Of course Atlas Herrion's performance at left tackle could have been expected. After all, the fifth-year senior had been Bama's designated substitute all season long. But Danny Martz also played very well, taking every snap at right guard.
"Danny has been playing a lot; he's been practicing a lot," Bobby Connelly said. "We've been moving him around and challenging him every week. We tell our athletes that they're one play away from being the guy, and they have to prepare like that throughout the season. It showed Saturday with Danny. It paid off."
Afterwards, Martz was pleased with his performance. "It was a lot of fun and real exciting getting my first start," he said. "It took some pressure off, too, getting that first start under my belt."
A perennial backup to this point, few fans would probably recognize Martz if they saw him on the street. But his coaches weren't surprised. "Danny came in and he was ready to go," Connelly said. "He didn't miss a beat, doing a good job against a scheme we hadn't looked at or worked on all week. We had to make some adjustments on the run, and Danny did a good job."
Mississippi State put its off week of preparation to good use, switching back to defensive schemes it hadn't used since last season to confuse the Tide blockers. It worked briefly, but Bama adjusted and moved on.
Tide Head Coach Mike Shula explained, "We had to make some adjustments, and (the offensive line) made some mistakes early. But even when we made mistakes we still made some yards. Sometimes even though the offensive linemen may not have been (blocking) the right guy, they still were getting movement. They tried to come off the ball and got some push.
"If our line gets push down the field, then it's really good for our backs."
For the game, Bama gained 401 yards of balanced offense, 190 rushing and 211 through the air.
Right tackle Evan Mathis talked about Martz's performance. "We knew the previous week that Dennis (Alexander) probably wouldn't play. Danny practiced at his position the whole week. We clicked with him fine. We played the same at practice that we did Saturday. Everybody was clicking. The flow was good. Everybody was on their right man. Everybody held their blocks."
Comfortably ahead, the Tide substituted freely in the fourth quarter. But Bama's painfully thin offensive line, including Martz, essentially played the entire game. "This was the first game we had where everybody could relax," Martz said of the 38-0 win. "It was something we needed. If we had more guys (on the O-Line), we would have put them in there. But we didn't have anyone to substitute."
It wasn't just Martz's first start; he also took all 66 offensive snaps in the game.
"Actually I didn't get tired," Martz said. "At the end of a couple of the long drives we were breathing pretty good, but as soon as we got to the bench we were fine. I was surprised that I really wasn't that tired."
"Offensive linemen are supposed to be ‘Iron Men' anyway," Martz added laughing. "We're in pretty good shape from all the conditioning we're doing."
The Tide coaches hope to get Alexander back for this week's game, but Connelly has confidence in his backup. "Danny's a solid player for us," Connelly said. "He does a lot of good things. He run blocks well. He's got some natural strength. His pass protection is getting better. I feel good with him in there."
Despite playing behind a patchwork line last Saturday, for the most part quarterback Brodie Croyle enjoyed good protection. "They did an outstanding job," Croyle said of his linemen. "The only times I got hit were designed plays when a blitzer ran free. I can't say enough about the job they did."
Ideally a team's depth chart will be deep enough that when one player is lost to injury, the next man can step in without a significant drop-off in talent. Mathis says that's the case with Martz.
"People might think that not having Dennis in there we're suspect, but that's not the case at all," Mathis said. "Fans just haven't seen Danny play. He's just as capable as other guys."
Does that make him the best lineman on the squad that nobody would recognize?
"I'd agree with that," Martz replied laughing. "We were all shuffling around in practice last week. People did a good job stepping up. It was tough dealing with the injuries, but we did a good job."