Junior Sam Collins agreed; "We gave great effort. No one wants to lose, but I guess if there is a positive, it was our effort. But everyone is still disappointed because of the loss."
After being stung somewhat by oddsmakers and pundits predicting a Bama victory, the 15th-ranked UCLA team (to Bama's 25th) came into the game determined to prove worthy of their higher national ranking. But an equally determined Tide squad played hard as well, giving as well as they took for the entire game and taking a 10-7 lead into halftime.
By the end, Alabama held the edge in several statistical categories, including first downs, total yards and time of possession. But mistakes proved the difference in the game. "It's just frustrating to have so many penalties," Ellis said. "It's the first game, and we've still got a lot of work to do, but I think we'll be OK. I think we played well--well enough to win. We've got to build on this and look toward next week."
For the game Alabama was penalized 15 times for a total of 93 yards, including more than a few mental errors by the offense. But veteran wideout Collins gave no excuses. "Actually I think it was just a little lack of focus at some points of the game," he said. "We got a few key penalties that backed us up and got us out of range for a first down. That hurt us. Sometimes we were able to overcome those but oftentimes not. A lack of focus on a couple of plays cost us."
The loss marks the second year in a row that Bama has opened in a losing effort to UCLA. In 2000 a third-ranked and nationally touted Tide squad rolled into Pasadena's Rose Bowl Stadium with expectations of a possible national-championship run, only to be slammed 35-24.
That loss started a downward spiral that ended in a 3-8 record and the dismissal of the entire coaching staff. But no one is predicting similar results this season. "Last year was just embarrassing," Ellis admitted. "This year the attitude was complete different. We went out and fought hard through four quarters. I think the biggest difference was effort. We feel a lot better than we did last year--a lot more confident. I don't think this game will hurt us the way it did last year."
In the first match-up UCLA's Deshaun Foster ran over and around the Tide defense for an embarrassing 187 yards. But last night the talented tailback's yardage total was lowered to 110 yards, and the Heisman candidate was kept out of the endzone as well. "I think we could have tackled a lot better," was Ellis' assessment. "We didn't tackle very well. But for the most part, Foster got only a couple of big plays. I think two of them. But I think we did a pretty good job. We could have done better, but we did OK."
Heading into its season-opener, Alabama had numerous questions about its offense--not least of which was who would start at quarterback. But 458 yards of total offense gained against a talented Bruin ‘D' provides legitimate hope for the future. "The yardage gives us something to build on," Collins said. "Every game comes down to three or four plays that determines the outcome. Tonight we didn't make those plays and UCLA did. And they ended up winning."
"But Tyler did a great job, Collins continued. "He led us well. He had a lot of pressure on him coming into tonight, and he handled it well. We have something to build on going into next week, and he did fine."
Adding his name to the likes of Paul Bryant and Gene Stallings, Dennis Franchione joins the ranks of some impressive Bama coaches that also lost their first game at Alabama. "We obviously had that extra incentive (of playing for Franchione's first victory), "Ellis acknowledged. "We talked about the extra motivation before the game.
"Going in there was no way you could have told me that we were going to lose this game. But things just didn't always go our way."