Howard University's football team showed all its weaknesses yesterday when it fell apart against Florida A & M in the second half and lost its third straight Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference game, 31-7, before 7,000 at Howard Stadium.

The Rattlers, 2-2 overall and 2-0 in the MEAC, held Howard (1-3, 0-3) to minus 20 yards rushing and had eight sacks, although they enterd the game next to last in the MEAC in total defense.

A & M also came into the game with the conference's worst rushing offense. But Frank Middleton ran for 126 yards on 20 carries, and the Rattlers finished with 350 yards in defeating Howard for the seventh time in eight games.

The Howard secondary, which was the best in Division I-AA last season, has hurt the Bison as much as any other unit this year. Injuries and mistakes by young players have been the problem there, as well as in the offensive and defensive lines. Howard Coach Floyd Keith said he was forced to use his third-string strong safety and cornerback yesterday.

"We're a riddled team," said Keith. "What can I do -- get mad when a third-stringer doesn't do the job?"

Seven Bison regulars, chiefly members of the offensive and defensive lines, did not dress because of injuries. When offensive tackle Zane Smith injurd his jaw, Ron Kinnaird had to play to play on both lines. Craig Cason also played both ways.

Howard has not played well in any of its four games this year, but behind sophomore quarterback Sandy Nichols, scored with 37 seconds left in the half to trail, 10-7. From the start of the second half, however, the Bison were back to making mistakes on both offense and defense.

Through 20 minutes of the second half, the Bison ran only 13 plays, compared to 39 plays and three touchdowns for the visitors. A & M scored on its first three possessions in the second half, the third a 99-yard drive that consumed more than eight minutes and ended with quarterback Nathaniel Koonce scoring his second touchdown on a five-yard run.

Koonce, the MEAC's leading passer, completed 11 of 20 for 185 yards. In the second half, he completed seven of eight for 92 yards and threw as if his receivers were doing drills without coverage.

Keith substituted Nichols for Raymond Gray late in the first quarter and Nichols completed 13 of 22 attempts for 214 yards. Tracy Singleton caught seven passes for 136 yards, but had what would have been at least a 40-yard completion in the second half bounce off his hands for an interception by Billy rolle.

Vince Coleman's 44-yard field goal with 6:51 left in the first quarter gave FAMU a 3-0 lead. Middleton concluded a 90-yard drive by pushing his way behind the blocking of right guard Arthur Wellons for a four-yard touch down for a 10-0 lead with 5:53 left in the half.

When Nichols had time to throw, he moved the Bison. Late in the half, he completed passes of 25, 24 and 38 yards to Singleton, the last completion giving Howard a first down on the Rattler seven. After two incompletions, Nichols threw the touchdown pass to tight end Lloyd.

But Nichols was sacked at least once on every series in the second half. Tackle Bruce Johnson had three sacks.

Koone often had his pick of open receivers, and plenty of time to throw to Ray Alexander (five catches for 92 yards) and Clarence Chester (four for 76)