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Rams' D not worried about TOs

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ALBANY -- An old adage in football is that turnovers win games and turnover margin is an indicator of how good a team is.

Albany State has flipped that adage on its head. With a turnover margin of plus-1 (11 takeaways, 10 giveaways) on the season, the Golden Rams are way behind Morehouse (plus 12) and Fort Valley State (plus 14) in turnover margin in the SIAC, but Albany State (6-0, 5-0 SIAC) is the only unbeaten team in the conference and sits alone one game ahead of those two in first place.

The Rams' 10 forced turnovers are near the ball in the conference and they have recovered just three fumbles on the season.

It's a statistical oddity that's hard to explain.

"We work on it every day," Rams' head coach Mike White said. "We work on stripping, intercepting the ball. We've dropped quite a few interceptions. Those things come and go. Sometimes you fight hard to just break even. I can't say I'm really happy about that."

ASU's offense, however, has also limited turnovers, so things have evened out. But with the top defense in the SIAC, the Rams aren't doing it with turnovers.

"I really have no idea (why the turnover ratio isn't better)," senior linebacker Jacob Hardwick said. "We need more teams to put the ball on the ground."

"We may not get a lot of turnovers, but we're getting a lot of three and outs," senior cornerback Prathon Wilkerson said. "We keep them off the field, and that's great for our offense."

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PRATHON'S PREY: Wilkerson is one guy who knows a thing or two about turnovers. He picked off his fourth pass of the season in Saturday's homecoming win after having just one pick in his career.

Wilkerson was second in the league in picks through five games and has half of the Rams' interception total on the season. His four interceptions rank tied for 12th in Division II.

"It's all about film study and knowing where my help is at (in the secondary)," Wilkerson said. "Sometimes its being in the right place at the right time, but some balls I break on and some balls the D-line has great rush and the quarterback throws it up."

At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Wilkerson is at a size disadvantage most Saturdays, but he uses other intangibles to even the playing field.

"Sometimes it's not all about your size," Wilkerson said. "If I have (to defend) a bigger receiver I know I have to have better technique and be quicker than him."

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THE RUN STOPS HERE: The Rams' run defense is fourth in the country in Division II in rushing yards allowed per game (56 yards per game), which is a big reason why ASU is ranked No. 10 in the D2Football.com Media Poll and No. 13 in the AFCA Division II Coaches' Poll.

White said the defense has been so good against the run "probably because the senior linebacker leadership has really come through for us. They stayed this summer and watched a lot of film and trained together."

Hardwick is one of those leaders. The 6-foot-3, 270-pound linebacker is a perfect fit in White's 3-4 defensive scheme, putting his hand on the ground about 85-90 percent of the time and rushing the running back and passer. To put it lightly, Hardwick creates plenty of havoc in the backfield.

Hardwick ranks sixth in D-II with seven sacks and fifth in tackles for loss (14).

"All great college and NFL linemen have that great first step," White said. "They're on top of the offensive linemen before they're ready to deal with them. Jake has that first step. He's very, very quick."

He's also very, very humble. Hardwick, a military brat born at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany, moved all over the country -- California, Ohio, Virginia to name a few -- before returning home to play his college ball. He credits his fellow linemen and practice reps for his success.

"We come out here and work on it," Hardwick said. "Run until our legs fall off. I'm just working hard, just doing my job."