Alabama opens the season in less than two weeks, hosting South Florida at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday, August 30. The game will be nationally telecast by the cable network ESPN with kickoff at 2 p.m. CDT.
While Saturday evening talk was mostly about the offense, that's not to say that the defense, which has dominated work in drills thus far, did not have its moments. Derrick Pope, who is working at both strongside and middle linebacker, continues to draw praise. On Saturday Shula said, "It seemed like every time the defense had a big play Derrick Pope was involved in it. He had a great day and he's had a great camp. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm. He's one of our leaders." Pope had five individual tackles in the scrimmage, including three behind the line of scrimmage. And one of those behind the line was for a safety.
Safety Charles Jones also got in on the scoring. He stepped in front of a Spencer Pennington pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Shula said, "It was sort of a jump ball situation and Charles was going to get it. Those guys in the secondary take a lot of pride in their play."
Bama's practice had been scheduled for Bryant-Denny Stadium. However, a heavy downpour just before practice time forced a change to the Thomas Field practice area. "We didn't want to tear up the field (at Bryant-Denny Stadium)," Shula said. He said that Tuesday the Tide would have a scrimmage at the stadium, although Tuesday's scrimmage will not be as long as Saturday's.
Shula said that Saturday's practice was "a little longer" than expected because of work on some special situations. He said, "Overall, I think we have some real good things to look at. It was sort of like a game in that we had some times when the offense would have two bad plays, then make a play on third and long. And we had the defense twice ready to come off the field, only to have a penalty on a third down play and keep alive drives that ended in scores for the offense."
The offense scored nine touchdowns in the 100-play (58 pass, 42 rush) scrimmage, including four touchdown passes by Brodie Croyle. Everyone agreed that Croyle had an outstanding day. He completed 19 of 30 passes for 298 yards with no interceptions and a long pass of 48 yards.
Croyle said, "The offense had a good day. It was much better than last week and came after a sluggish Friday. I thought we really looked like an SEC offense today. I'm not saying we're ready to play. We need to fine tune. We're not excellent or perfect, but from where we started we were close to excellent or perfect today."
One Crimson Tide player drawing praise was senior wide receiver Brandon Greer. "Everyone's been talking about our top four, and I think they compare with anybody's," Croyle said. "But Brandon Greer came up with a lot of big plays today. Greer led all receivers with four catches for 88 yards.
Shula said that depth at wide receiver will be important and that Greer and Lance Taylor have moved up into possible back-up spots to the four returning regulars Zach Fletcher, Antonio Carter, Triandos Luke, and Dre Fulgham. Fletcher had two catches for 78 yards, including a 48-yard touchdown. Carter had only one catch, a 15-yard score. Luke caught three balls for 24 yards and had two touchdowns, while tight end David Cavan had three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown. Eleven different players, seven wide receivers, two tight ends, and two running backs, had receptions.
Both Shula and Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader pointed out that Alabama's offense is not likely to have 58 per cent passing and 42 per cent rushing. Rader said it was partly because a football team needs to spend more time rehearsing its passing game, while Shula noted that the statistics were also skewed by Bama spending part of the scrimmage on the two-minute drill.
Although back-up quarterbacks Spencer Pennington and Brandon Avalos did not have sparkling statistics, Rader pointed out that was in great part "because they were going against a very fine defense. They were very close to having some good plays. We're making improvement." Shula said that Pennington "has showed us the last couple of days that he has a good grasp of what we're doing."
Pennington completed three of six passes for only 12 yards, while Avalos completed five of 17 passes for 50 yards.
Shaud Williams led Bama rushers with 10 carries for 79 yards, including a long of 25. He scored two touchdowns. Kenneth Darby had 12 carries for 52 yards, including the long run of the day, 35 yards, and had a touchdown. Tim Castille, who played both fullback and tailback, had four carries for 45 yards. Ray Hudson scored two touchdowns with 11 carries for 21 yards.
Shula said, "All three of our backs did a nice job. Each one made someone miss him. We're looking for consistency at running back and Shaud is showing the most consistency."
Still, Shula said, there were times when the running game "struggled," primarily because blockers allowed a defender to fill a hole.
Placekicking continues to be adequate, although Shula said, "We've got to work on our protection." Kyle Robinson was good on two of three attempts with a long of 28, while Brian Bostick made one of two tries, hitting a 38-yarder.
Bama did not have punting in the scrimmage. The morning session of the two Saturday practices included extensive work on the kicking game.
In addition to Pope, Carlos Andrews and Demeco Ryans also had five tackles each. Antwan Odom, who had missed some work with a neck "stinger," had two sacks. Shula said that Odom has done "a nice job" the last few practices. "It's a relief for a guy to come back from injury and do well. I think we have depth and talent at defensive end."
Although Alabama had a full complement of Southeastern Conference officials watching practice, Shula said there were very few penalties called. "We need to make sure we get the right personnel in the game and get the play called and get to the line of scrimmage and get the play off," Shula said. "We're still having some communications problems."
Shula said, "We want to be a well-disciplined football team, not beating ourselves. But, he said, "That doesn't mean we will be cautious."
Bama had two fumbles Saturday, losing one.
Alabama will not have a practice Sunday, although there will be a short walk-through to go over mistakes from Saturday's scrimmage. The team will also attend Calvary Baptist Church together. During the season Alabama's normal off-day will be Monday, Shula said.
Among those who missed the workout with what are thought to be minor injuries were fullback Greg McLain, outside linebacker Cornelius Wortham, offensive lineman Travis West, and defensive tackle Kyle Tatum.
Asked if he was worried about Oklahoma being named pre-season number one in the Associated Press poll, Shula said, "I'm concerned about South Florida."