After backing up senior Darryl Carey for the first two games of the season, Albany State junior running back Nathan Hoyte — who is shown above trying to fight through Valdosta State tacklers during Saturday’s game — got the start against the Blazers.
ALBANY -- Albany State's rushing attack was grounded Saturday in the Rams' first loss of the season and has been slow out of the gates.
But there are plenty of reasons for it.
"It's nowhere where we need it to be," ASU head coach Mike White said of the run game. "We have to have the run game to be the offense that we want to be."
The Rams have run for just 106 yards per game through three games, nearly 50 yards below their average a season ago. They were held to just 57 yards in a 30-27 loss to Valdosta State on Saturday, but both senior Darryl Carey, who started the first two games, and junior transfer Nathan Hoyte, who started Saturday, say the rushing attack is close to hitting stride.
"I think it's there," Carey said. "We're just missing that ..."
Carey held his thumb and index finger about a half-inch apart. That close, he said expecting a breakout Saturday at Miles College in ASU's SIAC opener.
"We're like a machine, and we're just missing that one screw," said Carey, the only healthy returning Rams' running back on the roster who had carries last season. "We're trying to see what screw fits. It's coming, though. "
Carey started the first two games of the season and has run for 92 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns. Hoyte was named the starter Saturday, but was held to just 28 yards on 18 carries with a rushing score. The Shepherd University (W.V.) transfer, who ran for more than 800 yards and scored 17 TDs last season, has gained 114 yards and scored twice on 43 carries.
"The week before and production at practice (determines who starts)," ASU running backs coach Kenyan Conner. "We want them to compete at practice and work hard and earn their reps during the game."
Conner grades each back on film, looking at blitz protection, ball security and correct alignment and taking the right "track" on handoffs.
"Right now one (Hoyte) has the higher grade," Conner said. "Nobody is just way above anybody talent-wise, so you have to have a gauge."
Hoyte, who ran for more than 200 yards in the playoffs last year to help get Shepherd to the Division II semifinals, said neither tailback cares who gets the start.
"We both run the ball," Hoyte said. "The O-line is getting better weekly. We're getting better weekly. We're still fine tuning a lot of things and starting to jell better."
Both backs were thrust into starting roles in the preseason after Kareem Hess suffered a second knee injury in as many years, leaving ASU thin at running back. Junior transfer Luther Edwards has also gotten 12 carries on the season to provide some depth.
ROAD TRIP: ASU's 250-mile journey to Fairfield, Ala., on Saturday will be it's longest of the season thus far. White likens the long road trips and hotel stays to a bonding activity.
"The road trips are really special for our guys," he said. "When we're around here (in Albany) we're all over the place. Being in the hotel, we're eating together and all of us are under the same roof. I think it brings the team together. I think road trips are positive."
Carey said the only difference on the long trips are "a longer (music) playlist and more snacks."
"We approach it the same," he said.
White said he's able to pass the time by getting a nap in at the hotel and meeting more with coaches. ASU's longest road trip of the season, by far, will come next week when the Rams go to Indianapolis, Ind., to play Kentucky State 12 hours from home.
That's no problem for Hoyte, whose Shepherd University team went 15 hours to play Delta State in the D-II semis last season.
GOING FOR SIX: ASU went for it on fourth down in last week's loss three times while in field goal range against Valdosta. White said it was nothing against his kicking game, which had the first extra point blocked causing the Rams to go for two twice after that.
"Valdosta is a different squad," White said. "You've got to have touchdowns to beat them. Field goals are not going to get it with them. (Against) somebody else, we probably would kick."
Tory Torstenson will continue to place kick for the Rams, although it's possible Australian native Luke Jones could get a shot later in the season. White was impressed by Jones' punting Saturday, his first game in the U.S., and first using an American football, which is shaped differently than an Australian-rules football.
"He's so fast (getting the punt off)," White said of Jones. "It's hard for teams to pressure him."
The Rams have lined Jones up to punt at practice with no blockers and defenders running at full speed aren't able to get to him before the punt is off.
INJURY UPDATE: The Rams lost freshman linebacker Jamian Barlow for the season Saturday to a broken leg. Barlow, from Carver High in Montgomery, Ala., had seen limited action this season, recording one tackle against Wingate.