"I've known Eli Manning since he was a little kid, and I was coaching at Louisiana Tech," Torbush explained. "He's still young, but he obviously throws the ball extremely well."
Of course Eli is the third son of former Rebel and NFL star Archie Manning. His older brother Peyton was ‘something of a quarterback himself,' attending Tennessee to avoid having to perform in the shadow of his famous father at Ole Miss.
Torbush's connection runs through Billy Brewer, long-time college coach with deep ties to Ole Miss and the Manning family. And Bama's coordinator names Brewer as a mentor during the early part of his coaching career. "For better or worse, most of what I am today as a coach can be traced back to Coach Brewer."
So Torbush has known about the Manning clan for years. "I was at Louisiana Tech, and of course Billy Brewer and Archie Manning were close," he explained. "Peyton Manning and all those kids used to come visit. Of course back then, Eli might not have even been born--maybe a baby. That would have been Peyton and the older boy, Cooper. But I've kept up with those kids through high school. They've obviously taken some of their Dad's athletic genes, but they've also got a lot of football sense."
When older brother Peyton was making his Heisman-Trophy run for the Volunteers, he benefited greatly from his position coach. Then, David Cutcliffe was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Tennessee. And when the Alabama graduate accepted the head-coaching job at Ole Miss, the trust he built up working with Peyton influenced the younger brother's decision to attend Ole Miss.
"I've known David Cutcliffe for at least 20+ years," Torbush said. "And he's always been one of the most difficult guys to prepare for. Because of Peyton and Archie and David (Cutcliffe), I feel sure that Eli is going to be able to read coverages well. And he'll be able to get them in the right play."
Under the leadership of Eli Manning, the Rebels are averaging 432 yards of offense per game, 276 through the air and 155 via the run. "(Cutcliffe) has got a very diverse offense that does a great job of putting his kids in a position to be successful," Torbush said. "He's always based that on balance. There's no doubt that Ole Miss has a very solid running game to go along with the passing game.
"We can't just sit there and say ‘We've got to stop Eli Manning.' They've got two really good running backs. Their offensive line is doing well, and they've got good skill at the wide receiver position. Right now Eli is doing a great job and throwing the ball awful well, but they've got a balanced attack."
Ole Miss averages 4.6 yards every time it runs the ball and has scored 10 touchdowns on the ground. But clearly the sophomore QB, already setting records for consecutive completions and yardage in a season, is the most dangerous Rebel weapon. Torbush explained; "When a quarterback completes 20 out of 29 throws, you're going to have plenty of yards. We'll play them at their place, but it'll be an exciting week for us and them."
Manning will challenge a so-far inconsistent Tide secondary, but Torbush is counting on the Bama rush to have an effect. "I hope we can get some pressure on Eli," he acknowledged. "I think that's key. He's not a rookie quarterback anymore. They've played several games, and he played in their bowl game last year, so he's got starting experience. Anybody that has played four games on the level he's played it on, we don't count him as a rookie anymore."
After being torched for big yardage two weeks ago versus South Carolina, the Tide secondary is yielding 195 yards per game, prompting some to wonder if Bama's defensive backs are up to the task. "I think we've got the athletes in the secondary," Torbush said. "We've just got to get better with what we've got. Right now everything that we're not doing well is correctable. Some of them are in position to make plays and we're just not making them. That's the key thing.
"If you're getting beat deep by 15 yards, then obviously you're not fast enough. But I think we're fine there athletically. You always like to have faster guys at every position, but it wasn't a problem against UCLA."
The Tide secondary seemed to play better last weekend against UTEP, but that game turned into a blowout so quickly that an honest assessment was probably tough to make. So the work to improve in the secondary has continued. "We've got to do a better job of making plays in practice," Torbush said. "We've said it time and time again. I harp on it. Coach Fran harps on it, but you play like you practice. Normally, if you can make the plays in practice then you've got a better chance of making them in the game."
Bama's second half schedule includes conference games against Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. But Torbush is concentrating on the Rebels of Mississippi. "Right now I think there are a lot of teams in the SEC that you could throw them in a bottle and shake them up, and week by week a different team is coming out of there," he said. "We've got a chance to control our own destiny, and that's what we need to get done."