'Tri' ends TD drought with two

In Saturday's mauling of the UTEP Miners, the Tide totaled 588 yards of offense, including eight touchdowns. Four different Bama runners scored, and Triandos Luke chipped in with two TDs via the air. "It was probably the best game of my career so far," Luke said. "I was pleased with my opportunities. I finally got in the end zone."

The sophomore from Phenix City is one of the most talented youngsters on the Bama squad, and his initial collegiate score carried great meaning. "That first touchdown was for my Mom," Luke explained. "My mother passed about four months ago. That first touchdown was real emotional for me. I was waiting the whole time to get in there."

Luke's two touchdown receptions versus UTEP were the first of his career.

Once again the Tide rushing attack was successful, running over and through the Miner defense for 360 yards. But the Bama attack showed balance by achieving another 228 yards through the air. Luke explained; "As the season progresses, we're getting more of the offense in. All of the receivers are getting more looks. We're not just an option football team. We can do a lot of different things. We're building our confidence up."

So far this season Luke has played in all five Bama games, catching 11 passes for 123 yards. His longest reception has been for 29 yards, and the sophomore is averaging 11.2 yards per catch.

Luke's first touchdown reception culminated a five play, 31-yard drive for Alabama and gave the Tide a 21-0 lead late in the first quarter. Luke described what happened; "I went out into the flat, and I thought the cornerback was going to jump on me. But it looked like he just left me alone. I was out there all by myself. It was a low pass down by my hip, so I had to go down to catch it. I was thinking, ‘First I've got to catch the ball.' But I was all by myself."

The play covered 10 yards, and once Luke spotted the goal line he made certain he wouldn't be tackled. "To make sure I got in there, I just dove into the corner of the end zone," he related with a laugh. "I just wanted to get in there so bad. I wasn't showing off. I just wanted to make sure I got in there."

Luke's first touchdown resulted from efficient execution of a well-designed play. But No. 2 owed as much to being in the right place at the right time as anything else. "My second touchdown was just reaction," Luke said. "The cornerback went with me that time, and TJ (tight end Terry Jones Jr.) was supposed to be open at the back of the end zone. Tyler (Watts) threw the ball where nobody else could catch it. TJ jumped up and tried to catch the ball, but it got tipped. I just reacted.

Projected to make a major impact last season, a broken hand severely limited Luke's production in 2000.

"I was standing there when I saw the ball tipped. It was low, and I just dove to catch it. I got both my arms just under it before it hit the ground. I think the official was right there beside me. I held it up for him to see."

Though he was obviously fortunate, Luke made an athletic play on the football to make the catch and push Bama's lead to 42-0 before the half. And he was immediately mobbed by his happy teammates on his way back to the sideline. "They hit me pretty hard," he revealed. "All I saw when I stood up was a bunch of linemen running towards me. But it was fun scoring the touchdown.

"I hope maybe the drought has broken (for me) and things will get a little easier now. Scoring those touchdowns might lead to more opportunities. I've just got to go out and take advantage."

The Bama coaches point to Luke as one of the Tide's most physically talented receivers. But with names like Freddie Milons, AC Carter and Jason McAddley ahead of him on the depth chart, up to now his opportunities to shine have been limited. "I haven't gotten discouraged, not really," he said. "I know that my time is coming. Last year sometimes I got a little discouraged. That's human nature. But watching the older guys has helped me mature. I've learned a lot from the older guys."

Back in the fall of 2000 when he first arrived on campus, Luke got off to a fast start and was expected to play a key role. But a fractured bone delayed his debut. "That broken hand set me back a good little bit," Luke related. "I came in doing well, and then I stopped. Once I was healed, it really didn't take me that long to get the feel of it back--about two weeks."

Along with Sam Collins, Dre Fulgham and several others, Luke is expected to lead the Tide receiving corps next season.

Luke did return as quickly as he could, playing in the final seven games of that dismal season. But a mere two receptions for a total of only six yards caused many to question whether he should have played at all. "I didn't want to redshirt," he said. "I was ready to get back on the field. I wanted to get back.

"I don't regret it. I look at last year as a learning season. I got to get on the field a couple of times. I had a couple of balls thrown my way. Now I can go out there and play without having to be nervous."

Understandably, Luke prefers not to dwell on the past, focusing instead on this season and the positive changes it has brought. "Playing receiver is definitely more physical this year," he explained. "We work on blocking drills every day, working on technique, keeping your hips down. (Wide Receivers) Coach Pope has set a goal for us to get knockdowns this year.

"Blocking isn't an option with Coach Pope. It's one way or the highway. You're going to be physical; you're going to be hitting people or you're not going to get on the field. That's how he puts it. He's a pretty tough guy. He's a good coach that has taught me a lot."

Keeping track of knockdown blocks is just one example of how the new coaching staff is remaking the offense into a more physical team. "The most knockdowns I've had was five last week, and I had five against Vanderbilt," Luke said. "I tell you what, the DBs don't like it when we block low around their legs. Nobody likes that. We definitely get some looks; we get some talk. We let them know after the game that it's all business."

Milons and McAddley will graduate this year, leaving the Tide receiving corps to younger players. But Luke has a message for fans worrying about a drop-off in production. "Next year we're still going to have talent. We've definitely got some talent in the younger guys--me, Dre (Fulgham), Sam (Collins) and a lot of other receivers. We've got a lot of talent just waiting for our turn.

"We're still going to be able to throw the ball."

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