Alabama State football will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Thanksgiving Day in the annual Turkey Day Classic, looking for a win to cap off a strong first season under coach Eddie Robinson Jr.
The game will take place on Thursday at 2pm at ASU Stadium in Montgomery and will be streamed on ESPN+.
One of the longest-running HBCU football “classics” in the country, the Turkey Day Classic has been played every year since 1924, with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19. Alabama State has hosted a game in Montgomery since its inception, with only two games being held elsewhere (1948 and 1982 at Tuskegee).
Traditionally, the game was contested between Alabama State and Tuskegee. Prior to 2012, the Golden Tigers had appeared in all but five of the Turkey Day Classics, but withdrew after the season in favor of competing in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
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The Hornets went on 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 agreement to play in the Turkey Day Classic starting next season and running through 2025.
Alabama State is 43-51-3 in the Turkey Day Classic, but is 10-2 against teams other than Tuskegee. Arkansas-Pine Bluff never appeared in the game.
ASU has won its last five games against UAPB, including a 35-15 victory in Homecoming last October.
Here’s what you should know about the 98th annual Turkey Day Classic.
Alabama State brings a shutdown defense
While the Hornets have been inconsistent offensively, their defense has kept them competitive in nearly every game this season. Aside from the loss to UCLA, ASU has not 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 rushing defense was especially strong, giving up less than four yards per carry.
ASU’s defensive leaders 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 TFL).
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 defeated Division II Lane and NAIA North American to open their season, but were outscored by an average of 23 points in SWAC play.
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UAPB fired Doc Gamble on October 21 and promoted offensive coordinator Don Treadwell to interim head coach. Treadwell was the interim coach at Michigan State in 2010, joining the 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 has 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 defensed (three interceptions, seven pass deflections).
NFL prospects have a 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 an opportunity for more exposure — and potentially professional buzz — than usual.
The Hornets have two players ranked among the top 50 HBCU prospects in ESPN’s 2023 draft. Cornerback Keenan Isaac is 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 #2.
Alabama State has been on national television five times this year. The MEAC/SWAC Challenge against Howard was televised by ESPN and the Labor Day Classic vs. Miles and the Magic City Classic against Alabama A&M were on ESPN+. The Hornets’ game at UCLA was on the Pac-12 Network and their Homecoming showdown against Jackson State was on ESPNU.
It will be Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s fourth national appearance, having been on ESPN+ against Oklahoma State, Southern and Grambling State.
Can Dematrius Davis end the season on a high note?
Davis’ first season at ASU was challenging. While the Auburn transfer mostly played well (77-of-129, 929 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions), injuries prevented him from getting into a rhythm.
Injuring his right shoulder in the Labor Day Classic, Davis missed the Hornets’ next game and was ruled out of the game against Jackson State after re-injuring his shoulder and not playing against Mississippi Valley State. He was also 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 top quarterbacks in the SWAC, and a strong showing against UAPB would likely give him a boost heading into his first full offseason with the program.
Jacob Shames can be reached by email at [email protected], by phone at 334-201-9117 and on Twitter @Jacob_Shames.