Bama wants a history repeat

The mood following last Saturday's loss was somber at best, but one writer managed to bring a smile. Looking for some quotes for this week's pre-game stories, the reporter asked Brodie Croyle what it was like to silence 100,000 orange-clad partisans.

Smiling at the memory, Croyle replied, "There were only about 60,000 of them left there toward the end of the game."

Last season's 34-14 win in Knoxville was one of the high-points of Bama's year. But the odds definitely appear stacked against the Tide this time around. Tailback Shaud Williams commented, "You've got to be motivated anytime you get ready to play Tennessee, because you know they're going to be motivated. That's just the way it is.

"You've got to be ready, because we know Coach (Phillip) Fulmer is going to have his guys pumped up and ready."

Like the rest of his teammates, Justin Smiley is frustrated by Bama's recent poor play. But he thinks the offense can get things turned around. "When we get it fixed, I'm telling you man, it's going to be sweet," Smiley said. "I hope it's going to be this week."

The Tide's record stands at 3-5. Saturday's loss in Oxford drops their road ledger to 0-2. At least this year's Bama/Tennessee showdown will be played in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium.

With orange-clad Phillip Fulmer looking on, Gerald Dixon (#4) returns the lateral for a touchdown in last year's game. (Kent Gidley photo)

"We've played better at home than we have on the road so far," Croyle pointed out. "That's one good thing going for us. This is a game we really need. It's been a tough go for us so far. We've had a lot of games we felt like we should have won but we didn't."

In its previous game the Tide got caught flat-footed against a red-hot quarterback, and Ole Miss made them pay. Mississippi head coach David Cutcliffe served long years as the Volunteers' offensive coordinator before moving on to Oxford. Tennessee will run essentially the same offensive schemes, only with bigger, faster athletes.

"We just came off a really not good performance against Ole Miss," Williams said. "That makes us want to prepare that much harder to try and get back on track. We hope we can get this win, and we hope we can get Auburn later on in the year. That would erase a little of what's happened the first eight games.

"Anytime you play Tennessee or Auburn, it's one of those special rivalries across the nation."

Last season in a backup role Croyle completed 5-of-7 passes against Tennessee for 128 yards. His 56-yard completion to Zach Fletcher led to Bama's first offensive score, pushing the lead to 14-0.

"It's a highlight I remember," Croyle said of last year's win. "Anytime you have a good game against a team like Tennessee, people always remember it. I didn't play that much, but we had some success against them. We're hoping to build on that."

Bama ended up winning by a convincing 20-point margin, but for a long time the game was very much in doubt. "It's kind of a blur," Croyle said in recalling specific plays. "Tennessee came out and moved the ball well against us. We couldn't move the ball for most of the first half. We got a good break with Smoke (Gerald Dixon) picking the lateral up and running it back (for a touchdown). Then we got on track."

Vol fans definitely remember one Croyle effort. Replays appeared to show Bama players down twice on the play, but officially Croyle's pass to Santonio Beard went for 35 yards, keeping a touchdown drive alive.

Croyle (#12) and Tyler Watts (#14) celebrate during last year's Tennessee game. (Kent Gidley photo)

"The loudest they got was probably when they were booing me," Croyle recalled. "That was definitely an experience. It's fun anytime you can go into anybody's home stadium and win, especially Tennessee.

"It was a huge win for us. It propelled us to having a good rest of the season."

Moving forward from that game Alabama went on to finish 2002 with a 10-3 record, "Best in the SEC's West" and ranked among the nation's Top 15 teams.

Can this year's struggling Tide team take heart from last year's victory?

"You really can't," Croyle said. "That was a different team, a different time. This is frustrating right now. We've got to find a way to come back. We're still in the learning stage. There's no way around that. But as we've said all along, we're not going to use that as an excuse.

"We've just got to find a way to win Saturday. There's no way around it."


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