Rams O-line leads balanced rushing attack

See Darton, Page 3B

See Darton, Page 3B

ALBANY — Three games. Three different leading rushers for the Albany State football team.

And running back Adrian Alexander knows exactly who to thank for that.

“Those guys up front are some good guys, and they have been doing what they have been taught in practice and giving it all their effort,” Alexander said of his offensive line. “Each game (the offensive line) has been improving, so they just need to keep working hard and keep doing what (offensive coordinator Steve) Smith tells us to do.”

Smith’s constant message to his offensive line has been about staying consistent, and center Hakeem Lassiter believes Saturday’s performance against Elizabeth City State was the line’s most consistent game of the season.

“We can be very good, but we just have to be consistent with it,” Lassiter said. “We have to be consistent with our assignments. You can’t take a play off. You just have to keep going.”

The Rams rushed for a season-high 289 yards in Saturday’s 34-13 victory and got gritty performances from all three of their running backs — Alexander (10 carries, 126 yards), Phillip Moore (14 carries, 91 yards) and Kareem Hess (9 carries, 46 yards).

“We have a good group of backs, and it’s good to see them run like that,” ASU coach Mike White said on Saturday. “No matter who got it, they broke it. They had big holes, and they turned them into big plays.”

Opening up those holes were Lassiter (6-foot-2, 300 pounds), left tackle Darvel Nelson (6-5, 315), left guard Victor Moli (6-4, 360), right guard Darius Mitchell (6-2, 390) and right tackle Javoris Wilburn (6-5, 305). With the line leading the way, the Rams are averaging 184 rushing yards per game and an SIAC-best 5.7 yards per carry.

Moore (233 yards), Hess (147) and Alexander (142) are all in the Top 15 in rushing in the conference and are all averaging at least 6.5 yards per carry. Moore led the team in rushing in an opening-week loss to North Greenville, Hess led the way against Tuskegee and Alexander was the top runner Saturday against ECSU.

“I’m confident in all of my backs,” Lassiter said. “They are talented and deep. Every last one of those backs are talented.”

But Smith said as good as the offensive line has looked in the first three games, they can be even better.

“We still have a lot of things that we need to clean up. It’s progression. It’s a process,” he said. “They are getting the concept of what I am asking them to do. We still have things we need to clean up to be where we want to be. That’s the first step, getting the concept. I am happy and proud of them that they have the concept and they do have a sense of urgency to continue to get better. But we are not where we need to be.”

It all starts with Lassiter, who missed all of last year with a keloid on his ear but was medically-redshirted to get a second crack at his senior season. Lassiter, along with Moli, is an offensive captain and received HBCU Preseason All-American votes despite not playing since 2011.

“He is very important,” Smith said about Lassiter. “The center is the nucleus of the offensive line. He makes the calls and puts everybody where they need to be. It’s a unified group. They are always together and are always around each other on and off the field. That’s important to being a good offensive line. That builds trust with each other on and off the field.”