Quarterback & coach assess Arkansas game

Go back to Saturday afternoon. It's late in the third quarter with the score 17-10 Bama, and the outcome of the game is still very much in doubt. A blocked punt by Arkansas followed immediately by a batted, then recovered lateral gives Bama the ball on the Razorback 39-yardline. <br><br>Tide quarterback Tyler Watts takes up the narrative; "When the defense gives you the ball like that, you've got to take a shot. You've got to go for it.

"Fortunately, the coaches called a great play. Freddie was able to work his way open through the secondary, and I was able to find him. That was a huge play."

Watts started out faking an option run, before looping backwards to look downfield for his receiver. Tight End Theo Sanders was crossing to the right, taking the Hog safety with him, giving a streaking Freddie Milons all the room he needed to break free and haul in Watts' perfect pass at the goal line. "That was just a great play," Watts said. "The offensive line did a tremendous job keeping them out of the backfield. We had guys working together on their routes and getting each other open. Freddie was able to wiggle himself free, and he made a great catch."

As Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach, it's Les Koenning's job to school Watts in making the correct reads. "Freddie was one of the primary receivers," Koenning related. "We had three reads on that play, and he was one of the reads. Tyler threw him the ball because he was open. It worked."

During practice, Watts passes as Koenning looks on.

Immediately after the game, Koenning was asked about the read progression that particular play. But the sly coordinator declined to reveal too much. "You could say that he was one of the primary reads," Koenning said with a smile. "I don't want to give out our reads.

"I had a quarterback one time that had a great night, and he came into the media room and told everybody the reads. Of course our opponents got them all for the following week, which wasn't very smart on his part."

The play call turned out to be perfect. With the game still in doubt, the Tide defense had created a crucial turnover, and a knockout blow was in order. "It was time for it," Watts explained. "That's a home-run play--or at least it has that capability. We were able to capitalize, and something big happened."

"Scoring like that right after you get a turnover is important," Watts continued. "That was a huge--just huge momentum swing. We were very fortunate in being able to capitalize on it."

Scoring earlier on a scoop-and-run of an Arkansas fumble, the Tide defense would strike again late in the fourth quarter when cornerback Thurman Ward took an interception in for a TD. But this time it was up to the Bama offense to capitalize. Watts explained; "That definitely really encouraged our defense. They try to get us the ball as much as they can. Unfortunately we scored on the very next play, so they had to go right back out there. But it was a huge momentum swing. It was either a 10- or 14-point swing."

Educated fans will note that the play took advantage of a Razorback defense primed to stop the option run. All week long the Tide coaches had listened to talk out of the Arkansas camp about preparing to stop the option.

Sometimes the threat of a play is just as effective as running the play itself, and in this battle of wits, Bama was one step ahead. "We sit in that film room for hours every night," Koenning related. "Debating how to get the ball into different people's hands and how to create a one-on-one. If that means the option, then we run the option. But we didn't run it very much (Saturday)."

In an obvious effort to control the clock, the Tide offensive staff called more than twice as many runs as passes. But in terms of yardage, Bama was more successful passing. "I think Arkansas was dead set on stopping the run," was Watts' analysis. "With Antonio (Carter) and Freddie (Milons) and the rest of our receivers, we have to be able to throw the ball. And today we had to throw some to be able to move the football. I have a lot of confidence with our personnel. We were able to go out there, execute some plays, throw it around a little bit and pick up some yardage."

No matter how talented a team may be on offense, versatility remains a key to success. "It was a real physical game out there," Watts said. "And you can't just do one thing. You have to be able to keep a defense off balance if you expect to move the ball. You have to be able to mix run and pass. You can't be a capable offense unless you can do both. Arkansas was keying on the run, and as a result we were able to pick up good yardage throwing the ball."

The victory pushed Bama's record to 2-1 overall, but more importantly 2-0 in the SEC. And Koenning acknowledged some offensive progress. "We emphasized red-zone work a lot last week," he related. "Getting down there five times against Vanderbilt and not getting in was frustrating to us. We got it down close and popped it in. And we scored running the football."

Versus Arkansas, Watts was 9-of-16 passing, with one touchdown and more importantly, no interceptions.

Though seeing much room for improvement, Watts agreed; "We were able to punch it in when we got it in the red zone, but we turned the ball over twice, which is something we can't do. We had some mental mistakes, and we had some penalties. That stuff can get you beat, so we definitely have some stuff we need to work on.

"But we're very pleased with this win. This was like the ultimate team win. The defense did their job--and really did more than we ever expected. They almost outscored us."

Game by game, Watts and the rest of the Tide offense are gaining confidence. "There's some more to build on this week," Watts acknowledged. "But we still need to work on things. Arkansas ended up with the ball more than we did, and we just can't have that. We've got to keep our defense on the sidelines. That keeps them fresh. They're doing their job, holding them three-and-out. You have to be able to sustain some drives and move the ball.

"We've got to continue to work on our concentration and our execution of plays. We can't turn the ball over. If we do that, then we'll be OK. There's no question. We're going to get better."

And as the reporters turned to walk away, Watts couldn't pass up the opportunity to remind them that at least one worry had been laid to rest. Not one person had asked whether or not he could hold up to the beating he took by running so much option. "Hey, the last two weeks I've gotten down when I felt like the tackler was close," he said laughing. "That's better than taking a hit."

And with a grin on his face, Watts added--just loud enough for the nearby Keonning to hear, "It's good coaching--definitely good coaching."


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