Rams QB David Kooi is a game-time decision today against the Thorobreds with an injured hip.
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WHO: Albany State (1-3) vs. Kentucky State (1-2).
WHAT: 16th annual Chicago Football Classic.
WHEN: 4 p.m. today.
WHERE: Soldier Field, Chicago.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
ONLINE: For live scoring updates, log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports
CHICAGO — Larry Whitfield stepped into an airport for the first time early Thursday morning and admittedly was uneasy about his first time in an airplane.
“Yeah, I’m pretty nervous to fly,” the Albany State sophomore linebacker and former Monroe star said.
Something even scarier for the Albany State football team?
Flying back with a four-game losing streak.
That’s what is on the line today when Albany State (1-3) plays Kentucky State (1-2) in the 16th annual Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field, where the Rams are hoping to turn around their season and end their longest losing streak in a decade.
“We need this really bad,” ASU receiver Ronnie Tubbs said. “We are desperate for a win. We are going to do whatever it takes to get this win.”
After winning their season opener against North Greenville and rising to No. 16 in the Division II coaches’ poll, the Rams have fallen on hard times, losing three straight games to Wingate, Elizabeth City State and Miles. ASU is on its first three-game losing streak since it started the 2002 season with three straight losses, and the Rams are in danger of going on their first single-season, four-game losing streak since 1991.
“I don’t know of any other remedies to make this a great trip than getting back on the winning side,” ASU coach Mike White said.
The Rams’ season is on life support, teetering on the edge of disaster. It’s still possible for them to turn it around, salvage an East Division title and advance to the conference championship game for the second year in a row, but the Rams can’t afford any more devastating losses.
Today’s must-win game might be the tipping point.
“I feel like we are close. If we’re not close, then we are close to going the wrong way,” ASU running back Nathan Hoyte said. “We are close to going either way. Right now, we are definitely on the back end of a landslide. If we continue to stay on this path and continue to struggle, it won’t lead to anything positive. But if you go on a five- or six-game losing streak, there’s no telling how anybody is going to act.”
For now, however, the Rams are holding it together. With a flight to Chicago and countless festivities on the horizon, the Rams focused on just one thing during practice this week: winning.
“We are at practice now preparing for the game, so all the other stuff and the atmosphere is secondary,” Whitfield said Wednesday. “Being focused on the game and what is going on in front of me on the field is what I try to do.”
More than anything, the Rams need to find some cohesiveness on offense. ASU has scored just five offensive touchdowns in its first four games and is ranked outside of the Top 100 in Division II in every major offensive category — 144th in scoring offense (12.8 points per game), 130th in total offense (274 yards per game), 113th in passing offense (171.5 ypg) and 120th in rushing offense (103 ypg).
Starting quarterback David Kooi is recovering from a bruised hip, Hoyte is coming off a season-low 18 yards rushing in last week’s 41-6 loss to Miles, and Tubbs, who was a preseason HBCU All-American, has just 80 yards receiving without a TD this season.
When the offense takes the field today, White said the Rams will just try to keep it simple.
“We just have to find something positive to hang our hat on over there. We are all over the place trying to find something that works,” he said. “We just need to try to make the outside and inside running games and short passing game work. We need to be patient and stick with something that we think will work against Kentucky State. Like I said, I don’t think this is a big-time, high-scoring offense. Not even close. We just have to be functional with the ball. We have to get first downs and score when the opportunity is there for us.”
ASU and Kentucky State played in the Indianapolis Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium in the Circle City Classic last season, and the teams combined for 88 points in the Rams’ 57-31 victory.
But this season, both squads have been carried by their defenses. The Rams allow 25.8 points per game, but they give up just 89.8 rushing yards (22nd in the nation) a game, while Kentucky State is No. 4 in total defense (224 yards per game), No. 9 in rushing defense (53 yards per game) and No. 39 in scoring defense (21 points per game).
But the Thorobreds, who are coming off a 27-8 loss to Stillman, also have some weapons on offense. Junior running back Justin Williams rushed for 101 yards and a TD last week, and Kentucky State outgained Stillman, 293-266, in total offense.
The Rams are 15-8 against Kentucky State and own an eight-game winning streak against the Thorobreds — but ASU isn’t paying attention to the history books. All that matters right now is a victory.
“We have to focus. We don’t really have a choice,” White said. “We are going to have some of our leaders talk to the guys on the team and not so much the coaches. We just have to pull together and find a way to pull this game out.”