Otherwise the Tide coaches were generally happy with the unit's performance. "I thought they played OK," Thurmond continued. "We didn't really give up any other plays. They took Gerald (Dixon) up early in the game. They didn't take us up vertically a lot, but they took Gerald up one time early--and he made a great play. They took Bert (Roberto McBride) up off the goal line, and Bert made a great play. For the most part we were sound on everything. Other than (the touchdown pass), we played well."
Headed into the game, much of the talk focused on the apparently uneven matchup between UCLA's tall, fast and experienced wideouts versus the Tide's small and inexperienced corners. However, the Bruin's best receiver (Brian Poli-Dixon) was shut out statistically, as Alabama yielded a lone touchdown via the air.
But that one play still sticks in Thurmond's craw. "Thurman (Ward) was playing the outside corner," Coach Thurmond related. "What happened was the route switched and he started back outside and it looked like we were going to get a sack. He next looked back to check the quarterback, which you can't do. And then when he was trying to come out of his break, he got a cleat stuck in the turf and he couldn't get turned. By then it was too late.
"It was just one of those unfortunate plays. Experience is one of those things you never have until you need it. I guarantee you though, he'll learn from that. It's just a shame he had to learn the hard way."
For the game Ward played 15 snaps, backing up starters Gerald Dixon and Hirchel Bolden. While Roberto McBride (15 snaps) and Corey Ferguson (2 snaps) also contributed. "We classify ‘Smoke' (Dixon), Bert (McBride) and Hirchel as our first unit, because they're our first nickel unit, and then we roll them from there," Thurmond related. "Thurman Ward and Bert will be in the game quickly, and Corey Ferguson will be in the game. Of those five kids, we don't worry a whole lot about them being out there."
Given the fact that none of those five athletes were starting the last half of the 2000 season, their performance versus the Bruins was remarkable. "That was the first time Thurman had ever been on the field--the first time Bert has ever been on the field," Thurmond pointed out. "Gerald is really the only one that has extensive playing time. Hirchel got a little bit last year--but not a whole lot. They improved; they've just got to keep getting better."
To the casual observer, the Bruin offense sometimes looked out of sync, as several balls were off target and others ended up being dropped by the receivers. But Thurmond explained the reason; "You could tell when they went into the game what their plan was. They were going to get the ball out of their quarterback's hands. Boom!
"If you noticed, they were throwing everything on timing routes. That's why they had a couple of drops. That's why they had the ball behind them a couple of times. The threat of pressure sometimes is as good as pressure. You could tell they were worried about our blitz and our blitz capabilities."
In his regular press briefing Tuesday, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione noted that the UCLA game plan allowed Alabama to play a softer secondary coverage than will normally be the case. "We took advantage of that, and it worked for the most part," Thurmond acknowledged. "We played a little bit more zone against UCLA than we anticipated. But it became such a two-back game, and they were such a play-action team, that we played more zone. We still mixed our man stuff in. We probably had pressure calls probably 60-70 percent of the time.
"We've just got to play every play. This is a perfect-play league, and we've got to learn to be perfect."
Next up on the schedule is the conference opener with Vanderbilt. And despite the fact that the Commodores dropped their opening game to MTSU, Thurmond is impressed with their passing attack. "If you watch them, their quarterback is left-handed and they designed their offense to work to his strength. They don't ask him to do things that he can't do. They make his reads easy for him. Anytime a guy has the record for completions in the SEC, he's got to be pretty good."
The normally stout Vandy defense betrayed them in their season-opener, but the Commodore's fifth-year senior quarterback Greg Zolman threw for 300 yards in the 37-28 loss. "We're impressed with their scheme and what they do," Thurmond said. "Vandy's receivers are good--great route runners. Really great route-runners. They understand what they're trying to do on offense. They understand throwing the football. What they do, they do very, very well."
Thurmond continued; "(Last season) Vanderbilt threw the ball up and down the field against Georgia, but didn't score many points. They threw the ball up and down the field against Tennessee, but Tennessee was able to keep them out of the endzone. We're impressed with their (passing) schemes."
In recent years at least, Vanderbilt has had good luck moving the football via the pass. But punching it in for six points has often been a problem. "Anytime you're a one-back, shotgun team, as the field shrinks vertically it's harder for you," Thurmond explained. "As the field shrinks vertically, the defense gains the advantage. Then it becomes a horizontal game. You can jump routes more quickly, because you're not worried about getting beat deep.
"But that's true of anybody that throws the football. Once you pass the 30-yardline, the passing game is harder to execute. Much harder."