Tide hopes to have found the right mixture
From staff and wire reports
The Crimson Tide coaches have apparently found the right mix in the linebacking corps. The three starters combined for 42 tackles against Ole Miss.
Sophomore Cornelius Wortham, who replaced senior Victor Ellis at strong linebacker against South Carolina, has locked up the job, defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said. He had 14 tackles against the Rebels, including one for a loss.
Sophomore Brooks Daniels had 15 tackles and a sack. The corps' mainstay, senior Saleem Rasheed, had 13 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
"I feel good about where our three starting linebackers are," Torbush said. "I think they've become more physical. They're looking more like a solid linebacking crew.
"We've got a ways to go before we get to where we need to be. There's always plays when we can do a better job of tackling. I do think we need to get a little more physical and understand the pass coverage better. We've got a lot of room for improvement."
The total count of Razorbacks freshmen who have played is 10, most of any SEC school.
And most haven't been relegated to bit roles and special teams. Right tackle Shawn Andrews, cornerback Ahmad Carroll and fullback Mark Pierce already have made starts.
Linebacker Jeb Huckeba, quarterback/receiver Matt Jones and running back/receiver DeCori Birmingham have been playing regularly.
"These guys have gone through half the SEC and you just feel like, 'Man, these guys have really grown up,"' coach Houston Nutt said.
Carroll was a top-rated recruit and lock to play right away. He has lived up to the hype, ranking ninth in on the team tackles (22) and is tied for second in pass breakups (6).
"The first game was fast-paced," Carroll said. "But it's become a lot easier since then. It's been easier physically. Mentally, it's been a little harder."
Damon Duval has been the Tigers' Cardiac Kicker this season, making late field goals to win three straight games.
"If there's anybody better" at clutch kicks, coach Tommy Tuberville said, "I'd like to see them."
Duval's latest heroics came with a 44-yarder with 10 seconds left to beat Florida. He also kicked game-winners against Vanderbilt (49 yards) and Mississippi State (47).
"He's got ice running through his veins," quarterback Daniel Cobb said.
The last two, Tuberville said, "probably would have been good if they'd had to have gone 60 yards."
He knows sooner or later Duval will have to miss.
"We can't keep putting it on Damon, because sooner or later our protection is going to break down, there's going to be a bad snap," Tuberville said.
Duval is also leading the league in punting, averaging 44.7 yards.
Freshman receiver Michael Clayton was allowed to speak with the media after the Tigers' victory over Kentucky on Saturday.
Usually, coach Nick Saban doesn't allow his freshmen to be interviewed, but Clayton earned the right with nine catches and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the closing seconds.
"Michael Clayton has come up big for us and gets better and better every week," Saban said.
In five games, Clayton has caught 20 passes for 315 yards. That's good enough for second on the team.
The Baton Rogue native did a solid job in his first postgame in front of reporters.
"You have to have confidence in the team, or you won't ever get it done on the field," he said. "This was a make-or-break game for us and possibly the hardest of the season for us."
Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe has been impressed by his team's condition late in games.
The Rebels appeared to be fine late in Saturday's win over Alabama, while the Crimson Tide looked fatigued.
"I think our conditioning is outstanding," Cutcliffe said. "From the opening game, which was in the evening, to the game against Auburn, which was very hot, I thought we were in good shape. That's certainly a tribute to our strength and conditioning staff as well as our players, as far as how hard they worked this summer."
The victory against Alabama was Cutcliffe's 20th with Ole Miss, making him the third fastest coach to reach that mark with the Rebels.
Since Dicenzo Miller sprained his ankle in the first half of the South Carolina game, the Bulldogs' second game of the season, Mississippi State's offense has been almost nonexistent.
Miller was the key player for the Bulldogs as they opened the game against the Gamecocks with a long touchdown drive. They have scored just four touchdowns since.
Miller sat out against Florida and last week against Troy State. He played sparingly against Auburn in between.
"Our players have been standing around waiting for Dicenzo to make a play since the middle of the South Carolina game," coach Jackie Sherrill said.
Miller is expected to play against LSU Saturday, but the injury is still not totally healed.
Without the senior Miller, who ran for 1,005 yards last season, Mississippi State's running game has relied mostly on Dontae Walker.