ASU’s Bruce Ryles, left, and Demonte Queen, right, lay a big hit on a Wingate receiver earlier this season during the Rams’ win. Laying hard licks on the opposition hasn’t been a problem for the Rams’ defense this season, but giving up points has as Albany State ranks last in the SIAC in both yards and points allowed per game heading to today’s game vs. KSU. (email@example.com)
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before the Albany State Rams embarked on their 12-hour bus ride to Indianapolis, let's hope they double-checked their luggage for their defense.
They are going to need it today against Kentucky State.
The 28th annual Circle City Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium pits two of the top three offenses in the SIAC against each other, and if there is any time for ASU's last-ranked defense in the conference to step up, it's now.
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WHO: Albany State (3-1, 1-0 SIAC) vs. Kentucky State (3-1, 0-0).
WHAT: 28th annual Circle City Classic; Rams' 5th game of the season, second in the SIAC.
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. today.
FOLLOW THE GAME ONLINE: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ASU head coach Mike White -- who is also the Rams' defensive coordinator -- said he challenged his defense before last week's game against Miles by showing them statistics that say Albany State is last in the SIAC in both yards and points allowed per game.
"But I guess it didn't work since we are still in last place," White, whose team gave up 27 points in the win against the Bears, said after Wednesday's practice. "We will talk about it again. I liked their effort (against Miles). They played better, and we will have to play better (today) to win this one."
Kentucky State (3-1, 0-0 SIAC) ranks third in the conference in yards per game (370) and third in points per game (33.5). However, the three teams Kentucky State has defeated this year -- Central St. (Ohio), Lincoln (Penn.) and Kentucky Wesleyan -- have a combined record of 1-11, so ASU safety Jamarkus Gaskins thinks those offensive numbers may be slightly deceiving.
"They haven't played us yet," Gaskins said. "We feel like if we run our defense the way we are coached, they won't put up those points. As long as we play our game, it will all be shut down and we will come out of there with a 'W.' "
Kentucky State is in the top three in the conference in every offensive category and are ranked in the Top 10 in the nation in both punt returns and kickoff returns.
The Thorobreds may have had an easier non-conference schedule than the Rams (3-1, 1-0 SIAC), but White is still concerned about KSU's playmakers, such as quarterback Jerrell Noland, running back Andrew Ramsey and receiver Raphael Amey.
Noland, the cornerstone of KSU's offense, is averaging 195 passing yards per game and has eight touchdowns this season --- five passing and three rushing. Ramsey is averaging 96 rushing yards per game, and Amey is averaging 83 receiving yards per game.
White knows the Thorobreds can be dangerous when they have the ball.
"They can light it up. They are very impressive on film, (passing and running)," White said. "The one thing is not giving up big runs and big passes. We just have to make them work. I think they are going to make plays against us, but we just can't allow them go down the field with no problem."
Kentucky State is also dangerous in the return game, especially on punt returns, where the Thorobreds rank second in all of Division II with an average of more than 26 yards a return.
Whit, however, thinks that area of their offense can be contained.
"We weren't impressed with the punt teams they have faced in terms of their coverage," White said. "We think we are better, and we think we are good enough to handle it."
But if ASU's return coverage does start to break down, Rams punter Luke Jones said he is ready to adjust.
"It's going to come down to testing it during the game," Jones said. "If I put a punt out there that gets returned, I will go with a different style of punt. I will put the ball out. If the ball is out of bounds, you can't return it."
But while Kentucky State may have an explosive offense, Albany State's could be even more impressive.
Rams quarterback Stanley Jennings, a two-time SIAC Offensive Player of the Week this season and reigning conference MVP, has the Rams scoring nearly 37 points per game. And Jennings is convinced no team in the conference can match up with this offense.
"We do understand the situation, and we need to keep our defense off the field as much as we can," Jennings said. "Whatever their intensity is, our offense is going to have to bring it and have as much as them."
Jennings' arm and the ASU passing game have paced the offense for much of the season, but Kentucky State appears to have a weakness in its run defense that the Rams are looking to exploit.
In the Thorobreds' only loss this season --- a 31-29 setback to Stillman --- they gave up 280 yards on the ground.
"I can go by what we did (Wednesday) in practice," ASU offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said. "I think we had a great practice. We focused on getting to our blocks and staying on them. The O-line came on real well. The backs were really getting it. I think we will have a good day on the ground."
Jennings then added: "Our main goal is to get the run started. But if it isn't there, I am pretty confident in the passing game. Either way, I feel like they won't be able to stop us. We will be ready for them."