Playing eleventh-ranked Georgia on the road in Athens is hardly the best spot to break in a new quarterback, but if needed Tide Head Coach Mike Shula is confident Pennington can get the job done. "What Spencer did last Saturday gave me and his teammates a lot of confidence in him," Shula said.
With just 70 second left on the first-half clock last week versus Arkansas, Croyle left for the locker room with a separated left shoulder. Pennington had barely time enough to toss the ball twice before being rushed into the game. Shula recalled the situation. "I was a little nervous when he went in, but he had a great look in his eye. The guys responded to him in the huddle. He said let's find a way to move the ball down the field and get some points. He made good decisions. He was accurate in his throws. He got rid of the ball quickly."
As he trotted onto the field, Pennington spotted Croyle--clearly in pain--being hustled off by the Tide trainers. "Watching Brodie head into the locker room, I felt bad for him," Pennington said. "You hate to see a friend struggling like that. He was holding onto his jersey to try and keep the joint stable."
His head coach may have been nervous, but Pennington didn't flinch. Running Bama's hurry-up offense, he calmly threw seven passes (two of which were nullified by penalties), completing three. As the halftime clock ticked to 0:00, Bama kicked a field goal to tie the game at 10-10.
Did he feel any nerves?
"Coming in to direct the two-minute offense helped out," Pennington replied. "I really didn't have time to think about it. I was just reacting to what was happening on the field. In the two-minute offense you don't even usually take time to look for your secondary receivers. You check out your primary and throw the ball. If he's covered, you get rid of the football to stop the clock."
Nerves may not have been part of the equation, but Pennington did admit to feeling emotion. "It was exciting," he said. "The guys in the huddle were telling me they believed in me. I was excited to be in there. It was a lot of fun."
One of the key plays in that drive actually came via penalty. On the fifth play of the drive Pennington's pass for Lance Taylor fell incomplete, but the Arkansas rusher had flattened him after he released the ball. Personal foul: roughing the passer.
But don't bother asking whether it hurt.
"I really don't know whether it was a good hit or not," he said laughing. "I had a lot of adrenaline flowing, so I didn't really feel it. I know I threw the ball incomplete, so we were fortunate to get the penalty."
When the halftime whistle blew, Pennington sprinted off the field to the Tide locker room. "I was worried about my friend," he explained. "Brodie is one of my best friends on the team. I go over to his parents' house all the time. We don't talk about football much those times. We just hang out. We both like to do a lot of the same things, hunting, fishing, playing pool. We have a lot of the same interests."
As happens at halftime of every game, the Tide quarterbacks met with Shula and Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader to go over plans for the second half. After having his shoulder popped back into place, Croyle joined the meeting and announced his intention to play. "Brodie is the starting quarterback," Pennington said. "I knew if he could play, he would."
Croyle finished that game, but his availability Saturday remains in doubt. Pennington commented, "You never know when someone might get hurt. When Brodie was first hit, it didn't look serious. But then he came out holding his arm. As a backup you never know when your opportunity might come."
The job of a backup is never easy. Each week Pennington must prepare as if he'll play, never knowing for sure whether or not he will. "There's no art to it; you've just got to want to be ready to play," Pennington said. "I was never a backup until I got to college, but I know my role on the team. Whether I spend my time signaling in the play from the sideline or taking the snap from center, I've got to do the best job I can. All I want to do is win. This week all I want is a win over Georgia."
Croyle didn't practice at all Sunday or Tuesday. In his absence Pennington handled the quarterbacking duties. Rader talked about Bama's game plan this week. "We have a lot of confidence in Spencer. He prepared this week like he does every week. If Spencer plays, we probably won't adjust our offense a lot. We'll scout the film to see how we think we can beat Georgia, combine that with the things we think Alabama does best and then put a high priority on the plays we do well that will work against Georgia."
"We might alter our play calling slightly," Shula said. "We cater to what the player does well. But we wouldn't alter things too much."
"We're both passing quarterbacks," Pennington added. "We'll keep the same stuff in."
Talking about his practice reps when Croyle is healthy, Pennington said, "In a typical week I'll usually get from 30-40 percent of the reps. The starting quarterback has got to see a lot of different looks, so that cuts down on the number of reps for the backup."
Shula said Thursday that Croyle did practice, but took "around 40 percent of the reps."
Shula continued, "If he plays this Saturday, then I'll be excited for Spencer. And I want to emphasize that we have not made that decision yet. All we'll ask is that he be prepared and know what to do."
Shula went on to acknowledge that Croyle's arm was probably stronger than Pennington's, but he noted that was hardly the best measure of an effective quarterback. "Just move the team, that's the true test of a quarterback. Being able to move the football and put the ball in the endzone. That's what we're going to ask Spencer to do, and that's how he'll be measured."
Last Sunday for the first time in two years Pennington woke up sore. Depending on the status of Croyle's gimpy left shoulder, there could be more morning-after pain in his future.
"I kind of liked the feeling," Pennington said with a smile.