After falling to the basement in the SIAC’s defensive rankings early in the season, junior DT Justin Blash, left, and the Rams have given up just 28 points in their last two games — both wins — as they look for their third in a row today vs. Benedict. (email@example.com)
ALBANY -- Albany State's offense took the Rams to the Top 10 in Division II rankings at the beginning of the season.
But after falling all the way outside of the Top 25 with losses to Lane and Valdosta State, the "Dirty Blue" defense is pulling the Rams back up.
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WHO: Benedict (2-6, 1-4 SIAC) at Albany State (6-2, 4-1 SIAC).
WHAT: ASU Homecoming.
WHEN: 2 p.m. today.
WHERE: Albany State Coliseum.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
Albany State (6-2, 4-1 SIAC), which is now back in the Top 25 poll at No. 22, has won back-to-back games against Morehouse and Clark Atlanta with a pair of strong defensive performances, and ASU coach Mike White said his defense needs to keep the pedal to the metal in today's Homecoming game against SIAC East Division foe Benedict (2-6, 1-4 SIAC).
"I just think that (our defense) is going to have to continue to play well for us to win," White said. "I think if we can become consistent on defense, that's what makes us a good football team."
ASU is tied atop the SIAC East Division standings with Morehouse, but the Rams own the tiebreaker after beating the Maroon Tigers in Albany three weeks ago.
And that road to the Nov. 12 SIAC Championship game continues against a Benedict team that is already statistically eliminated from playing in the title game but will undoubtedly be looking to play spoiler against the Rams.
"We know what we have to do, and we know it's on us," sophomore defensive lineman Damien Goosby said. "We know we control our own destiny, so as long as we play well then we will get to our goal, and that's a conference championship."
That ASU defense, anchored by Goosby at nose guard, has been the reason the Rams have stayed on top of the division race.
After giving up an SIAC-worst 376-yard average and 29 points per game to opposing offenses through the first six weeks, the Rams held Morehouse to 349 yards and 15 points and Clark Atlanta to 243 yards and 13 points. On top of that, the "Dirty Blue" created four turnovers against Morehouse and had five tackles for loss and two sacks against Clark Atlanta.
"I just feel like the defense is finally starting to come along," senior defensive back Jamarkus Gaskins said. "Everybody is buying into our mission and our goals, and right now it's showing on the field."
Benedict scored a season-high 31 points last week against Morehouse, so White knows that the Tigers have the ability to put some serious points on the board.
"(Benedict) gave Morehouse an extremely tough time," White said. "It seems like every week they are getting a little better offensively, so we expect the same. They are getting better and better each week."
The Tigers don't have any individuals with eye-popping offensive statistics, but White said it's that parity that can hurt opposing defenses.
No one on Benedict is averaging more than 23 rushing yards per game --- Harlon Samuels 22.5, Tyquan Bazemore 21.25 and Anthony Jemison 17.62 are the top three --- but the Tigers' quarterback situation is even more confusing. Benedict has used four different quarterbacks this year --- Johnny Carson (33-for-74, 362 yards, 1 TD), Chris Thomas (23-for-49, 319 yards, 3 TD), Harlon Samuels (10-for-37, 205 yards, 3 TD) and Simeon Kelley (11-for-24, 157 yards, 2 TD).
"It's hard to key on who is the man, and who is not," White said. "That seems to be a strength of theirs right now. There is nobody to key on."
But with the same mindset they have had all season, the Rams are focused more on themselves heading into today's game. For them to extend their winning streak, the "Dirty Blue" must step up for the third straight game.
Gaskins said the defensive line has been at the heart of that defensive revival.
"Our D-line played good, and the whole defense looked better," Gaskins said. "From the secondary to the linebackers, it all comes from the D-line. They are playing ball."
White was even able to narrow it down to one player on the defensive line that has rejuvenated the entire defense --- junior Justin Blash.
"Blash was very inconsistent at the beginning of the year, but he has been a man-child the last few weeks," White said. "It has a ripple effect on the defense. It makes our linebackers play a lot better, and when the linebackers play better it makes the safeties play better. That's what you are seeing."
The Rams have outscored Homecoming opponents 72-13 the last two years, including a 38-6 victory against Benedict in 2009.
Gaskins said there is no added pressure playing in front of a Homecoming crowd, but White added the atmosphere in ASU Coliseum will be electric.
"You feel it. When you make a good play or a good hit, you hear that extra oooooh or you hear the crowd get extremely loud when you make a big play," White said. "You can feel it in that stadium."