ORLANDO - Florida A&M interim coach Earl Holmes is heading into only his second game leading the program, but it's a big one: The Rattlers face archrival Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic today in the Citrus Bowl.
"You have to find a happy equilibrium," Holmes said. "You cannot get too caught up in the highs and lows. We are prepared and ready to play."
While FAMU (4-6, 4-3 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) is in rebuilding mode, Bethune-Cookman (8-2, 7-0) already has clinched the league title.
Holmes started the season as the defensive coordinator, but he took over the program on Nov. 7 when Joe Taylor abruptly retired.
Taylor is a coaching icon who went 233-96-4 in 31 seasons, including 35-19 in five at FAMU. He is the MEAC's winningest coach and third all time among the historically black college and university ranks. Taylor also won four black college national titles.
"To be under a legend like him, you learn a lot. You admire him," Holmes said. "Now, I must go and find my niche to be successful."
Holmes is also impressed with the opposing Wildcats, who are 26-7 overall and 20-3 in MEAC play under coach Brian Jenkins.
"They are a very disciplined football team that imposes their will on everyone, especially with the way they run the ball," Holmes said.
B-CU is ranked ninth in Division I-AA in rushing offense (251.7 yards a game). Former Jefferson High standout Quentin Williams is coming off a 113-yard rushing, 103-yard passing, two-score game against Savannah State. FAMU will try to slow him with a run defense that is ranked 32nd (132.7).
To pull an upset, the Rattlers offense will lean on playmaking quarterback Damien Fleming, whom Holmes called "the engine that keeps it moving."
"We have to protect him and find a way to get the ball in the end zone," Holmes said. "We move the ball but often fail to get it in the end zone."
Jenkins said his playoff-bound Wildcats are fired up for the rivalry game.
"It is important to win," he said. "We want to finish the season strong. We won the title, but we are going into this game the same way as the others."
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Florida A&M vs. Bethune-Cookman
2, Citrus Bowl, Orlando TV: ESPN Classic