ASU head football coach Mike White
WHO: Lane (2-3, 1-3) at Albany State (2-3, 1-1).
WHAT: ASU’s third conference game of the season.
WHEN: 5 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: Log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
MACON — The Rams stopped the bleeding last week with a victory against Kentucky State.
Now it’s all about making sure the wound isn’t reopened.
“This is a real chance for us to build some momentum. We have to. We cannot go back,” Albany State coach Mike White said.
The Rams (2-3) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 17-14 victory against Kentucky State last week and are looking to continue their winning ways today in the Music City Classic in Macon against Lane.
“With the way we played last week and improvements we made from the week before, if we can make that same jump again I think we will be in good shape,” White said. “We aren’t going to make the big leaps, but if we just keep grinding and working I think we can get it done.”
The Rams were outscored 91-27 during their losing streak, but nobody at Albany State is talking about that frustrating three-game stretch that dropped them two games under .500.
Instead, they have a vision of getting back to .500 today, running the table against East Division opponents and qualifying for a second straight conference championship game.
It’s all about moving forward for the Rams.
“We started off slow, and we are trying to get better as it goes, win games and get the lead in our division,” Rams QB David Kooi said.
The Rams are 1-1 in the conference and ½ game behind East Division leader Fort Valley State, and the toughest part of their schedule might be behind them. Their next four opponents are all under .500: Lane (2-3), Morehouse (2-3) Clark Atlanta (1-4) and Benedict (0-5).
History is on ASU’s side, too.
The Rams are 10-1-1 against Lane, 23-7 against Morehouse, 34-6 against Clark Atlanta and 9-1 against Benedict. With a win against those four teams, the Rams would improve to 6-3 and set up a possible winner-take-all game for the East Division title with FVSU in the Fountain City Classic on Nov. 3.
However, that path to the conference championship game starts today against Lane, which stunned ASU last season in Jackson, Tenn.
In 2011, the Dragons held QB Stanley Jennings to a regular season-low 160 passing yards, and Lane running back McKinsley Marbury rushed for 142 yards and three TDs.
And this year’s Lane team is even better, White said.
“They have a lot better offense, especially in the passing game,” White said. “They seem to be able to throw the ball better than they were last year. For us, that means we need to do better in pass defense and probably put some scores on the board to beat them.”
Lane is led by junior QB Chris Rini, who has accounted for 1,288 yards (1,042 passing, 246 rushing) and 12 touchdowns (10 passing, 2 rushing).
“He is a good quarterback,” White said. “He makes good decisions and still looks down the field when he scrambles. He could have one foot going out of bounds and still throw the ball. He finds receivers, makes plays and makes them go with his arm and his feet.”
Rini and the Dragons can put up points. In their two victories they scored 45 and 37 points, and White said keeping them out of the end zone early and forcing turnovers are keys to victory.
“The teams that have beaten them forced turnovers and got ahead of them,” White said. “I think that’s going to be key, that we don’t sit and try to battle with them for four quarters. Not getting behind is going to be really key.”
Jennings led a game-winning drive in the final minutes to help ASU come back to beat Savannah State in last year’s Music City Classic.
White is hoping the running game comes alive in Macon this year.
“We gotta be able to run the ball,” he said. “That is going to be true with any opponent we play. We need to run the ball because the play action pass is so important to what we try to do offensively.”
Rams running back Nathan Hoyte has been ASU’s biggest weapon on an offense that has struggled to put up points (13.6 ppg). Hoyte has 433 rushing yards and four TDs and is coming off one of his best performances of the season (95 yards and a TD against KSU). Last year against Lane, Hoyte had his only two-TD game of the season.
“When we are able to run, it seems like everything goes better,” Hoyte said. “Even last week it seemed like we were able to do a better job running the ball. And because we were able to, it seemed like the passing game opened up a little more. The running and passing games are interdependent on each other. When one is going, the other is going to get going.”