Alabama State football will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Thanksgiving in the annual Turkey Day Classic, looking for a win to close out what has been a strong first season under coach Eddie Robinson Jr.
The game will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday at ASU Stadium in Montgomery and will be streamed on ESPN+.
One of the nation’s longest-running HBCU football “classics,” the Turkey Day Classic has been played every year since 1924, with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19. Alabama State has hosted the game in Montgomery since its inception, with only two games taking place elsewhere (1948 and 1982 in Tuskegee).
Traditionally, the game was contested between Alabama State and Tuskegee. Prior to 2012, all but five Turkey Day Classics featured the Golden Tigers, but they withdrew from the matchup after the season in favor of competing in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
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The Hornets continued to host the Turkey Day Classic against other opponents. Last season, they faced Tuskegee on Thanksgiving for the first time in nine years. In February, Alabama State and Tuskegee announced a three-year deal to play in the Turkey Day Classic starting next season and running through 2025.
Alabama State is 43-51-3 all-time in the Turkey Day Classic but is 10-2 against teams other than Tuskegee. Arkansas-Pine Bluff has never appeared in the game.
ASU has won its last five games against UAPB, including a 35-15 victory on Homecoming last October.
Here’s what to know about the 98th annual Turkey Day Classic.
Alabama State brings shutdown defense
While the Hornets have been inconsistent offensively, their defense has kept them competitive in almost every game this season. Outside of its loss to UCLA, ASU hasn’t given up more than 26 points in a game.
The Hornets rank second in scoring defense (20.3 points allowed per game) and fourth in total defense (325.6 yards allowed on average). Their rush defense has been particularly strong, giving up less than four yards per carry.
Leaders for ASU’s defense include linebacker Colton Adams (105 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss), defensive back Irshaad Davis (57 tackles, five pass breakups) and defensive lineman Brandon Gaddy (46 tackles, eight TFLs).
Arkansas-Pine Bluff has struggled this season
The Golden Lions (2-8, 0-7) have yet to win a game against another FCS team. They beat Division II Lane and NAIA North American to open their season but have been outscored in SWAC play by an average of 23 points.
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UAPB fired Doc Gamble on Oct. 21 and promoted offensive coordinator Don Treadwell to interim head coach. Treadwell was an interim coach at Michigan State in 2010, filling in for a game after Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack, and spent three seasons as the head coach at Miami (Ohio).
Running back Kayvon Britten is UAPB’s biggest offensive weapon. He’s rushed for 903 yards on 171 carries and leads the SWAC with 13 touchdowns on the ground. Defensive back Nathan Seward is tied for the conference lead with 10 passes defended (three interceptions, seven deflections).
NFL prospects have chance to impress
ESPN carrying the game on its streaming platform, on a day with only a handful of other college football games, means ASU and UAPB players have the opportunity for more exposure — and potentially pro buzz — than normal.
The Hornets have two players ranked among ESPN’s top 50 HBCU draft prospects for 2023. Cornerback Keenan Isaac is ranked No. 18 and his secondary partner Davis — the brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis — is No. 32. Golden Lions offensive tackle Mark Evans II is ranked No. 2.
Alabama State has been on national TV five times this year. The MEAC/SWAC Challenge against Howard was televised by ESPN, and the Labor Day Classic vs. Miles and Magic City Classic against Alabama A&M were on ESPN+. The Hornets’ game at UCLA was on Pac-12 Network, and their Homecoming showdown against Jackson State was carried on ESPNU.
This will be the fourth national appearance for Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which was on ESPN+ against Oklahoma State, Southern and Grambling State.
Can Dematrius Davis end season on a high note?
Davis’ first season at ASU has been a trying one. While the Auburn transfer has mostly played well (77-of-129, 929 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions), injuries have prevented him from getting into a rhythm.
Davis hurt his right shoulder in the Labor Day Classic, missing the Hornets’ next game, and was knocked out of the game against Jackson State after hurting his shoulder again and did not play against Mississippi Valley State. He also was replaced by Myles Crawley against Florida A&M after suffering a lower leg injury.
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The former four-star has the potential to be one of the SWAC’s best quarterbacks, and a strong showing against UAPB would likely be a boost for him leading into his first full offseason with the program.
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.