Last season the Tide averaged 413 yards per game on offense, 213 of which came via the run. Saturday Alabama totaled 391 yards, 188 rushing. Not surprisingly, senior tailback Shaud Williams led the way.
Williams gained 98 yards and scored a touchdown running the football. And of course his third-quarter, 73-yard punt return for a touchdown turned the game's momentum solidly Bama's way. In all, Williams earned 177 all-purpose yards for his team.
"Shaud has done a great job for us all the way through," Shula said.
The Tide's coaches have reason to feel good about their senior tailback. But Shula also knows that other runners will be needed to get through Bama's tough schedule. Saturday reserve halfbacks Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby gained 49 and 44 yards respectively.
"I saw tough running (from Hudson and Darby), and they made some guys miss," Shula said. "We're going to need them all the way through the season. We know what Shaud is, and we want to keep him fresh every week. To have those other guys be productive..."
Hudson put the ball on the ground in the first half, leading to a South Florida score. But the junior turned in several tough runs in the fourth quarter. Shula commented, "Ray had the fumble early that set up a touchdown for them, but he did a nice job coming back. That's tough to do when you have a negative play like that. He did a nice job keeping his poise."
Standing 5-9 and 5-10 respectively, neither Williams nor Hudson will intimidate anyone with their size. But Shula notes that they're not merely finesse runners either. "I think they're similar," Shula said. "Shaud is more of a power runner than what people think. He shows great patience.
"Ray just hasn't had as many reps in practice. He's a bigger guy. He can get some tough yards inside."
Kenneth Darby is only a redshirt freshman, and frankly on a few plays Saturday he ran like one. "I saw the goal line and got ahead of myself," Darby explained afterwards. "It won't happen again."
By the fourth quarter when Alabama was looking to put the game away, Darby was the man. For seven plays in a row Alabama handed Darby the ball, and he responded with two first downs as the clock wound down to 0:00:00
"Darby did a nice job at the end, when we had the lead and were trying to keep the ball away from their offense," Shula said. "He made some guys miss. There were guys that weren't blocked in the hole. He either made them miss or ran them over."
Last year's starting fullback, Greg McLain, was hampered by injuries during fall camp. And super-frosh Le'Ron McClain is still learning the offense. Starting at fullback in his first collegiate game, Tim Castille didn't get any carries. But he did display his receiving skills, catching two passes for 38 yards.
"Tim is not a stop-gap guy that we're going to have in there until someone else is going to take over," Shula stated. "Tim is in there for a reason. He's a mature freshman. He can do some things with the football in his hands. He's tough. Tim has done a nice job converting from a tailback in high school to fullback."
Le'Ron McClain didn't qualify until late, forcing him to miss most of fall camp. Saturday he played on special teams and also sparingly on offense, utilized mainly as a lead blocker in short-yardage situations.
"Le'Ron's role could expand, but I'm not sure about him being a starter," Shula said. "He still needs to get in playing shape. It was good to get him as many reps as we could (Saturday). He got quality reps and experience. We're going to look to him to do some things later on."
Though he was dressed out and ready, Greg McLain did not play versus the Bulls. "We expect him to play (this week)," Shula said. "We had a plan to play him Saturday as well. Each week he'll have a chance. He's missed some time, and we've got to get him to where he's feeling real good about what he's doing. He's done a nice job recently, and we anticipate him playing."
He could switch back to fullback this week as the Tide prepares for Oklahoma, but McLain spent the past several practices working at tight end.