Alabama State Football will host Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Thanksgiving at the annual Turkey Day Classic for a win to cap off a strong first season under coach Eddie Robinson Jr.
The game takes place Thursday at 2 p.m. at ASU Stadium in Montgomery and will be streamed on ESPN+.
One of the country’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. The state of Alabama has hosted the game in Montgomery since its inception, with only two games played elsewhere (in Tuskegee in 1948 and 1982).
Traditionally, the game was played between the state of Alabama and Tuskegee. Prior to 2012, all but five Turkey Day Classics featured the Golden Tigers, but they withdrew from matchup after the season to enter 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 for the first time in nine years on Thanksgiving. In February, Alabama State and Tuskegee announced a three-year deal to compete in the Turkey Day Classic beginning next season through 2025.
Alabama State is 43-51-3 all-time in the Turkey Day Classic but 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 win at Homecoming last October.
Here’s what you should know about the 98th Annual Turkey Day Classic.
The state of Alabama brings a shutdown defense
While the Hornets have been fickle on offense, their defense has kept them competitive in almost every game this season. Aside from the loss to UCLA, ASU has not dropped 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 was particularly strong, giving up less than four yards per carry.
Leading the ASU defense are linebacker Colton Adams (105 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses), defenseman 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 defeated Division II Lane and NAIA North American to open their season but were outplayed in SWAC play, averaging 23 points.
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UAPB fired Doc Gamble on October 21 and promoted offensive coordinator Don Treadwell to interim head coach. Treadwell was interim coach at Michigan State in 2010, filling in for a game after Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack, and serving three seasons as head coach at Miami, Ohio.
Running back Kayvon Britten is UAPB’s greatest offensive weapon. He has rushed for 903 yards on 171 carries and leads the SWAC with 13 touchdowns on the ground. Defenseman Nathan Seward is tied for the conference lead with 10 passes defended (three interceptions, seven deflections).
NFL prospects have a chance to impress
ESPN, which is broadcasting the game in a day with just a handful of other college football games on its streaming platform, means ASU and UAPB players have an opportunity to garner more attention — and potentially pro-buzz — than they normally do receive.
The Hornets have two players who are among ESPN’s top 50 HBCU draft prospects for 2023. Cornerback Keenan Isaac is at No. 18 and his secondary partner Davis — the brother of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerer Carlton Davis — is at No. 32. Golden Lions offensive tackle Mark Evans II is at No. 2.
The state of Alabama has been featured on national television five times this year. The MEAC/SWAC challenge against Howard was televised on ESPN, and the Labor Day Classic vs. Miles and Magic City Classic versus Alabama A&M were televised on ESPN+. The Hornets’ game at UCLA was broadcast on Pac-12 Network, and their homecoming showdown against Jackson State was broadcast on ESPNU.
This is the fourth national appearance for Arkansas-Pine Bluff, who took on Oklahoma State, Southern and Grambling State on ESPN+.
Can Dematrius Davis end the season on a high?
Davis’ first season at ASU was a tough one. While the Auburn transfer has mostly played well (77 of 129, 929 yards, seven touchdowns, three interceptions), injuries have prevented him from finding a rhythm.
Davis injured his right shoulder at the Labor Day Classic, missed the Hornets’ next game, and was kicked out of the game against Jackson State after injuring his shoulder again and not playing 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 SWAC’s best quarterbacks, and a strong performance 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 [email protected], by phone at 334-201-9117, and on Twitter at @Jacob_Shames.