the last four seasons (the Rattlers did not play in 2020 due to the COVID 19 Pandemic) and a rare appearance in the FCS playoffs. This fall may be Simmons’ best work yet as he has his group just one victory away from a spot in the coveted Celebration Bowl; a place neither he nor the team has been to before. With an overall record of 43-13 at Florida A&M now, Simmons is quickly working his way up the list as one of the best coaches in school history.
On the other sideline will be Bubba McDowell who took over for the Panthers in 2022. It’s his first head coaching gig after serving as Prairie View A&M’s assistant and defensive backs coach since 2012. In two seasons at controls, McDowell has led his team to an 11-5 record against league opponents and has the Panthers at first place in the SWAC West for the second straight year.
Florida A&M Offense vs. Prairie View A&M Defense
When the Rattlers are on offense the player to keep an eye will be quarterback Jeremy Moussa. A finalist for this year’s Walter Payton Award, Moussa has thrown for 2,416 yards and 18 touchdowns this fall. The grad senior has tossed a touchdown in all but one game this year and has yet to have an outing in which he goes for under 150 yards.
Marcus Riley and Jah’Marae Sheread are Moussa’s primary pass catchers. Riley leads the team with four receiving touchdowns while Sheread averages 9.9 yards per reception. The receiving duo has been responsible for 70 catches this fall. Expect Moussa to look to them through the air early and often.
DeJaun Lewis will try and be the answer for what Moussa and his wideouts can do. The Panthers sophomore DB has had a solid year on the back end, knocking away five passes and intercepting two more. He has 33 solo tackles and has also forced a pair of fumbles. Joining Lewis in the secondary is junior cornerback Freddie Byrd III. Byrd has an interception, forced fumble and three PBUs.
Prairie View A&M's defense is good at getting to the quarterback thanks in large part to defensive linemen Derrick Ray Jr. and Calvin Pressley Jr. The pair have been a handful in the trenches, accounting for 6.5 sacks and 86 tackles between them. Florida A&M's offensive line will need to have hands on Ray and Pressley all afternoon to keep Moussa upright.
Coming out of the backfield for the Rattlers will be running backs Jaques Yant and Terrell Jennings. Both have six touchdowns this fall and each have over 80 carries. Jennings has a team-high 493 rush yards. The pair has combined for well over half of FAMU's total rushing scores this season.
Linebacker Keyshawn Johnson will spearhead the defense in the middle. Johnson leads the Panthers with 75 stops. Slowing down Yant and Jennings will fall largely on his shoulders.
Prairie View A&M Offense vs. Florida A&M Defense
Trazon Connley will command the Panthers offense under center. The senior quarterback has thrown for 1,972 yards and nine scores. Connley, though, has struggled with interceptions, tossing nine on the year as well. He is averaging 179.7 passing yards per game.
Tre'jon Spiller will serve as one of Connley's main targets. Spiller has five receiving touchdowns this season and has 369 yards on 22 catches. He and Shemar Savage each are putting up well over 15 yards per reception. Savage leads the squad with 426 yards.
Prairie View A&M will not run the ball a ton but when they do look for Ahmad Antoine to take a good chunk of the handoffs. Antoine has run for 491 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 107 carries. Caleb Johnson is right behind him with 413 yards and a score.
Isaiah Major runs the ship for the Florida A&M defense. The senior linebacker is a tackling machine, authoring 94 total stops (11.5 for loss) and 2.5 sacks. Major also has five QB hits and a pick. He will lead the charge and look to disrupt the backfield.
Senior DB Eric Smith leads the Rattlers defensive effort with three interceptions and will look to capitalize against Connley who averages almost one per game. Throwing in Smith's direction is dangerous as he also has six deflected passes this year.
The Special Teams
The sailing hasn't always been smooth when Prairie View A&M needs to kick this year. Punter Carlos Villagomez is just 8-of-15 (53.3%) on his field goal tries this year. He has also missed an extra point. That could prove to be liability for the underdogs here who'll need every point they can muster up.
On the other side, the Rattlers have had little issues in the kicking department. Cameron Gillis has only missed two field goal tries (9-of-11) this season and has racked up 65 points for FAMU. His longest make this year came from 44.
Trey Wilhoit will punt for Florida A&M. He averages 43.6 yards per boot this year and has 12 punts of over 50 yards. He also has pinned opposing offenses inside the 20-yard line 12 times. The aforementioned Sheread handles most of the punt return duties. He's bbrought back 15 punts for 212 total yards this season.
The Panthers will go with Efren Jasso for punts. The sophomore only has three touchbacks all year and has a long of 59 yards. Brian Jenkins Jr. will field both kick and punt returns for Prairie View A&M. He has yet to make a house call on a runback.
Prairie View A&M will put up more of a fight than they did back in October but in the end, Florida A&M will prove to be too much. Moussa will slice apart the the Panthers D for a couple of touchdowns and the Rattlers will force a key turnover sometime in the second half to put the game out of reach. Jennings and Yant will help FAMU eat up clock down the stretch and Florida A&M will come out with a comfortable victory.
Score Prediction: Florida A&M: 31 - Prairie View A&M: 17