After allowing 103 points in their first four games of the season, ASU’s Dexter Moody (3) and the Rams’ defense have allowed just 28 in their last two.
WHO: Albany State (3-3, 2-1 in conference) at Morehouse (2-4, 1-2).
WHAT: ASU’s fourth conference game of the season; first vs. an East Division foe
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
LIVE UPDATES: Log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — The “Dirty Blue” wasn’t completely knocked out, but something just didn’t feel right.
Something was missing.
“We were just, ‘The Blue,’ ” defensive end Justin Blash said Thursday. “The coaches took the ‘Dirty’ away from us.”
There just wasn’t anything “Dirty” about Albany State’s defense after Miles put up 41 points three weeks ago and handed the Rams their third loss in a row. The defeat stung for the Rams’ defenders, who pride themselves on a trademark defense that has traditionally been near the top of the conference.
Losing their moniker stung just as much.
“The real ‘Dirty Blue’ doesn’t give up points like that or yards like that,” strong safety Dexter Moody said. “That wasn’t us.”
Miles gained 420 yards on Sept. 22 and scored more points in the Albany State Coliseum than any other Rams opponent in over a decade, so assistant defensive backs coach Chris Henderson, who was a standout safety at ASU from 2002 to 2004, broke the news to the defense after the loss.
“He told us we weren’t ‘Dirty’ anymore,” Blash said. “We had to earn that name. We took it upon ourselves to earn it.”
It’s a yearly tradition for the ASU defense to earn its iconic nickname, and that’s exactly what they did after winning the season opener against North Greenville. But the Rams followed the season opener with three straight losses, leading Henderson to make the unprecedented move of taking the title away.
That was three weeks ago, when the Rams were reeling to salvage their season after falling to 1-3 overall with a stagnant offense that had just five TDs in four games and an unpredictable defense that had given up 103 points.
But with back-to-back wins the last two weeks against Kentucky State and Lane to raise the Rams’ record to 3-3, their season has come back into focus.
The storm has been calmed.
The ship has been righted.
“And the ‘Dirty Blue’ is back,” Blash said Thursday.
The Rams allowed 14 points and an average of 265 yards in each of their last two games — numbers that would put them in the Top 10 in the nation in Division II if they were for the entire season.
They’ve come a long way from the defense that gave up nearly 26 points per game in the first third of the season, and Saturday’s 36-14 victory against Lane when they forced two turnovers and knocked Lane QB Chris Rini out of the game proved it.
“We regained our full name,” linebacker Larry Whitfield said. “We had to go out and show them who the ‘Dirty Blue’ was. Coach (Henderson) called us ‘Blue’ before the game and ‘Dirty Blue’ after the game.”
Coach Mike White attributed the return of the “Dirty Blue” to pre-snap adjustments that have helped the defense contain the perimeter, eliminate big plays and get into better positions to succeed.
Whitfield is one of the players who has benefited most from the defensive resurgence. The former Monroe star has 49 tackles and a team-high 30 solo tackles, along with an interception and 10 tackles for loss.
“What is working for us is communication,” Whitfield explained. “It gets us in certain spots and the right position to force turnovers, stop balls and stop drives. We just tell each other where to be and what we have to do on defense.”
One of the biggest communicators is Moody, who played on the defensive line in high school and was used as a linebacker at Georgia State before transferring to ASU over the summer.
White moved the 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior into the secondary, and he has turned into one of the best safeties in the country. Moody is second in the nation with five interceptions, trailing only New Mexico Highlands’ Abdul Kanneh, who has six.
“He has been playing extremely well, and his leadership has been great,” White said Thursday of Moody. “I have nothing but compliments right now for that kid and what he is doing for the defense and this team.”
Two Moody interceptions bookended Saturday’s win in Lane, and the hit that knocked out Rini, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the conference, came on a Moody tackle.
“I’m just doing everything coach is telling me to do, and they are putting me in a position to make plays,” Moody said. “It starts out with the defensive line rushing the quarterback, and that sets me up to make the pick.”
ASU’s 3-4 defense is anchored by its defensive line, which is made up of defensive end Troy Morgan, nose guard Arkeen Riley and Blash. They combined for only one sack the last two games, but the trio — along with a rushing linebacker who always gives the Rams four defenders attacking the offensive line — has done its job pressuring quarterbacks.
“It’s the line. It’s always the line. If our line plays well, it’s a ripple effect for the whole defense. When we are playing well, our line is playing well,” White said.
The Rams are winning the battles up front, which is something that Blash, a three-year starter and preseason all-conference selection, is used to as a member of the “Dirty Blue.”
He’s also used to the “Dirty Blue” tradition.
“I have been here for five years, I was redshirted my freshman year, so I have been part of the ‘Dirty Blue’ for a long time,” Blash said. “For us to get it back really means something.”
It didn’t take Moody long to find out just how much that title means.
“It means a lot to me, because I know it’s not something that is just given to you,” Moody said. “It’s something that is earned.”