All Eyes On Norwood

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's no mystery what Arkansas' football team has to do if it wants to control today's game at Mississippi State.

The Razorbacks must slow down Bulldogs running back Jerious Norwood, a 6-foot, 202-pound junior who ranks third in the Southeastern Conference with 101.9 yards rushing per game.

"We have a big chore," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "We have to tackle a fast back who's gained nearly 1,000 yards."

Norwood has gained 917 yards this season and 2,000 during his Mississippi State career.

Bobby Allen, Arkansas' secondary coach, said, "If you're going to contain Norwood, you'd better bring your tackling shoes. He's quick and he goes sideline to sideline."

It will be up to UA defensive line coach Tracy Rocker's troops to see that Norwood doesn't spend a lot of time in the Arkansas secondary.

"We've prepared as a team," Rocker said. "But I've made a deal with our guys. I'll alternate the first and second defensive lines if they'll give 100 percent on every play."

That strategy worked well last Saturday as Arkansas held Ole Miss' offense in check in a 35-3 victory.

"We rotated the first- and second-team lines every few plays, and everyone got at least 20 snaps," Rocker said. "I told them they had to play 100 percent all the time."

Hogs sophomore noseguard Jeremy Harrell, who first started against Texas last season, said the new plan paid off.

"Usually the first defense goes the first three series," Harrell said. "But you can get a little cold when the offense is on the field for a long time. This way, the first team goes 100 percent for four plays, the second team goes 100 percent for four plays and you keep rotating, no matter the situation. You stay warm."

Harrell expects the rotation to continue "unless (Rocker) changes his mind."

Rocker doesn't like to tip his hand on personnel too early in the week, in order to keep practices competitive.

He wasn't exactly enamored with he first part of Tuesday's workout, which this week was without full pads.

"Pro-style, I call it," said Rocker, grinning. "In the NFL, it was like, 'Hey, all right, here comes Sunday.' We can't do that in college. You have to get better every day."

Rocker was a standout both at Auburn, where he was honored this season, and with the Washington Redskins. He will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 7 in New York City.

"Coach Rock played the game," Harrell said. "He knows what it's like to get ready for a game."

Rocker also knows that Norwood is not Mississippi State's only weapon.

"Omarr Conner, their quarterback, is very good, and Fred Reid, their other tailback, is dangerous," Rocker said. "David Stewart (6-6, 295-pound offensive tackle) is an outstanding lineman. They're a lot better than their (3-6) record."

Said Allen: "If you just saw Reid on film and didn't notice the jersey numbers, you wouldn't see a big difference between (Reid) and Norwood."

But Harrell sounded as if stopping Norwood was first and foremost in the UA defenders' minds.

"Norwood is big and fast -- a typical SEC back," Harrell said. "He has opened some eyes this year with some 60-yard runs."

Norwood had 10 carries for 61 yards in a 52-6 loss at Arkansas last season, while Reid carried four times for 28 yards.

"Last year Norwood didn't play as much against us," Allen said. "I think he had been hurt."

The Bulldogs were nearing the end of a 2-10 season under departing coach Jackie Sherrill, and finished with a 31-0 loss against Ole Miss the next week in their final game.

Under first-year coach Sylvester Croom this season, they've come on to win three games, including two SEC contests (Florida, Kentucky) after a slow start.

"You look at their last four games and Mississippi State is a different team," Nutt said.

The one constant is Norwood.

"He has the heart of a lion," Croom said.

But the Hogs intend to keep him from roaring.

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