VALDOSTA — The Valdosta State Blazers and the Albany State Golden Rams renew their South Georgia rivalry tonight in Albany.
The meeting will be the first between the two teams since 2007, with VSU dominating the all-time series, posting a 13-1 record. VSU’s only loss in the series came in the 2004 season opener, the Blazers only loss of the season, on their way to the first of two national championships.
The renewal of the rivalry is being greatly accepted by both fan bases. Albany State reportedly sold out of their share of the tickets early in the week, while VSU sold a large amount of their allotment of tickets.
“At this level, you don’t get to play in front of crowds like this all too often,” Valdosta State head coach David Dean said. “That is why we like playing against the Albany State’s. You like playing in front of crowds that play their band the entire time, because the emotion gets good. You’re talking about atmosphere, for division II, this is going to be a great one.”
The large crowd is not a rare occurance for Albany State and teams in their conference. The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference has posted the highest attendance, across division II football, 18 of the last 20 seasons.
The rivalry has also caused for some ‘trash’ talking between both fan bases and teams.
“I’m sure there has been talk,” Dean said. “With the media that is out now, I’m sure there is. That is just common nature, and that is how some guys like to get hyped for the game.”
Senior linebacker Japree Miles confirmed Dean’s thoughts, saying he has heard of some chatter between the two teams.
“There has been some (talk),” Miles said. “But, I am just going to leave it off the record.”
The talk isn’t just between the teams and fans. The SIAC blogger, for a nationally known website, has even sparked some fire in the Blazers, posting he guaranteed Albany State would shutdown VSU, and win by over two touchdowns.
As for on the field, the Blazers are facing an experienced and talented Albany State team. The Golden Rams enter the matchup ranked sixth in the country, while VSU is ranked 12th.
Tonight’s game will mark VSU’s first game since last Thursday, when they defeated the Newberry Wolves, 24-17. Much like the Blazers, Albany State enter tonight’s matchup with a 2-0 record. The Golden Rams defeated Savannah State, 37-34, in week one, and the Wingate Bulldogs, 49-28, last Saturday.
With both teams having played Wingate already this season, Dean said Albany State refused to share their game film against Wingate. The move is similar to Newberry, who also refused to share their previous week’s game film with VSU.
“I didn’t see Wingate,” Dean said. “(Albany State) wouldn’t trade with us, but I did get to see the Savannah State game.”
What the Blazers do know is the Golden Rams are good, especially offensively. ASU has scored 86 points throughout their first two games, thanks largely to the play of quarterback Stan Jennings. Jennings is known for his passing game, along with being able to use his legs to avoid opposing defenders.
VSU has imitated Jennings by using a variety of quarterbacks during practice.
“The first thing you have to do is recognize what you’re going against. (ASU) is a good offense” VSU co-defensive coordinator Seth Wallace said. “We have a handful of quarterbacks that have helped us out in multiple situations this week, because (Jennings) is a quarterback that runs the ball extremely well and throws the ball extremely well.”
Jennings helped lead Albany State to 427 yards of offense last week against Wingate. The pre-season First-Team All-SIAC selection quarterback will likely look to his favorite wide receiver, Ronnie Tubbs, early and often. The duo connected six times last week for 136 yards and three scores.
“We have worked hard and we have trained well,” Miles said. “(Albany State) did a pretty good job, but, really, Wingate showed a lot of their flaws. They’re still a pretty good team, but I feel like we are ready to go.”
“(Jennings) is scary,” Dean said. “He is playing on a different level, right now. We played Cody Haffly in week one, and we were scared of him just being a Harlon Hill guy, and Jennings is playing even better than him at this time of the year.”
As for VSU, overcoming their own offensive woes from week two, especially in the running game, will be the top priority. The Blazers rushed for 272 yards in their week one win over Wingate, the ninth-most rushing yards in school history, and followed it up with just 32 rushing yards last Thursday against Newberry.
“We just didn’t execute like we wanted to,” running back Theseus Jackson said. “Newberry came to play and we just weren’t focused enough in the running game. We’re looking to correct that against Albany.”
The Blazers will also be without starting center Jake Thomas. Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the Newberry game, and will be out for the majority of the season. Starting left guard Cam Short will move to starting center in the absence of Thomas, and Robert Newton will start at left guard. The offensive line adjustments could give VSU problems, as Albany State is known for having a tough defensive line, which is anchored by a dominate nose tackle.
“It is scary,” Dean said. “W’re down to a guard playing center, and he has to make the calls, and he has a 330-pound guy right atop of him. (Cam) is going to have his hands full, there is no doubt about it. The big thing for Cam is, he has to play his game.”
Defensively, the Golden Rams have a lot of talent and size. ASU will lineup in a 3-4 defense, although Dean noted they will place a linebacker at the end of the line, making the defense look more like a 4-3 alignment.
Tonight’s game is schedule for a 7 p.m. kickoff and can be heard on the Blazer Radio Network, which includes 92.1 FM. and 92.9 FM in Valdosta.
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