October 4, 2006

Offensive notebook: Looking for 100

When the 2006 season began, many believed Kenneth Darby could break the school career rushing yards record well before the end of the season. But five games in, Darby has yet to earn 100 yards rushing and the record seems a tougher task than it first appeared.

The streak extends seven games all the way back to last year's LSU game for Darby but with 0-4 Duke visiting Tuscaloosa this weekend, the drought could finally be over for the Tide tailback.

"I'm not even thinking about the numbers right now," Darby said. "If I get a 100-yard game then I get it, if I don't then I don't. As long as I feel like I'm playing better than I did the week before, I'm satisfied. If I can keep producing like I did last week then I think the numbers will be there."

Darby came closer last weekend against the No. 5 Florida Gators where he racked up 76 yards on 14 carries, the most this season after his 79-yard effort against Louisiana-Monroe. Darby has also lagged when it comes to big plays, with no touchdowns this season and his largest single gain coming on a 20-yard rush against ULM.

"We're glad to see him run better. We're not pleased at all with our lack of big plays in the run game," said offensive coordinator Dave Rader. "We had more solid runs against Florida and we had half of our runs at 4 yards or better. That's good but that's not yet a stat with which we can be pleased. Ken had an opportunity a few times to go down and he refused to. He just kept breaking tackles and running his feet and that's the KD that we all know and love. Not only did that help our bench but I think it helped Ken a whole lot."

Darby too believes his play is trending upward and that he may be destined to break this streak this weekend.

"I think I played better last week than I've played I'll season and I also felt better than I have all season," Darby said. "I still haven't played my best game yet but now I feel like I'm 100 percent. I feel like I'm back to my peak physically."

Rader and the Tide coaches have found ways other ways to try and let Darby make plays such as throwing to him out of the backfield or even sending him in motion to play as a slot receiver.

"One of the things we let out of the playbook last week was using me as a receiver. It tests the defense a little and makes them show if they're playing man or zone," Darby said. "I feel like I can catch the ball just as good as I can run the ball so I like being used any way the coaches feel like they need me."

Rader said he and the rest of the staff remain confident in Darby's skills and abilities as a playmaker for the Tide and believe that it is question of when, not if, Darby will return to his former self.

"Ken could have had 100 yards against ULM but we chose to take him out after the third quarter. It's coming and it could very well be this weekend. The minus part is that we're playing a defense that is giving up less than 100 yards rushing per game on average. People see the scoreboard and think they must be a pushover but Virginia Tech struggled to get 100 yards rushing against them and they're one of the best rushing teams in the conference. "

"It would be an outstanding goal for KD to get 100 yards this week because there's no other runner that's done it against this defense. I'm anxious to see what happens and it will be a sort of game within the game."

Offense focused on red zone production

As Ken Darby appears to be finding his way once again, the rest of the Tide offense is still struggling when it comes to their most important responsibility: scoring.

"We've had breakdowns throughout the offense. We miss a read, we miss a catch, we miss a block, everybody's had a hand in it," Rader said. "It's not a mystery, it's right there in front of us. Our guys understand that our execution is not what it needs to be and until it is we are going to struggle scoring points."

"I think we have the right plays called, I'm just not hitting it right or somebody is out of place," said quarterback John Parker Wilson. "We just have to step up and make some plays. I think the responsibility is on me and my teammates to get open and make the pass and make the right decisions."

Rader said it is frustrating to watch his offense move the ball so well down the field but struggle in plus territory. Improving in that ever-so-important area of the field has been the key focus for the Tide offense all week in practice.

"We are executing better in between the 20's but any mistakes we make are magnified when we get a shorter field in the red zone," Rader said. "It makes it more difficult to make big plays and it's something we're working overtime on in practice."

"When you get on the field you've got tons of room to work with but when you get down inside the 20 you're limited as to what routes you can run just because the field is shorter," said Wilson. "What we're struggling with is finding the right timing and the right routes to get our guys open down there. We've spent a lot of time practicing that this week against a lot of different looks on defense and I think it has helped us get a better feel for things."

Despite focusing so intently on themselves, the Tide aren't overlooking the Blue Devil defense who have not earned their team a win as of yet but aren't allowing many yards from opposing offenses either allowing just 92.5 yards per game on the ground and 204.5 in the air.

"They've got an All-ACC, preseason All-American corner and a real strong linebacker and a good defensive front so we've got to prepare and take them seriously," Wilson said.

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