Shula talks about offense

Before accepting the Alabama job, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula spent his entire coaching career in the NFL, where the general philosophy is to play your starting quarterback for as long as possible. <br><br>Saturday Brodie Croyle took every snap for Alabama, but he also paid the price.

Officially Oklahoma was credited with five sacks and two quarterback hurries, but statistics don't account for the numerous other times Croyle was belted following the pass.

Watching his quarterback absorb all those blows had Shula concerned. "It felt like watching a heavyweight fight," Shula said. "Yeah, it makes you nervous. He showed everybody again how tough a kid and how resilient he is. Brodie doesn't complain. He just winds up and plays the next play.

Zach Fletcher is clearly Bama's best deep-passing threat, but Saturday he was ruled just out of bounds on several plays.

"Brodie's vocal, but for the most part guys appreciate his leadership even more so because of his actions."

Asked to name a positive on offense, Shula had a quick answer. "Offensively, Brodie comes to mind at first, with the effort that he gave. He stood in there and took a lot of hits. Even after he took them, he continued to challenge the defense with some scrambles and make some yards for us. He kept our offense going himself.

"We hit some runs in there with our running game, against a quality defense. We weren't quite as good as last week, but there were things to improve on."

The Tide finished with 303 yards of total offense, down from their first-week total. But the team they were playing against had something to do with that. Shula explained, "Oklahoma's team speed in the secondary might be as fast as we'll see all year. You saw that right from the first play."

On Alabama's first offensive play, Croyle attempted a sideline pass, which was promptly picked off by Sooner cornerback Antonio Perkins. "We thought we had a good play," Shula said. "We were just a little bit off on the pass, but against most teams that pass gets completed. If not, at worst it's incomplete.

"That was a good example of the talent Oklahoma has in the secondary. They were as good as advertised. They were bigger. They do a nice job rushing the passer."

The interception wasn't Croyle's only mistake during the game, but Shula still likes his quarterback's long-term potential. "I think mentally (Brodie) has grasped everything," Shula said. "He understands his reads and blitz pickups.

Shaud Williams looks for yardage against the tough Sooner defense. (GettyImages)

"He needs to improve on some mechanics, understanding to step up in the pocket and don't always flush out of the pocket. Of course the couple of times he did (flush from the pocket early) he made some yards scrambling, so I'm not going to harp on that too much."

Alabama took its chances long Saturday night, but most of the time Croyle and his receiver seemed to be just a step off. Several times senior Zach Fletcher made the catch down the field, only to be ruled out of bounds by the trailing official.

"We've got to find a way to come up with those plays," Shula said. "We had our chances to come up with some huge, huge plays. Those were opportunities, but we just didn't make them. Those are some of the little things we've got to get corrected."

Shula noted that the problem could be solved in several ways: throw the ball slightly more inside, pass protect better so the ball can be thrown more quickly or have the receiver guard more carefully against running close to the sideline. "To me, (those type mistakes) are exciting," Shula said. "Unfortunately we lost the game, but they're exciting because we had a chance to make some plays against a real good defense. If we fine-tune our offense, hopefully we'll take advantage of the opportunities next week."

The execution was obviously a tad off last Saturday, but the Tide clearly has the ability to stretch a defense with its deep-passing game. Shula commented, "It goes back to Brodie seeing the defense and having a good feel. A couple of times he did a good job of stepping up and staying in the pocket. And he's got very good arm strength. He's got the arm strength to throw the ball deep and get it there in a hurry. And he's got good touch.

"If we can eliminate some of the (pass-rush) pressure, I think he'll be even more accurate."

Asked if Fletcher was operating too close to the out-of-bounds marker, Shula acknowledged he could improve. "The minute I talk about field awareness, it sounds like I'm pointing a finger at Zach," Shula said. "Actually, those are things the entire team can get better at. We can protect better, we can throw the ball more inside. If we protect better, then the ball gets there a little earlier. It's our job as coaches to coach all these guys up, and that starts with me. Whether or not it's field awareness or knowing their assignments. If there is a mistake made, we always say let's look at it and make sure we don't make it again."

He faced tough going all game, having to earn every yard he got, but tailback Shaud Williams finished the night with 91 yards on 17 rushing attempts. Williams was the leading rusher for both teams.

If fullback Tim Castille is temporarily sidelined, Bama has other options at the position.

"Other than Brodie, Shaud has the best understanding of our offense," Shula said. "When he's running the football he understands where all his blocks are coming from. He sets his blocks up well and then gets some tough yards when he knows we need them. He's been a durable guy. He can catch the ball. He does a nice job with our third-down package running routes and also helps out in protection."

True freshman Tim Castille strained a knee during the game, which left the Tide painfully thin at fullback. Shula said he expects everyone to return by next week's game against Kentucky, but he also talked about Bama's position options beyond Castille.

"We've got some alternatives," Shula said. "We feel good with Le'Ron McClain. He's getting better each week. Clint Johnston plays that position. And we didn't use it much Saturday, but we've got our three-wide-receiver sets. The third wide receiver comes in and plays the fullback position.

"(When that happens), obviously he doesn't do the same things that Tim Castille does."


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