CATEGORY: FOC College Football

AUTHOR: STAFF

HED:Rebs' Strong to have surgery

OXFORD - Eddie Strong, the junior inside linebacker Ole Miss was counting on to lead its defense, is scheduled to undergo surgery today in Oxford to repair a stress fracture to the fifth metatarsal in his left foot.

Strong, a candidate for this year's Butkus Award who led the team in tackles last season with 72, sat out the first two games after injuring his left foot August 23.

"All prior tests were inconclusive for a stress fracture," said Ole Miss trainer Tim Mullins. "After further tests, a stress fracture was finally confirmed. Eddie will be out indefinitely, but we do expect a full recovery."

Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe had expressed hope that Strong would be back in the lineup by this week's game at Vanderbilt.

"After the early tests did not show a stress fracture, we were careful with the way we went about treatment and did not allow him to return to practice," Cutcliffe said.

"Eddie wasn't getting better, and another series of tests were performed. This time the stress fracture was confirmed."

- from staff and wire reports

By Gregg Ellis

Daily Journal

OXFORD - Following Ole Miss' 35-27 loss to Auburn last Saturday, Ken Lucas sat in front of his locker feeling the pain of a physical battle.

By Monday, his entire body was sore throughout, as indicated by the many bruises scattered around his 6-foot-1, 201-pound torso.

The Rebels' senior cornerback posted 10 tackles against the Tigers, eight more than the week before against Tulane.

"That's one of most physical games I have ever played in," said Lucas, a native of Cleveland. "It was like that from start to finish."

Several factors contributed to the physical style of play, but none to the degree of Auburn running back Rudi Johnson.

The 5-10, 228-pound bruising transfer from Butler County Junior College rumbled and tumbled for 165 yards, dragging many Ole Miss players on his 29 carries.

From watching film, the Rebels' defense knew he was good. Until the unit lined up to stop him, the Rebels didn't realize just how talented he actually is.

"He's short and stocky and reminds you a lot of Deuce (McAllister) and Shaun Alexander," Lucas said. "He runs good between the tackles and can make people miss.

"He also runs with great power. He's why my shoulder is sore."

Just as Johnson is a great asset to the Tigers, so is Lucas to the Rebels.

In more ways than one.

Since his arrival to Ole Miss from Cleveland East Side, Lucas' skills have been used in various capacities.

As a true freshman, he saw action as a receiver, hauling in nine passes for 96 yards, including three catches against Georgia in a 21-14 loss.

His sophomore campaign, Lucas hardly left the field. In addition to 12 receptions for 152 yards, he returned 11 kickoffs, blocked two punts and recorded six special teams tackles.

And midway through the season, he made the transition from receiver to cornerback.

But in 1999, he found a permanent home.

Cornerback.

Last season, the Rebels finished 8-4 following their 27-25 win against Oklahoma in the Independence Bowl.

Lucas was instrumental in the Rebels' success, totaling 34 tackles and two interceptions. Seven of those tackles came against the Sooners.

"Ken Lucas is a key player on our defense," said Rebels defensive coordinator Art Kaufman. "He's playing smarter. I think experience has made him a better player. And, he's better conditioned."

Despite Lucas' efforts last year, Ole Miss yielded 248.5 passing yards a game, 10th worst in the Southeastern Conference.

There were many factors contributing to that particular statistic, including injuries and lack of depth. In fact, Lucas missed the Arkansas State game due to a foot injury.

"Compared to last year, I think the secondary is about the same," said Lucas, also a high school baseball standout for the Trojans with a .380 batting average. "I just think we are more prepared as a unit and communicate better. Our technique is better."

So are the numbers.

In two games, Ole Miss is allowing just an average of 182 yards passing, eighth best in the conference, 46th in the nation.

"I think we have all found our comfort level," he said. "Last year, I was just focusing on not getting beat deep. This year, I'm more concerned about all aspects of the defense.

"If we are in position, we'll make plays," he added. "I don't know if our depth is any better, but more people know what they are doing than they did last year."

After facing two solid offenses against Tulane and Auburn, it doesn't get any easier for Lucas and teammates in their matchup with Vanderbilt 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Quarterback Greg Zolman is 30-of-50 passing for 479 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"We have to give (Zolman) a lot of looks, and not allow the receivers to beat us deep," Lucas said.

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