ASU NOTEBOOK: Without off week, Rams deal with grueling schedule

Albany State running back Nathan Hoyte is leading the Rams in rushing this season. Hoyte and the Rams moved up to No. 22 in the latest AFCA poll after defeating Clark Atlanta on Saturday.

Albany State running back Nathan Hoyte is leading the Rams in rushing this season. Hoyte and the Rams moved up to No. 22 in the latest AFCA poll after defeating Clark Atlanta on Saturday.

ALBANY -- Want to know how important off weeks are during a football season?

Just ask Albany State coach Mike White.

"There is no way we win 11 games last year without an open week and a bye in the playoffs," said White, whose 2010 Rams had a bye week during the regular season and three weeks off before their second-round playoff game against Wingate, which they won, 30-28. "The Wingate game would have gone differently if we would have played them right after Fort Valley."

It's a whole different story for the 2011 Rams, who started their season Sept. 3 against Savannah State and haven't had a Saturday off since.

This year's squad (6-2, 4-1 SIAC) will play 10 straight regular-season games before a possible SIAC Championship game on Nov. 12. And if the Rams qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs -- which they should if they win out -- then they would play an opening-round playoff game Nov. 19.

That would be 12 games in 12 weeks -- a grueling schedule that all 10 SIAC teams are facing this year because of the new East Division/West Division format in which each school's open week was forced to be during the last week of the season for an inaugural potential SIAC Championship matchup.

The teams that make it to the conference title game are then forced to forfeit their bye week for a contest that White likens to an "extra playoff game."

"You just try to handle what's in front of you and not look at it that way," White said. "If you talk about (not having an off week) to the players, it will dangle in their mind. They know where they are, and they know what they gotta do. We just gotta fight through it and work through it each week."

When ASU's schedule was released during the summer, senior running back Darryl Carey said he immediately noticed the lack of a bye week.

"We noticed it, but it's something that we knew we had to deal with and prepare for," Carey said. "It's football, so you are always going to be a little banged up. We aren't fatigued or anything because we kind of prepared our minds for it at the beginning of the season."

Carey then added: "It's something you have to deal with. There's nothing you can do about it. It's already set when you are into the season. I don't think it has really bothered us at all."

That's the attitude the Rams are taking as they prepare for Saturday's Homecoming game against Benedict College (2-6, 1-4 SIAC).

However, having a season without an off week is nothing new for ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings, whose sophomore season at Southwest Mississippi Junior College was played without one.

"I'm used to it. I don't think I need any rest; I'm alright," Jennings said Tuesday. "Football is football. You just need to give it what you got and make sure you get your rest at night."

Playing Saturday after Saturday without rest also hasn't been tiring for junior defensive lineman Joshua McMullen.

"It isn't as bad as I thought it would be," McMullen said. "(The coaches) do a good job of keeping our legs up under us and keeping us ready for each game. It's not that bad."

And some players -- like junior linebacker Demonte Queen -- are even finding silver linings in the tireless schedule.

"It's good to me because we are learning and getting better every week," Queen said. "By the time playoffs come, all of us should be on the same page."

CLIMBING BACK UP: After falling out of the AFCA Division II Coaches' Top 25 Poll following their Oct. 8 loss to Lane, the Rams have steadily climbed back up.

One week after reentering the poll at No. 25 following a victory against Morehouse, the Rams moved up to No. 22 in the most recent AFCA poll, which was released Tuesday.

ASU also moved up one spot to No. 20 in the D2Football.com Top 25 Poll, and the defending SBN Black College National Football champions are No. 5 in this week's SBN Black College Football Poll.

The Rams moved from No. 4 to No. 3 in the Heritage Sports Radio Network Division II HBCU Top 10 and retained their No. 6 ranking in the Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10.

Albany State debuted at No. 6 in the NCAA Super Region Two Poll, which was released Sunday by the NCAA -- a significant ranking because the top six teams in the poll advance to the NCAA Division II playoffs, while the top two teams receive a first-round bye.

On Tuesday, White said it would be nearly impossible for the Rams to move up any higher than fourth in the region poll. However, a fourth-place finish would allow ASU to host the first round of the playoffs.

"To me, that's a realistic goal for us," White said about hosting a playoff game, which would require the Rams to win their final two regular-season games and the SIAC Championship game and hope for teams ranked higher than them to lose. "If we keep winning, I think that's about the highest we can get to."

The top five teams in the region poll, in order, are defending D-II national champion Delta State, North Alabama, Valdosta State, South Atlantic's Mars Hill College and North Greenville.

MORE HONORS FOR RAMS KICKER HAMILTON, OTHER ASU STARS: ASU sophomore kicker Brandon Hamilton had the game of his life Saturday against Clark Atlanta, nailing all four field goals attempted to lead the Rams to a 19-13 victory.

Saturday's performance gave Hamilton his second SIAC Special Teams Player of the Week honor this season. His field goals from 21, 35, 37 and 28 yards out kept the Rams in a game where the offense struggled to find the end zone.

"(The team) was proud of me. They were making sure that I kept the team in there, and I thank them for keeping me confident," Hamilton said after Saturday's game. "They were confident in me in every kick. The confidence was there, so I just stayed calm and executed on every kick."

Hamilton, who was named the SIAC Special Teams Player of the Week after hitting two field goals against Miles on Sept. 24, also had 359 yards on six kickoffs, averaging 59.8 yards per kick last Saturday.

Hamilton is currently fourth on the team in scoring with 29 points and has hit 9-of-10 field goals this season.

"He did his job," ASU offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said after Saturday's game. "I am proud of Hamilton. We talked about it in pregame, and we have been talking about it all week. We knew he was going to have a chance to get some points. He went in there and did his job, and we are happy for him and glad he could come up and have a big game."

Four other Rams were honorable mentions in the SIAC Player of the Week voting: Jennings, defensive back Rashad McRae, linebacker and former Monroe star Larry Whitfield and offensive lineman Travis Walker.

Jennings passed for 234 yards, completing 12-of-32 and threw a touchdown.

McRae led the "Dirty Blue" defense with eight total tackles (five solo), including two tackles for losses, and Whitfield had six total tackles (two solo).

Walker helped the ASU offense to 367 total offensive yards, including 133 rushing yards.