Manning concerns the Tide

Alabama's football team was out in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads in sunny, brisk weather Wednesday and Crimson Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said it was a good workout.

Bama is preparing for its homecoming football game Saturday. The Crimson Tide will host the Mississippi Rebels at 2:30 p.m. in Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that will be telecast by CBS. Alabama is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference games and ranked 24th in the nation. Mississippi is doing even better, a 5-1 record and 2-0 SEC mark and national ranking of 21st.

While Alabama is coming off an open week, the Rebels took a 52-17 win over Arkansas State last weekend. Bama's last outing two Saturdays ago was a disappointing 27-25 loss to fifth-ranked Georgia. Both of Alabama's losses have come at the hands of teams ranked in the top five, Georgia and number two Oklahoma.

Alabama's primary concern Saturday is the excellent play of Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning. Last year Manning engineered a come-from-behind fourth quarter 27-24 win over Alabama in Oxford. This year Manning has completed 121 of 211 passes for 1,570 yards with 12 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Additionally, he has been sacked only four times. He ranks first, second or third in the SEC in every quarterback statistic and is second overall to Tennessee's Casey Clausen.

Manning is far ahead of the pace of his father, former Ole Miss star Archie Manning, and about on the same pace as his brother, former Tennessee standout Peyton Manning, in career statistics. Both Archie and Peyton were legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates.

Franchione agreed that it is difficult for a scout team to emulate a player like Manning in practice. He noted that first team quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Tyler Watts could do those things, but that coaches understand the limitations of a scout team in preparing the team. He also noted that Bama has spent some time each day with the first offense going against the first defense in order to simulate the speed of a game.

As for Croyle and Watts, there is still no indication as to which will start at quarterback for Alabama. Interestingly, Croyle said that if Watts is healthy that Watts, a fifth-year senior who had been the starter before being injured against Southern Miss, would start. Croyle, a redshirt freshman, finished up the win over Southern Miss and started the last two games, a victory over Arkansas and the loss to Georgia.

Following the Mississippi game Saturday, Alabama has three of its next four games on the road. Franchione was asked if that made it more critical to gain a win in the home game against the Rebels. The Tide head coach said, "It's important to get a win, but I didn't even know three of the next four games were on the road. I haven't looked past this game."


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