Which one will it be?

Alabama won the game, but even after Saturday's 17-3 victory over Southern Miss questions about the Tide quarterback position remain. Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said Sunday that he hoped starter Brodie Croyle would be ready. <br><br>"We're optimistic, but we don't know," Shula said.

Croyle's left shoulder separation isn't going anywhere, and the likelihood remains that surgery of one type or another will have to be done eventually. But Croyle desperately wants to put that option off until after the season.

"It's early yet, but with Brodie not having to play (Saturday) and not taking any hits on it, hopefully he'll be better," Mike Shula said.

Health permitting, Brodie Croyle will start against Ole Miss. (Barry Fikes photo)

Croyle was dressed out and took part in Sunday evening's brief practice session, something he did not do last week. "We hope he'll continue to feel better and get his arm and shoulder ready with the rehab," Shula said. "But you've got to take it day-by-day. It's similar to last week. Now he didn't take any hits on it. He got the day off, so we'll see."

The problem isn't so much the danger of injuring the joint further. Croyle would undoubtedly compete with a cumbersome brace, designed to physically prevent the shoulder from separating again. But the pain associated with the injury can be severe.

Shula commented, "Brodie has been rehabbing the whole time since last week, and his arm felt pretty good last week. We hope he'll have a chance to line up and be our starter (against Ole Miss), but a lot of that will depend on the next 48-72 hours to see how he's coming along."

Croyle dressed out Saturday versus Southern Miss but did not play. The previous week against Georgia he lasted only two snaps before taking a hit on his injured shoulder and heading to the sideline. In really only five games of action, Croyle has thrown for 1,076 yards and six touchdowns.

If healthy, there is no question that Croyle would be Shula's first choice to start this Saturday. "He's played with (the injury)," Shula said. "He's a tough guy. The last couple of weeks he hasn't started, though he could have started really both games. But we decided for him to have the rest."

Asked by a Mississippi beat writer if the staff planned to make a formal announcement regarding Croyle's availability for Saturday's game, Shula indicated not. "Our approach has been day to day, just like it's been every day. We talk to the trainers and the doctors. The worst thing we could is announce one way or the other and then that not be the case. That's what we're not going to do."

Avalos looks for an opening in Saturday's Southern Miss game. (Barry Fikes photo)

With Croyle watching from the sideline and No. 2 quarterback Spencer Pennington out for at least a month with his own shoulder separation, redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos started and played the entire game against Southern Miss.

After reviewing the game film, Shula was pleased with Avalos' performance. "I kidded and said Brandon played a lot better with his first playing time than I did with mine. We threw about the same amount of passes. He did it as a starter, while I did it coming up when we were up 40-0."

Protecting an unproven quarterback, Alabama beat Southern Miss with a truncated offense. The Tide leaned heavily on its rushing attack, attempting only seven passes and completing three for 12 net yards.

Shula commented, "You can say Brandon only threw the ball seven times, and all he did was hand off, but for him to come in and do that against a good Southern Miss team. Keep the offense in the right formation..."

It may not have been pretty, but Avalos played essentially mistake-free football Saturday. "We had zero penalties on offense," Shula said. "No delays, no illegal formations, no nothing offensively. That's a credit to him. He missed a couple of passes that maybe we had a chance to hit for some key first downs or even making a big play. But he kept his poise. He listened to the offensive line. He kept them motivated to got us a win."

Once at the line of scrimmage, Avalos didn't worry with audibles. "He pretty much stayed with what was called," Shula said. "He did a nice job mixing up the snap count, keeping the defense off balance with some quick counts and hard counts. He did a nice job with ball handling and play faking."

Coach Shula talks with Avalos on the sideline. (Kent Gidley photo)

The good things Avalos did mostly didn't show up in the game stats, but Shula noticed. He pointed out one example when Avalos showed poise in preventing a loss.

"We had a play early in the second half that we were going to take a shot on a post pattern," Shula related. "We had a chance to run the post down the middle of the field, but we didn't protect it like we should have. There was a rusher coming free that came close to making a sack. Brandon did a nice job of maintaining his poise. He avoided the sack and then threw the ball away. He was outside the pocket. There was no receiver over there, but he understood the rule; got it past the line of scrimmage and kept us out of a potential sack."

Such plays give Shula positive points to emphasize with his young quarterback. Shula explained, "Those are the things you talk about with him. ‘This is a good job here. This is where you did a nice job of keeping us out of a bad situation. Just do a couple of different things, and you'll complete this pass.' Those are things you build on."

Avalos is now 1-0 as a starter, and the experience he gained Saturday will be invaluable. "You gain a lot, just being out on the field, getting the plays in and getting them run," Shula said.

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