Former Monroe star-turned Albany State leading tackler Larry Whitfield takes out the legs of Morehouse star running back David Carter during last season’s meeting in Albany. Whitfield and the Rams were able to contain Carter last season in a 25-15 win, but the Tigers host ASU today bent on revenge. (email@example.com)
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WHO: Albany State (3-3, 2-1) at Morehouse (2-4, 1-2)
WHAT: ASU’s fourth conference game, first vs. East Division foe
WHEN: 7 p.m. today.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: Log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ATLANTA — Albany State has faced its share of talented backfields this season.
Rams coach Mike White called Elizabeth City State RB Daronte McNeill “as athletic as they come,” before ASU’s 13-12 loss Sept. 15. One week later, he watched Miles’ Floyd Graves gain 126 yards on 11 carries, and then eight Lane rushers combined for 169 yards last week.
Nothing, however, compares to the rushing attack the Rams will face today against Morehouse.
“It’s all about the ground attack for Morehouse,” said White, whose Rams are 3-3 overall, 1-1 in the conference and riding a two-game winning streak. “With the line in front of them, nobody runs a (zone-read option) as well as Morehouse. It’s why they are on the top of the food chain in the run game.”
The Tigers (2-4, 1-1) average 236 yards on the ground per game (17th in the nation) and have rushed for 19 TDs (3rd in the nation) this season. Quarterback Donnay Ragland, who directs Morehouse’s option attack, leads the team with 428 rushing yards and six TDs, but no one is as electric in the backfield as senior RB David Carter, who missed the last two weeks with a hamstring injury.
There’s a chance he will be back on the field today, and that’s not good news for the Rams.
In just four games, Carter has rushed for 404 yards and six TDs, including a 208-yard, three-TD performance against Edward Waters when he surpassed Denzel Washington’s son, John David Washington, as the all-time leading rusher at Morehouse.
Even without Carter in the lineup the last two weeks, Morehouse ran all over Clark Atlanta and Tuskegee for 336 combined yards.
“I think they are the best running game we see,” White said. “The other teams we see that run the ball well also throw it well, so you can’t just gear in on that running game. Morehouse, you have to get them up off the ground. To be successful you have to get them off the ground.
“It makes it tough for our defensive linemen because (Ragland) disappears behind the line and all of a sudden he is outside or up inside. They do a really good job with it.”
ASU defensive lineman Justin Blash is ready for the challenge.
“You have to beat the man in front of you, and everything else falls right to you,” Blash said.
The Rams contained Carter last season, holding him to a season-low 45 yards and holding the entire Morehouse team to just 58 yards on the ground. Nobody was more instrumental in stopping Carter than ASU linebacker and former Monroe star Larry Whitfield, who led ASU with 12 tackles in the 25-15 victory.
Whitfield has 49 tackles and a season-high 30 solo stops this season but said stopping the Morehouse rushing attack starts up front.
“We just have to attack and be sound on the defensive line,” Whitfield said. “That’s where it starts.”
Today’s game begins ASU’s final four-game stretch of the season against the remaining East Division teams. The Rams and Fort Valley State are tied atop the division standings with one conference loss apiece, and if ASU runs the table its next three games it will set up a showdown with FVSU in the final regular-season game that could decide the East Division champion.
ASU’s path to a conference championship couldn’t be clearer.
“Every game is going to have a must-win feeling to it,” White said. “Each of these games are going to be very tough, grind-it-out, four-quarter games where it comes down to who makes the play at the end of the game.”
Nobody is even thinking about that three-game stretch in September when the Rams fell two games under .500 with their first three-game losing streak in a decade.
All of the focus is on today.
“That’s how it is, and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Whitfield said about the team’s vision. “Everything in the past is in the past.”
That past includes troublesome offensive numbers and disappointing performances from quarterback David Kooi.
But all of that turned around last week in ASU’s 36-14 win against Lane when Kooi came off the bench and threw for a career-high three TDs and 275 yards. Camilla native Jessie Atkins, ASU’s leading receiver, caught four of Kooi’s passes for 69 yards and believes the offense has finally turned a corner.
“Communication is getting better,” Atkins said. “The more we talk and communicate and bond together as a team, the more the offense starts to click. And we are starting to do that more, day in and day out.”
Morehouse has lost three of its last four games, including last week’s 21-14 loss to Tuskegee, but Kooi is cautioning his teammates not to be deceived by the Tigers’ record.
“You can’t take anyone lightly,” Kooi said. “They are going to come out to play, especially since it’s their homecoming. Everybody comes out to play against Albany State anyway.”