ASU offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner instructs his players during Wednesday’s practice. Joyner and the Rams host Valdosta State at 7 p.m. today at the ASU Coliseum.
ALBANY -- When the birds start chirping about a game, there's excitement in the air.
That tends to happen when two schools separated by 90 miles meet in a top 25 game after a three-year breakup. You'd have to almost barricade yourself indoors for the past week to not hear about it.
"There's talk everywhere," Albany State senior defensive tackle Antorio Wells said of today's showdown with Valdosta State. "It's hard to outrun it. You almost have to shut yourself inside, close the blinds, close the curtains, cut all that out to not hear the talking. I hear the birds talking about it sometimes."
The Rams, ranked No. 6 in the AFCA Coaches' Poll, play host to the No. 12 Blazers at ASU Coliseum today. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
The two regional rivals haven't met since 2007 after Valdosta State dominated the series in the last decade, winning eight of nine games. The Blazers (2-0) hold a 13-1 series advantage against the Rams (2-0).
"You've got to put all that stuff behind you and play," ASU head coach Mike White said. "The stage is set. It should be a heightened game, unlike any other game we play this year."
The current ASU players, none of whom have played in a game against VSU, don't care about that series record.
"The only record we're worried about right now is going 3-0," Rams' safety Jarmarkus Gaskins said.
VSU head coach David Dean, who was the offensive coordinator for the Blazers from 2000-2006, has faced ASU just once as head coach in 2007 after former head coach Chris Hatcher left for Georgia Southern. Dean said he thinks the lopsided series record has to do with bad timing as White was working to build the Rams program.
"With us not playing them the last three years, I think that record is a little skewed because they would have probably beaten us in that three-year period that we haven't played," Dean said. "Their program is at a different level than it was in the early 2000s."
Rams' senior quarterback Stanley Jennings is a big reason for that. Jennings was named SIAC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 307 yards and four touchdowns in a 49-28 win. The Blazers needed double overtime in the season-opener to beat Wingate, 34-28.
"They're awfully explosive on offense and we've had trouble stopping folks," Dean said of ASU. "We've done a good job in the red zone (on defense), but we've given up a lot of yards."
VSU has given up more than 280 yards per game in the first two wins this season. Still, ASU expects the Blazers' "Black Swarm" defense to come after Jennings early and often.
"Whatever they do, they do it well," said Rams' offensive coordinator, Uyl Joyner, who was the quarterback during ASU's only win in the series. "They don't go away from it. We already know the speed of the game against Valdosta is going to be another speed than what you're used to."
VSU quarterback Austen Roberts earned the starting nod coming out of fall practice and then picked up Gulf South Conference Player of the Week honors in Week 1 after throwing for 180 yards and running for another 90. The Blazers will be without starting center Jake Thomas (sprained ankle) and his backup, who has a broken hand. Dean said he'll move one of his guards to center and have to start a redshirt freshman at guard.
"We're not going to score a lot of points so we rely a lot on our defense to keep things close," said Dean, whose team scored on a fumble and punt return last Thursday in a 24-17 win against Newberry.
Both teams say they want the series to continue past this season's one-year renewal, although nothing official has been announced for the future. It's not the biggest rivalry game on either team's schedule, but it generally has a lot of say-so in the regional rankings come playoff time.
"Anytime we play them, whether it's the first game of the year (or) playoffs, something is on the line," White said. "We try to make it a regular week, but it's not a regular week. There's a little bit more to it."
It's a rivalry, both teams agree, because they recruit against each other, many of the players played together in high school and many of the alumni work together.
"I've always enjoyed playing Albany -- great fan base, great atmosphere," Dean said. "It's what college football is all about."