"It felt good just to be out there coaching, and to see what our players can do."
Given the turmoil that buffeted the Tide the past eight months, changing the subject by starting off with a solid victory was big. Shula explained, "Saturday was important--our first chance as a team to get a win. We made some mistakes. South Florida did a great job early. They were up 10 points midway through the second quarter, but we were able to hold them off and make the plays."
At the end of the first quarter, the Tide had a measly eight yards of total offense. "We got off to a slow start," Shula acknowledged. "We had some negative plays offensively. South Florida did a very nice job early in the game keeping us on our heels."
The Bulls came to Birmingham ready to play. For a time, it appeared Bama did not.
With only 1:32 left on the halftime clock, Alabama found itself trailing by ten points. But picture-perfect execution of the two-minute offense, followed by a fumble recovery on the ensuing kickoff, allowed the Tide to go in at halftime tied.
"Our guys stayed with it after we got down 17-7," Shula said. "They kept believing that we could get it done. We got that quick 10 points in the second quarter. It was good just to see us play well, beginning in the second quarter."
At halftime the momentum had clearly swung Bama's way. The Tide drove down the field with the second-half kickoff to kick a field goal. Then after holding South Florida on downs, Shaud Williams put the game away with a gorgeous 73-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Shula commented, "In the third quarter we got 10 more quick points with a field goal and the punt return by Shaud. We were able to keep the ball in the second half to keep our defense off the field. They had a ton of plays early.
"Just getting that first win was good. We'll enjoy it for a couple of hours. We'll watch the tape with our players, then we're on to Oklahoma."
At the start of the game Bama's offensive production was essentially nonexistent, but Shula liked his squad's intensity. "Our effort was great all the way through, even when we weren't executing well. Everybody was playing hard."
Besides the offensive misfires early on, were there any other negatives he saw?
"We had a couple of penalties early," Shula replied. "We had some missed assignments that got us into some long-yardage situations. Defensively we had a couple of busts where we thought we could get off the field on a third down. South Florida did a nice job of converting some third downs."
As Tide fans know all too well, since May Shula and his staff have been forced to play catch-up with the rest of the college football world. Coming on board after spring practice, the offensive coaches had to scramble to develop and then install a new playbook.
But Shula would rather not talk about the problems. "I don't think any of our players will use that as an excuse, and we're not. We just didn't execute well. If we (use that excuse), it takes away from South Florida and the credit they deserve. They're a good football team. They're going to win a lot of games this year. South Florida did a nice job. They were ready to go, hitting everything early in all three phases of the game."
Shula talked all summer about preparing the Tide squad to the point where the players would react instinctively during games.
He commented, "I don't know if early on we were thinking too much or we just weren't used to South Florida's team speed. Once we got into a groove... What kick-started that was our two-minute drive (before the half). Hitting that big play to Zach Fletcher helped us feel better about what we were doing.
"From that point, the guys relaxed and just played."