Alabama State out to show they can play with the big guys

jsmith3@herald-leader.comOctober 30, 2013 

  • Saturday

    Alabama State at Kentucky

    When: 7:30 p.m.

    Records: Alabama State 6-2, Kentucky 1-6

Alabama State's coach considers himself a good listener.

And when Reggie Barlow walks around the Hornets' football complex, he hears his players talk about offers from the big schools in the power conferences.

Now, as Alabama State (6-2) prepares to come to Commonwealth Stadium to face its first Southeastern Conference opponent in school history, Barlow tells his players that they have a chance to show something.

"Now we get a really good opportunity to see how you measure up against SEC guys," Barlow said he told his team. "It's the mindset or the approach of this is a great opportunity to see how you measure up, to have an opportunity to play against an SEC school."

Some players already have a pretty good idea of how they stack up against SEC competition, players like running back Isaiah Crowell, who starred at Georgia before being sidetracked by legal trouble.

Crowell isn't the only one.

The Hornets have almost 20 players on their roster that either played for or initially signed to play for Football Bowl Subdivision programs and it didn't work out for one reason or another. Schools like Florida, West Virginia and Missouri.

Those Division I transfers are sprinkled around the roster of a team that brings a high level of confidence into the game, having won six straight games with a balanced offense and a high-octane defense.

"Anybody that thinks that we can just roll out there because we're an SEC team and win this game, you're sadly mistaken," said Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, whose team has taken an opposite road this season, losing five in a row.

"I wouldn't think our players would feel overconfident about anybody we're playing, I wouldn't think, and we'll address that," Stoops said.

Alabama State has played three Division I opponents and lost all three, but this might be the Hornets' best team in that span since 2006 when they lost to Troy 38-0.

"A lot of people may see us as an underdog, but it's a chance for us to go up there and show what we've got," sophomore quarterback Daniel Duhart told the Montgomery Advertiser this week. "We're not going to back down at all. Hopefully, we can go up there and make it a game and get a win."

Duhart, who has passed for 1,307 yards and 12 touchdowns, helps lead a Hornets offense that is averaging 477.8 yards a game. Crowell, who has been nursing injuries this season, has 833 yards and 12 touchdowns.

That's just 233 fewer yards than UK's entire ground attack this season and four more scores. Alabama State, which admitted it has not faced a defensive line with the size and speed of Kentucky, is averaging 261.8 yards a game rushing.

The State defense has its own eye-popping numbers, forcing 19 turnovers this season (11 recovered fumbles and eight interceptions). The Hornets have a dangerous blitz package that has 80 tackles for losses and 38 sacks in eight games this season.

By comparison, Clemson leads FBS schools with 73 tackles for losses and 29 sacks so far this season.

"They will zero blitz probably more than a lot of people we play, so we've got to be prepared for that," UK's offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "The quarterbacks have got to be ready to get the ball out of their hands."

But Brown, who shared a media market with the Hornets when he was coaching at Troy, said the biggest advantage Alabama State might have is that the Hornets have been in big games before.

Sure, they've never faced an SEC school before, but they've been in front of big crowds, including some 63,113 last out in the Magic City Classic against Alabama A&M.

"Playing in our atmosphere isn't going to be anything new for them," Brown said. "They play in front of a lot of people and on TV quite a bit."

The coaches have issued their warnings and the players are doing their part. UK running back Raymond Sanders said practices have been as intense for Alabama State as they were a few weeks ago for top-ranked Alabama.

"We're not practicing like we're going against a smaller team," he said. "We respect those guys and we're hungry for a win."

Fellow senior Donte Rumph said UK knows it can't overlook anyone.

"Everybody's humble," he said. "We're just trying to look for a win."

In the same way that Alabama State is looking to make a statement.

Saturday

Alabama State at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

Records: Alabama State 6-2, Kentucky 1-6

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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