"Do we need to throw the football more than seven times this week to win? Yes, we do," Tide Head Coach Mike Shula said, asking and answering the obvious question.
With a third-string quarterback starting his first college game calling the signals, Bama's coaching staff played things close to the vest Saturday, running the football at a more than 7-to-1 ratio. "We'd love to be able to run the ball 50 times and move it that way," Shula acknowledged.
Yes, but can they?
"We've got to mix it up," Shula acknowledged. "There are going to be some times when we're not going to have enough guys to block. If defenses are putting a lot of guys up (at the line of scrimmage), then we've got to be able to mix in the passes and be effective throwing."
But Shula quickly added that it's possible to be more creative in the run game than most fans suspect. "There are ways you can run the football and not necessarily be conservative," he said. "You can have variations. You can change formations."
Against the Golden Eagles, Alabama didn't score a lot of points. But the Tide did score early, taking a lead it never relinquished. Shula said that was key to the win.
He explained, "In the past we've put our defense in some difficult situations. The one thing that we did well Saturday was we got the lead early. We kept the lead and we built it to a two-score lead. Even though it wasn't high-scoring, it was still two scores. That helped the defense out."
When the team isn't winning, fans look for scapegoats. And some have blamed Alabama's defense for not doing enough. But Shula disagrees. "Our defense played very well (Saturday), and in my opinion they've played well throughout the year," Shula said.
Alabama essentially shut down the USM running attack, giving up only 17 net yards rushing. "They played the run well," Shula said of his defense. "They forced Southern Miss into some third-and-longs. They pressured the passer and covered well for the most part."
Despite regularly facing nine- and even 10-man fronts, Alabama ran the ball well enough Saturday to essentially not bother with its passing game. The Tide attempted only seven total passes all day, completing only three. Part of that was to protect redshirt freshman Brandon Avalos, and clearly the Tide coaches hope that regular starter Brodie Croyle will be ready this week.
But either way, Shula thinks the Tide will be able to throw the ball enough to win. "If we feel like we've got to pass and Brandon's in there, then (as coaches we need to) put him in the best situation to complete some passes, make first downs and move the ball, while still taking some chances going down the field."
From the beginning Shula's goal has been to create a versatile offense, capable of taking advantage of whatever the defense allows.
He commented, "Whatever the formula is... Whether we play good defense and keep the game low-scoring, or whether we believe we need to do more things offensively and put up some points... We've got to take a look at who our quarterback is and then execute.
"That starts with minimizing mistakes on our own part, and when you have a chance to make a play, make it."
Last week running the ball 50 times, while attempting only seven passes, was good enough. Against a Heisman-quality quarterback like the Rebels' Eli Manning, the formula will likely be different. But winning remains the goal.
"The main thing is we've got to take a good look at what Ole Miss does and understand our match-ups," Shula said. "(This week's game plan) might be similar or it could be the opposite."