Searching for His Old Self

The Alabama football team is one third of the way through the season, and its presumed star, senior running back Kenneth Darby, has yet to surpass 100 yards in a single game this year.

That's out of whack for Darby, who has 10 games with 100 or more yards in the previous two years, and it's a huge concern for the Alabama football team. Darby currently sits with 233 yards on the season on 77 rush attempts (3.0 yards per carry). Backup Jimmy Johns, who has 54 fewer rush attempts than does Darby, is averaging 5.2 yards per carry on 23 attempts (Johns also served a one-game suspension against Louisiana-Monroe).

Why?

"I really don't know the answer to that," senior fullback Le'Ron McClain said.

He might be the only person in the state without a theory on Darby's receding rushing stats.

Senior fullback Tim Castille said, "We're going to run the ball when Darby is in. They're going to be more apt to play the run than when Jimmy is in."

Castille, who has seen every game Darby has played at Alabama, has also seen a different Darby than in previous years, however.

"We went back and watched the tape and he had a lot of runs where he didn't have anywhere to go," Castille said. "And then there's two or three plays you watch and it's ‘He just missed the hole.' With Jimmy it's different, the hole is there, and he's gone,"

Darby has heard all kinds of theories. A hip pointer bothered him in the first couple of games. A shot to the knee kept him out of contact for a part of fall training camp. He's offered that maybe he is thinking about too many different things. The muddy field at Arkansas slowed him down. Whatever the explanation, he's been watching the old Darby, and trying to get a feel for his game.

"I popped in a tape of last year's Florida game," Darby said. "Last year I was more relaxed, running free. This year I was probably thinking too much. It's not a big difference. It's just running to the hole. This year it seems I've been looking for a hole. Last year I just ran to where it was supposed to be."

The only thing Darby ruled out was a case of bad luck.

"I don't believe in all that luck," he said, "but I will say that I don't think I've caught a break."

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said it is "a possibility" that Johns' number of carries will increase when Alabama plays Florida Saturday at 2 p.m. Shula said Darby will start the game at tailback and, "we'll use those other guys, too."

"We're going to put the guys on the field that we feel like can help us," Shula said.

Darby has helped in other ways. In passing situations for John Parker Wilson there has been no better tailback at picking up blitzes. And Darby's reputation has led teams to focus attention on him even though he has struggled. That, in addition to stellar play from Wilson, has opened up the passing game to the extent that receiver Keith Brown would shatter David Palmer's single-season receiving yardage record (1,000 yards in 1993) if he continues at his 103 yard per game average.

"That's exactly why we've had such big days," Brown said. "If you're going to strip the run game the passing game has to answer the call."

No one expects being the decoy to be enough for Darby, however. The senior needs 767 yards to become the first player in Crimson Tide history to rush for 1,000 yards or more in three consecutive seasons, and he is now 844 yards short of the all-time career rushing record set by Shaun Alexander.

"I haven't had the kind of game everyone expected to see, but I think I'm going to," he said. "I think some spectacular things are going to happen and at the end of the year. I'll come out on top."


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