Shula starts off a winner

Mike Shula has come a long way as a head football coach. He didn't look too hot for most of the first half, but his Alabama Crimson Tide team improved dramatically as the game went along. Shula and Bama came up a winner in the opening game of the season and the first game of the Mike Shula Era at Alabama. The Crimson Tide defeated the South Florida Bulls 40-17 at Legion Field in Birmingham Saturday.

Alabama will have its Tuscaloosa opener next Saturday as the Crimson Tide hosts Oklahoma, the nation's top-ranked team. Kickoff in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 6:45 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by ESPN. Oklahoma was playing North Texas Saturday.

Mike Shula, who starred as an Alabama quarterback in the mid-1980s and who spent the past 15 years coaching in the NFL, was making his debut as a head coach.

Alabama did not have a smooth start Saturday, falling behind by 17-7. But the Tide struck for 10 points in the final half minute of the first half to tie the game at intermission, and then took the lead for good with an efficient drive to a field goal to start the second half.

Bama got its first touchdown from the defense and another from the kicking game. Special teams also set up an important field goal in the Tide's first half comeback.

Although the game was not the first start for quarterback Brodie Croyle, this season marks his first as THE quarterback. The sophomore struggled early, but performed well as Bama took control of the game. Croyle had the game's first big mistake. On the Tide's first offensive play, Croyle scrambled out of the pocket, fired a pass downfield to a wide open Zach Fletcher, and Fletcher went into the end zone untouched. However, Croyle had been a fraction of a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, wiping out the play. Croyle finished the day with 14 completions in 27 attempts for 203 yards with no interceptions and one touchdown.

South Florida took advantage of good field position after Bama's first botched series to drive only 50 yards to a touchdown and 7-0 lead. Bulls quarterback Ronnie Banks, who was good on 17 of 33 passes for 199 yards, escaped Tide defensive pressure and hit Brian Fisher on a 13-yard scoring play.

The Bama defense tied the game as sophomore cornerback Charlie Peprah grabbed a ball that went off the hands of a South Florida receiver. Peprah returned it 51 yards for a tying touchdown. Brian Bostick, who would hit two of three field goal attempts and four of five extra points, kicked it to 7-7.

A fumble by back-up tailback Ray Hudson set the Bulls up for a short touchdown. From the Crimson Tide 20 it took just two plays and 14 seconds for South Florida to take a 14-7 lead. Fisher got his second touchdown for the Bulls on a 13-yard run.

Bo Freelend was the new Alabama punter this year, taking over for the graduated Lane Bearden. Freeland had a pretty good day with four punts for a 41-yard average. But his one poor punt, a 32-yarder, helped the Bulls get good field position, leading to a 45-yard field goal by Santiago Gramatica. That increased the South Florida lead to 17-7 and with Alabama's defense having been on the field much of the first half, things did not look good for the Crimson Tide.

One key to the Tide victory was Bama's two-minute offense just before halftime. It would ultimately lead to 10 points in the final 1:53 of the first half. Croyle took Bama on a five-play, 80-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Triandos Luke pulling the Tide to within 17-14.

On the ensuing kickoff, Roberto McBride forced a fumble that was recovered by Kenneth Darby at the South Florida 24. After a couple of pass plays, Bostick kicked a 40-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, tying the game at 17-17.

Alabama had only six first downs and only 115 yards of total offense in the first half. On the opening drive of the third quarter, Bama picked up four first downs and 72 yards. But Bama came up short of a touchdown, stalling at the South Florida 8 and settling for Bostick's 25-yard field goal.

Shaud Williams, who would finish as one of the stars of the game, was inserted into the game as punt return man following South Florida's first possession of the second half. Williams took the punt at the Alabama 27, got a springing block from David Scott, picked up about three more blocks (including a beauty by true freshman Ramzee Robinson), and out-raced the final defender on a 73-yard touchdown return and a 27-17 Alabama lead.

Williams got the first of his two rushing touchdowns as Alabama turned in a fine drive late in the third quarter. Bama went 97 yards in 11 plays (and also got some help from South Florida penalties). Williams, who finished the game with 28 carries for 98 yards, took it in from three yards out, following the block of true freshman fullback Le'Ron McLain. Although Bostick's extra point kick was blocked, the Tide had a 33-17 lead.

The Alabama defense had to withstand a South Florida drive to the Crimson Tide 2, where the Bulls missed a short field goal. The Tide responded with a game-clinching drive, 90 yards in 15 plays. The drive consumed over half the quarter, 7:37. Williams scored from a yard out and Bostick's extra point wrapped up the scoring.

In addition to Williams' 28-run, 98-yard effort, Ray Hudson had eight carries for 49 yards and Kenneth Darby eight for 41. Although Spencer Pennington wrapped up the game at quarterback, he did not have any passes. Triandos Luke was the leading Bama receiver with four catches for 45 yards, but Zach Fletcher had 79 yards on his three receptions. True freshman Tim Castille, who started the game at fullback, had two receptions for 38 yards. Croyle completed passes to seven different receivers.

Although Roman Harper was the leading Alabama tackler with six primary stops and an assist and linebacker DeMeco Ryans was in on six tackles and Peprah had four tackles and the interception for a touchdown, Antwan Odom – with only two official tackles – may have been the most dominant defender. His two tackles were for losses of 18 yards, including an eight-yard sack. He also caused a fumble, had two official "quarterback hits," and broke up a pass behind the line of scrimmage.

While Alabama increased its first downs from six in the first half to 24 for the game, South Florida had only a gain of two first downs in the second half, from 10 to 12. Alabama had 48 rushes for 188 yards, South Florida 22 carries for 51 yards. Bama had 203 yards passing and total offense of 75 plays for 391 yards, 5.2 yards per play. South Florida had 205 yards passing and total offense of 56 plays for 256 yards, 4.6 yards per play.

South Florida was penalized eight times for 64 yards. Alabama was flagged only five times for just 29 yards. Bama was good on nine of 15 third down conversions, the Bulls four of 13 (and zero for one on a fourth down try). After South Florida finished the first half with about a two-minute advantage in time of possession, Alabama had a final advantage of 37:08 to 22:52.

Among those who did not play in the game were linebacker Cornelius Wortham, who had played in all previous 36 games in his Crimson Tide career; wide receiver Antonio Carter, who missed all last season with a stress fracture in his leg; and fullback Greg McClain, who has missed practice time this fall and who has been shifted to tight end.. Wortham has missed a great deal of practice this year with an elbow injury, while Carter's leg continues to cause him pain.

Alabama played 51 men in the game, including five first-time starters. The first –time starters in addition to Castille at fullback were center J.B.Closner, offensive guard Dennis Alexander, split end Zach Fletcher, and defensive tackle Jeremy Clark.

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