Ex-Monroe and current ASU star Larry Whitfield, seen tackling a Morehouse player during last week's win, leads the Rams' "Dirty Blue" into today's game against Clark Atlanta.
WAYCROSS -- Mike White isn't taking anything for granted.
Not a one-game lead in the SIAC East Division. Not the recent awakening of the "Dirty Blue" defense. And certainly not the notion that Albany State now has an easy road to the inaugural SIAC Championship game next month.
Before last week's season-saving victory against Morehouse, ASU quarterback Stanley Jennings told The Herald, "If we win this game (against Morehouse), it should be a straight shot from there."
Jennings was referring to ASU's final games of the season, which include three opponents with a combined record of 5-16, starting with Clark Atlanta (2-5, 1-3 SIAC) today in Waycross.
But not so fast, White said this week.
"That is so far from where we should be thinking. We are set up to think like that (after the emotional win against Morehouse), and that has been our fight all week," White said. "That was the most important thing this week. (Beating Morehouse) was the perfect set up, getting a big win and claiming first place."
White has been challenged with keeping the Rams' intensity level up after surging to the top of the SIAC East standings with the 25-15 victory against Morehouse, and the players -- Jennings included -- are buying into everything the coaching staff has been saying this week.
"I'm looking at it a little differently now," Jennings said. "No matter what, we are still going to have to come to play. We aren't going to get into records or all that. We know that (Clark Atlanta) is going to come to play and want to beat us as bad as we want to beat them. We aren't taking any plays off. We are grinding every day to get better."
The Rams, who are three wins away from an SIAC East Division title and an appearance in the first-ever SIAC title game in Atlanta, haven't been looking past a Clark Atlanta team that has the second-best defense in the SIAC and easily beat Lane, which handed ASU (5-2, 3-1) its only conference loss this season.
And although ASU's defense -- which hasn't been very ASU-like this season -- finally stepped up against Morehouse with three interceptions, four sacks and a forced fumble inside its own 5-yard line, the "Dirty Blue" still feels like it has something to prove.
"The 'Dirty Blue' is back, and hopefully it is here to stay," said defensive back Rashad McRae, who led the defense with two interceptions and 10 tackles. "Of course there is swagger in our step. We want to prove that the Dirty Blue is back. We want this win to get a step closer to the conference championship."
White admitted that his defense had its best game of the season last week, but he was hesitant to agree that "the Dirty Blue is back."
"We made a lot of big plays (last week against Morehouse), but it wasn't a consistent effort," White said. "The (traditional) Dirty Blue would have been consistent. It wouldn't have been up and down. ... If the Dirty Blue was back, then they wouldn't have got the two scores they got. They wouldn't have got all that passing yardage we allowed."
ASU's defense will almost certainly be tested by Clark Atlanta quarterback Bryan Mann, who doesn't have great numbers this season (117 passing yards per game, two TDs, three interceptions) but he's certainly been more effective than an anemic rushing game for the Panthers that is last in the conference and averaging just 66 yards an outing.
Clark Atlanta running back Rashad Lewis will be going up against the seventh-ranked rush defense in the nation today, but White said he is worried about the Panthers trying to exploit his secondary, which has allowed 291 yards a game through the air this season.
"We don't want to let a team struggling to run the ball off the hook at all," White said. "We want to play a good, solid game. We are striving to improve to be better this week than we were last week."
ASU defensive lineman Antorio Wells said that the Rams have kept up their intensity all week and plan to build off their defensive momentum from last week.
"We should be able to do the same thing we did last week," Wells said. "We should be able to dominate and win. That's the ultimate mentality of the Dirty Blue being back -- (total) domination."