Franchione expects USM to run the ball

Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione thinks that Southern Miss tailback Derrick Nix will be the toughest assignment for the Crimson Tide defense this year. Nix, a 225-pound senior tailback from Attalla, is one of the nation's top runners, a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, and one of the best runners in Southern Miss history.

Alabama hosts Southern Mississippi at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by ESPN2. Alabama is 2-1 and facing its fourth consecutive non-conference opponent. Southern Miss is 3-0 and making its first road trip of the season.

Following Bama's Wednesday practice, Franchione was asked about what to expect from his defensive line against Nix. The coach said, "This will be our biggest challenge. We respect Oklahoma and (Quentin) Griffin, and our defense responded well against him." Alabama held Griffin to just three yards on nine carries and held Oklahoma to minus 23 yards on 23 carries.

"But," Franchione said, "Nix is a better back. He's stronger. He falls forward for a couple of extra yards. He runs behind an athletic line. He's not like Griffin, who is quick. Nix is a strong back, one of those great, physical backs who gets better as the game goes on. He can make you miss him, but he can also break tackles."

Last week Nix rushed for 196 yards against Memphis after getting 201 against defending Big Ten champion Illinois the week before. He is averaging 7.4 yards per carry. Nix did not play in last year's game against Alabama.

The Tide coach said he expects Southern Miss to try to establish the run. "Like most teams, if you can establish the run, the passing game is going to be better." He said the Golden Eagles' running has helped their new quarterback, sophomore Micky D'Angelo.

Franchione said Alabama had had two good days of work. Wednesday he said, "We had a good workout. We got a lot done. I feel good about our productivity and concentration. We'll be out of pads Thursday to get our legs back."

Bama has not been in full gear this week. Usually Tuesday is a full gear day, but Franchione elected to have the players in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets Tuesday and Wednesday. He said it was primarily to keep the players fresh. "It's still hot and humid and we've got 13 games this year," he said. "We had a couple of guys lose seven or eight pounds yesterday even when we weren't in football pants."

Franchione said he did not anticipate any changes in Alabama's offensive or defensive starting lineups, but said there might be some changes in personnel on kickoff returns, one area that has been lackluster this season. He said Alabama was having some breakdowns in blocking on kickoff returns and that the team had worked on that this week.

He also said that walk-on Kyle Robinson might have moved into second place in the placekicking race behind Michael Ziifle. He said Robinson, a junior college transfer, would be on the travel squad for this week's game.

Last week the most notable lineup change was Donald Clarke moving ahead of David Cavan at tight end. "Donald went in in the Oklahoma game and did very well," Franchione said. "It's always an advantage for a junior college transfer to have three years of eligibility. Donald played a little last year and went into spring training with a lot of confidence. He has worked hard to get stronger and he has improved his speed and explosiveness. He earned the starting job."

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