Stanley Jennings and the Rams routed Miles last season in Albany during homecoming, 34-7, but expect a much tougher test in their SIAC opener today on the road vs. the Bears.
ALBANY --- The Albany State football team knew its first three games of the season wouldn't be easy. Matchups with Division I Savannah State and nationally-ranked Wingate and Valdosta State tested the team's skill, endurance and character.
The Rams (2-1) emerged from that tough, early-season schedule bruised and battered -- but definitely not broken.
After a narrow 30-27 loss to Valdosta State last Saturday, the Rams' toughest games on their schedule appear to be behind them. Starting with today's conference opener on the road against Miles College (1-2, 0-1), ASU coach Mike White has a combined record of 61-12 against the Rams' final seven opponents on their schedule, all of which are SIAC teams.
So Albany State can finally step back and breathe a little after its grueling first three games, right?
"No, no, no," ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings said this week at practice. "We are taking the same steps in practice like any other game. We never take a game off. Conference games mean we have to come and play because I am sure everybody wants to beat us."
ASU was undefeated in conference play last season and has won the SIAC title five times in the last eight years. And tonight's game in Fairfield, Ala., will go a long way in setting the tone for the rest of the SIAC schedule, junior defensive lineman Justin Blash said.
"We need to make a statement for the conference and let them know that we are here to win a championship again," Blash said.
To repeat as conference champions, the Albany State defense needs to become more Albany State-like. The Rams have uncharacteristically given up an average of 30.7 points per game this season. In comparison, after three games last season, the Rams had allowed a combined 33 points.
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WHO: ASU (2-1) at Miles (1-2).
WHAT: Rams' fourth game of the season, second on the road.
So if anybody has something to prove tonight, White said it's the defense.
"I can't wait to tell them that they are last in the conference. We are last in scoring and total defense, which is not Albany State. We have never been there before, not after three games," White said. "I do like their effort, and they are working hard to get better. I am happy with that, but I do think they have something to prove."
The Miles offense has struggled this year, scoring just one touchdown in each of its last two games, while averaging just 14 points per game. One bright spot for the Golden Bears has been running back Jordan Lewis, who is averaging 97 yards per game on the ground. Miles quarterback David Thomas has added to that ground attack with three rushing touchdowns.
ASU shut down Savannah State running back Justin Babb and held Wingate to 76 rushing yards, but last week's game against Valdosta State exposed some weaknesses in the Rams' run defense.
The Blazers rushed for 140 yards and averaged five yards per run. Valdosta State's leading rusher was quarterback Austen Roberts, and White said his defense needs to do a better job of containing quarterbacks.
The Rams, who hammered Miles during homecoming a year ago, 34-7, will likely be tested in that area again today against a Bears team that likes to run the option.
"We just have to make sure that everybody is taking care of their man," White said. "Stopping the run is first for us. Everything else (is second)."
ASU has had little trouble putting points on the board, averaging 37.7 a game. But the Miles defense has a knack for forcing opposing offenses into turnovers. Through three games, the Bears have five interceptions and have forced one fumble.
"I watched film on them, and I saw how they got their interceptions," Jennings said. "About two or three were the quarterback's fault. I just need to make my reads, and I'm pretty sure I won't turn the ball over."
Jennings expects the Miles defense to be gunning for him, and he also expects Sloan Alumni Stadium to be packed.
"It's pretty exciting because our games might be a little crowded each time (a team hosts us)," Jennings said. "It makes you feel good in a way, but it makes you think you have to come to play every time knowing that the opposing team wants to beat you really bad."