"I don't think there is any question we were improved on defense," Torbush continued. "I saw us around the ball better. Overall they competed well. We had more pass breakups. We were more physical, and we put more pressure on the quarterbacks. We still missed some key tackles at inopportune times that let them convert. But overall, we responded well. There's no doubt we got a lot better Saturday."
Torbush has consistently pointed to his unit's good effort in practice, making recent beatings all the more difficult to accept. "I thought they practiced well lasts week--and finally they played like they had been practicing," Torbush said. "We weren't perfect, but I thought we were better in every phase."
Mississippi gained 276 yards during the game, but only 24 of those came in the decisive fourth quarter--a welcome change from recent games. Torbush explained; "I thought we finally responded. I think we had three third-down stops in that final quarter. Three of our losses came in the fourth quarter, so a win like that means a great deal.
"They had only about 30 yards of offense in the first quarter. And in the fourth quarter it was close to the same. If we can do that, then we're going to have a chance to win a lot of ball games. In several other games we haven't gotten it done, but that's what we need to do late in the game."
Alabama led 10-7 at halftime, having held the Bulldogs to only 139 yards in the first two quarters. But MSU dominated the third stanza, essentially doubling their yardage and scoring two touchdowns to seize the momentum.
"State did move the ball very well in the third quarter," Torbush acknowledged. "But our guys battled back. As a group they got together on the sidelines and basically demanded from each other that they do that. They did have the opportunity to make plays late in the ball game to give us a chance to win, and they came through. There's no question, Saturday should give our defense, especially our defensive backs, a lot of confidence."
The win snapped a three-game skid, keeping alive Bama's slim hopes for a bowl bid. But too-often poor tackling continues to plague the Tide. "It's not real complicated," Torbush said. "The frustrating thing is we didn't tackle well. If we had tackled better then we probably eliminate at least a third of State's yards. And we definitely eliminate some of their points. A couple of the missed tackles resulted in first downs. And those first downs led to touchdowns. We had them legitimately stopped on two drives if we just tackle them where we're supposed to."
But after breaking down film of the game, Torbush did see some improvement. He explained; "Tackling still needs to get better, but at the same time we broke on the ball better. I saw us make some physical tackles. We had some physical hits, especially late in the ball game when we needed to make plays."
In previous weeks one of Bama's biggest problems was an often absent pass rush. When opposing quarterbacks can stand unmolested, scanning the field for open receivers, even good cornerbacks have problems. But Saturday Torbush brought the blitz from several positions, including a few involving Tide cornerbacks. "We had a couple of little changeups that we used early," Torbush said. "I thought we got there a bit, and we can add to that package. We still don't have everything in the schemes that we'd like to have in. But what we have go to do is make sure that we execute. A couple of those (corner blitzes) helped us. We might have used them late in the ball game, but we didn't."
Alabama's ‘pass deflection' numbers also increased, as the Tide defensive backs displayed a more aggressive attitude versus Mississippi State. "I don't know that we stressed being aggressive more in practice," Torbush related. "If we holler louder at them, they probably think we stressed it more.
"They understand there is an urgency that we have to develop. You can get beaten playing soft just as much as you can playing tough. What we want to do is be aggressive. If we make a mistake, let's make it going forwards and not backwards."
One athlete in particular played with much more aggression Saturday. Assumed to be out of the picture after his plays had dropped to zero the previous week, Reggie Myles responded with his best game of the season. "Reggie made plays Saturday," Torbush agreed. "He has been beat on some in the media. He's played well at times, but I've told Reggie time and time again that he just needs to be consistent. He was pretty consistent Saturday. He had a couple of big hits and a great interception."
Myles started the season first-string at free safety, but poor play and poorer preparation cost him his job after South Carolina. And when his practice effort did not improve, many expected him to drop off the depth chart.
But something changed last week.
After coming in early in relief of Charles Jones, Myles ended up taking most of the free safety snaps in the game. "First of all, Reggie had a great week of practice," Torbush said. "He practiced with great urgency. He deserved to play. If he didn't deserve to play, then we wouldn't have put him in there. Early in the ball game he came in and made some consistent and solid plays. Once he started doing that, we left him in, and he continued to meet the challenge. That's a good situation, because Charley (Jones) will have to fight back to get his job back."
Besides Myles, Torbush noted some other players that performed well. "Thurman Ward and Bert McBride did some good things in the nickel and dime (defense) when State had four wide receivers in there. I think Hirchel (Bolden) responded well--all the secondary guys. A guy you probably didn't notice was Darius Gilbert. He had not played much the last few games, but he came in at middle linebacker and made several key plays."
Signed in 1998, Gilbert formerly started at outside linebacker for the Tide. But like several other older players he has lost his starting job to a younger, more athletic man. "You've got to admire our seniors," Torbush said. "We're all proud of them. It's been tough on some of them. Some of them have been three-year starters, two-year starters. And then they lose their starting jobs, basically because of coaching decisions and evaluations. For them to respond and continue to work, that says a lot for their character and how they believe in this team."
Earning a win--any win--has improved everyone's mood, but the team still has a very long way to go in its journey back to championship form. "I can't say we've grown up just based on one game," Torbush said. "If you had talked to me last week, I'd have said we had ‘blown up.' We made a great deal of improvement from (LSU), but how we respond against Auburn and Southern Mississippi will determine what we have become this season and what we'll take into the off season.
They performed well, and there is no question it should give them a boost going into Auburn week. We started 11 (non-seniors) Saturday on defense, and that's a plus for us. That tells you we have a chance to continue to improve."