ASU NOTEBOOK: Rams still looking for answers on defense

Albany State Golden Rams

Albany State Golden Rams

ALBANY -- Where oh where has the Albany State defense gone?

Five games into the season, and the Rams are still last in the SIAC in total defense and scoring defense, giving up 393 yards and 30 points per game.

That defense, which has been ranked in the top 10 in Division II for several years and was ranked second and third in nearly every category last season, seems to be lost.

But before Tuesday's practice, Rams coach Mike White said it can all be turned around

Somewhere in the playbooks of defensive mastermind White, it's there.

Somewhere in the midst of those extra sprints or endless hours studying film, the Rams will find it.

"It's very fixable," White said about the defense, which now ranks 103rd in the nation in total defense and 104th in scoring defense.

Kentucky State threw all over the Rams (4-1, 2-0 SIAC) on Saturday, racking up 433 passing yards. ASU was able to shut down the Thorobreds' running game and walk away from Indianapolis with a win thanks to its own explosive offense, but the defense still isn't where White thinks it should be.

Earlier in the season, the Rams were getting burned by long passes, but on Saturday they were getting consistently beat on short passes that Kentucky State turned into long gains through broken tackles.

"We tried to play a little different coverage, and it did not work out as well as I thought it would," White said. "We took the deep ball away from them, but we gave up a lot of short passes and yards after the catch, which comes back to tackling. And that's what we are going to concentrate a little better on this week."

Tighter coverage and better tackling is being emphasized in practice this week, but ASU defensive lineman Antorio Wells, who had one sack and 3.5 tackles Saturday, said it all starts with getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

"It starts with us," Wells said about an ASU pass rush that is averaging just 1.8 sacks per game.

"We need to get a better pass rush, so that (the QB) doesn't have time to throw it like that. At the same time, when you pass the ball 63 times a game (like Kentucky State did), it's kind of hard. But as long as we are doing our job up front, they can't get that ball off."

While ASU's secondary is still trying to find its stride, the rush defense is among the best in the nation. Kentucky State had negative nine rushing yards on 22 attempts on Saturday, and the Rams are currently ranked sixth in the nation in rush defense, allowing 73 yards per game.

"I thought our run defense was where it needed to be (Saturday)," White said. "I'm not quite sure they could have ran the ball on us. I thought we did a good job when they tried to."

KICKING IN THE AFL: Former Rams placekicker Juan Bongarra recently signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Storm, an Arena League Football team.

A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Bongarra came to America during his sophomore season in high school.

After starting his collegiate career at Scottsdale Community College, Bongarra came to Albany State, where he earned all-conference honors his senior season in 2009.

On Tuesday, White called Bongarra one of the best kickers to ever play for the Rams.

"He was really a great kicker, and he was also a football player. I don't say that too much about kickers, but I thought a lot of Juan," White said. "He was always intense during the game and cheered his teammates on. They respected him because of how he approached kicking."

Bongarra played two years for the Rams and was 11-for-23 on field goal attempts, hit 50 extra points and averaged 60 yards per kickoff.

"We are excited to add Juan to the team ... Juan definitely helps us address an area we struggled with last season," Storm coach Dave Ewart said.

Bongarra spent 2011, his rookie season in the AFL, with the Tulsa Talons. He ranked third in the AFL in field goal conversion (55.0) and second in made field goals (11) while converting on 97-of-115 point after attempts.

His rookie season was highlighted with a game-winning 42-yard field goal as time expired against Iowa on April 27 to give Tulsa a 61-60 victory.