Tailbacks Battle Back

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas tailback De'Arrius Howard said he and teammate DeCori Birmingham drew up a plan as they sat on the team bus after the Razorbacks' 49-20 win against Louisiana-Monroe.

Keep the Razorbacks' offensive line healthy and happy. Rush for 1,000 yards each.

So the two tailbacks passed out plenty of hugs and offered their gratitude after the line opened holes for their 100-yard efforts against the Indians. They became the first Arkansas tandem to rush for more than 100 yards since Birmingham and quarterback Matt Jones accomplished the feat during last season's 71-63, seven-overtime win at Kentucky. And Howard believes it can happen more often.

"I feel like the way the offensive line is playing right now, we can get two backs over 100 yards every game," Howard said. "Me and DeCori laughed and talked about that on the way back from Little Rock. That would be real nice if we could both get 100 yards and both have 1,000 yards at the end of the year."

It was hard to joke about during the first three games, when Arkansas operated under a tailback-by-committee approach. Jones led the Hogs on the ground in both games and the rushing attack took a back seat to the passing offense.

But Birmingham said the backfield picked up confidence in its 289-yard effort against the Indians. He thinks it'll carry over to the Hogs' Southeastern Conference opener against Alabama on Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

"Our first two games started kind of slow, but we really made a statement that game," Birmingham said. "No offense to Louisiana-Monroe. We're going to come out, get ready and it's on from here on out."

Coach Houston Nutt said that's good news because the Hogs must remain among the SEC's rushing elite if they hope to win the Western Division title. Birmingham and Howard provided a solid tandem against Louisiana-Monroe, but Nutt said he could turn to Dedrick Poole or Kyle Dickerson against the Crimson Tide.

"It's hard to say that's going to be the one-two punch," Nutt said. "It's just like the Texas game. We're thinking that going in there and all of a sudden feel like we need something else and put Dedrick Poole in and he hits the hole a little quicker.

"We know this: DeCori Birmingham is the starter, does the best job with and without the ball. He can catch it, he can block and he can run it. After that, we feel like we have a lot of confidence in De'Arrius, Dedrick, Kyle and just see what situation we're in."

Battle at Mike

Arkansas middle linebacker Sam Olajubutu worked with the first-team defense Tuesday and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said the junior could be in the starting lineup against the Crimson Tide.

The Hogs consider Olajubutu and junior Clarke Moore co-starters this season, but Moore has started the first three games. Wommack said Olajubutu turned in a better performance against the Indians, collecting five tackles and one for a loss.

"I think (Olajubutu) had a better game," Wommack said. "We don't talk about the final personnel until Thursday, but I assume that's who (position coach Chris Vaughn) is going to start right now.

"I think Sam is pulling the trigger and making decisions a little bit quicker. Clarke, in the game a week ago, he was doing those things a little bit better. I like the way they're having to compete against each other. I see both of them playing."

Moore has 14 tackles this season. Olajubutu has 13.

Injury updates

Arkansas starting tight end Jared Hicks returned to practice Tuesday after missing most of last week with a sprained right shoulder. Hicks, who didn't play in the Hogs win against Louisiana-Monroe, believes he'll be available for Alabama.

"It's not 100 percent, but I'm trying to get out here and bang it a little bit and see how it reacts," Hicks said. "It was nice just knowing that we have solid tight ends that came in and did the job.

"I needed the rest big-time. It did nothing but help me out."

In other injury news, nose guard Jeremy Harrell (ankle) practiced Tuesday and plans to play against Alabama. Other banged-up players like safety Lerinezo Robinson (ankle) and receiver Cedric Washington (ribs) also practiced and should be available Saturday. Backup cornerback Chris Houston (sprained ankle) missed most of Tuesday's practice.

"Chris Houston kind of limped his way through," Nutt said. "He didn't get everything. But I feel like he's going to get better. I'm hoping he's going to be OK."

Crimson Tide Arkansan

Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle's season-ending knee injury forced the Crimson Tide to shuffle their quarterback depth chart. Sophomore Marc Guillon will start Saturday and junior Spencer Pennington will back him up, but an Arkansas native has become Alabama's third-string quarterback.

Former Pulaski Academy standout Adam Thrash, who walked on this season, will study a heavy dose of Alabama's offense this week in case of an emergency. The Crimson Tide ran into a problem last year, when Croyle and Pennington were injured against Georgia and had to turn to third-stringer Brandon Avalos.

"(Thrash is) going to be more involved in our meetings, where he hasn't been because he's doing a lot of scout team work," said Alabama coach Mike Shula. "Right now, I'm not sure we have any more than that to get ready."

Extra points

Jones leads the SEC and is 10th in the nation in total offense, averaging 300.3 yards a game. He also ranks fourth in the conference and 12th in the nation in passing efficiency (161.5 rating). ... Saturday's game marks the third consecutive year Alabama has played its first SEC road game with a first-time starter at quarterback. Crimson Tide quarterbacks are 9-3 in their debut since 1991. ... Arkansas is 3-3 in SEC openers under Nutt and 2-2 at home in those games.

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