Ready or not...

It had been more than two years since he had seen actual game action on a football field. But when Spencer Pennington went down with an injury last Saturday against Georgia, Brandon Avalos didn't hesitate. <br><br>"I just thought, ‘Grab my helmet and get on the field,'" Avalos recalled. "‘Get the play. Let's go.'"

"That's all that was going through my mind."

A redshirt freshman, prior to Saturday the closest Avalos (pronounced "Ah-va-los) had come to the playing field was standing next to Head Coach Mike Shula and signaling in the plays. But surprising even to him, he wasn't nervous.

"I really wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be," Brandon Avalos said. "I was expecting to play. You always want to be ready for your opportunity, so every game you've got to be ready to play. I guess that's why I wasn't nervous.

"When I went in, it was new, but it was nothing that I didn't expect. I was calm. I was comfortable."

Set up in the shotgun, Avalos surveys the field. He finished the Georgia game 2-of-8 passing for six yards, while gaining nine yards on four carries.

Avalos may not have been nervous, but there's no question his adrenaline was pumping overtime. On an early quarterback draw, he had an opening but was so excited his legs literally couldn't keep up with his body and he lost his footing.

"There was definitely some adrenaline," Avalos recalled. "I got on the field and I was already sweating, just because my blood was pumping. But it wasn't nervous. I felt really comfortable."

Tide Head Coach Mike Shula preaches it every week to the backups. Be prepared. Be ready. Because you never know when your chance will come.

"I'm expecting to play every game," Avalos said. "Whether Brodie (Croyle) is starting or Spencer is starting--whether I'm three-deep or two-deep (on the depth chart)--I'm expecting to play every game. That's the way I go into it."

On the road in front of a packed stadium full of hostile fans is hardly the best place to begin your college career, but Avalos was in his element. "It was great. I loved every second of it, especially when our special teams got us back in the game and the defense made those plays. It was the perfect situation to step in. We were trying to mount a comeback."

When he entered the game after Pennington's injury, Avalos and his teammates trailed Georgia 37-10. But in between that series and his next game action, Alabama got two touchdowns off an interception and a fumbled Georgia punt. By Avalos' next series, Alabama only trailed by 14 points, and the Tide team was excited.

"I was definitely getting a lot of encouragement," Avalos related. "My teammates were behind me the whole way. The offensive line was behind me. I told them before I came in that they needed to have confidence in me, because I was going to get the job done.

"Get the job done. Move down the field, and we'll be fine."

Mike Shula and Avalos confer on the sideline. (Kent Gidley photo)

Avalos did the best he could, but his lack of practice time running the Tide offense made a successful comeback difficult. Shula explained, "We were back to maybe 50 percent (of our playbook). Now Brandon knows all the plays. He knows all the offense we're playing, but he just didn't have the reps."

Avalos talked about the problem of facing the Georgia defense without preparation time in practice. "It's a little difficult," he acknowledged, "especially when you don't recognize all the looks you'd like to recognize. It was tough. But I know the offense. I know all the plays.

"Experience will give me my vision and I'll see things more."

Standing 6 feet tall and weighing 187 pounds, Avalos isn't a classic pocket passer like Brodie Croyle or Spencer Pennington. But he's got a good arm and excellent speed.

Shula commented, "Brandon is more of an athletic quarterback. That doesn't mean that all of a sudden we're going to have him run around. We feel like he's a good fit for what we do with our passing game. We'll need to have a plan for him this week that caters to the things that he does well. Go find a way to put points on the board and win the football game with either guy."

Despite being down 14 points, Alabama didn't ask Avalos to throw the football all over the field versus the Bulldogs. "We did some things different," Avalos said. "Y'all saw some quarterback draws out there. That's part of the package the coaches have got for me. But the other plays we ran were our base offense. We didn't narrow it down. We just tried to win the game."

"When I say ‘cater towards him,' it means (calling) more of the (plays) that he feels comfortable with that are within our system right now," Shula added. "We won't change things about our system. Each guy--from Brodie to Spencer, from Spencer to Brandon--each guy likes some (passing) patterns better and maybe doesn't throw other patterns quite as well.

"Those are things we'll look at."

Avalos bristled a bit at the suggestion that he couldn't handle Alabama's entire playbook. "We have the whole offense installed. It's just getting the reps, recognizing the looks and coverages are what you need the reps for. I'm going to be prepared for Southern Miss. Our playbook is in. We're ready to go."

Avalos looks to pass at practice. An excellent all-around athlete, he played outfield last season for Bama's baseball team.

Pennington is definitely out, and the Tide coaches must quickly decide whether or not Croyle can help this Saturday. But barring a remarkable recovery, Avalos will likely start against Southern Miss.

After him?

"I think Coach Rader is next," Shula joked, referring to Alabama's Offensive Coordinator, Dave Rader, who was a former college and pro quarterback.

"No, Mike Machen would be next," Shula continued. "We've got to make sure we get Brandon ready. Realistically you can only get two quarterbacks ready. That's what we did last week."

Avalos is eager for the challenge.

"I've got to be prepared now. Right now I'm the only one that's healthy. I don't know how bad the injuries are, but I do know that I've got to be ready. We've got to get ready for Southern Miss.

"I've got to be ready for the starting role."

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