Whatever it takes to move the ball

Averaging more than 280 yards of total offense per game, Alabama quarterback Tyler Watts is having a productive year. Three straight games in which he has rushed for more than 100 yards have pushed the numbers high enough to rank Watts 33rd in the nation and sixth in the SEC. <br><br>But if you're looking for evidence of personal pride in his rushing prowess, forget it. "It's just another means to move the ball down the field," Watts said.

"It doesn't matter if we do it in the air or by running the ball with Ahmaad (Galloway at tailback) or a fullback. Whatever it takes to get the ball down the field is what we're going to do."

Watts has had success passing the ball as well, but for much of the season Alabama's most reliable play has involved the junior QB heading upfield with the football tucked under his arm. Alabama currently ranks No. 9 nationally in rushing offense, while Watts' 78.5 rushing yards per game is good enough for 57th individually.

Pictured diving for extra yardage versus South Carolina, Watts is the first quarterback in the history of Alabama football to both run and pass for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games.

But while Alabama is obviously quite happy to take whatever opposing defenses are willing to give, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione is adamant in describing his offense as ‘multiple.' "We're not an option team," Franchione explained. "We're a team that utilizes the option as part of our offense. If the defense gives it to us, then we'll take it. But we're not going to force the option if it's not there."

Without giving away any offensive secrets (as if this writer could), on virtually every play Watts goes to the line of scrimmage with the responsibility of reading the defense. Depending on the scheme that he sees, the Bama coaches have instructed Watts to either stick with the original play call or check off to another with more chance of success. Having the option as part of your playbook forces opposing defenses to play ‘honest,' and it also provides a potent weapon for attacking blitz-happy schemes.

But on the football field, whatever is ‘given' can also be ‘take away.' And opposing defensive coordinators do eventually alter their plans. Watts explained; "Defenses have made some adjustments. Ole Miss did a good job of walking up a couple of times. That's why we started concentrating on doing some other things and attacking some other areas. (Defenses) have made some adjustments, but we have been very successful at running the option this year."

The numbers back up that statement. Accounting for more than 1/3 of the Bama rushing attack, Watts has now run for more than 100 yards in three consecutive games. Before his 162 yards versus South Carolina, it had been nearly 20 years since an Alabama QB had gone over the century mark on the ground. The last Tide quarterback to do so was Walter Lewis (156 yards) against Cincinnati in 1982. Watts followed up with 101 yards against UTEP and added 110 last week in Oxford. In 21 career games, Watts has 138 rushing attempts for 679 yards and five TDs.

Before Watts put together his recent run of three straight games of 100+ yards rushing, no other Tide quarterback had accomplished that feat. But he's not worried about being labeled an ‘option quarterback'--at least not much. "I don't mind running it at all," Watts said. "The option has been (very) effective. We've been picking up huge chunks of yardage. Right now it's one of our better running plays.

"It's just a glorified toss sweep; that's all it is. It's been very productive, and when you have a play like that you've got to utilize it."

But in Dennis Franchione's scheme, the quarterback has to do much more than simply run the football. Watts is even more valued for his decision-making and his ability to get the Tide offense into the correct play.

The quarterback's black jersey worn during practice is meant to protect them from unnecessary contact. And Coach Fran wants Watts to be careful about taking too many hits during games as well.

So while Franchione is cheering his quarterback on as Watts picks up yardage on the ground, the Bama coach is also concerned about injury. Franchione explained; "I'm a little worried, certainly. You don't want your quarterback to get hurt. But Tyler has got to be smart and not take all those hits. There is a reason why he wears that black jersey in practice."

One of the more avid weight lifters on the team, Watts actually squats more tonnage than any of Bama's tailbacks. The extra muscle gives him an advantage when facing typically smaller defensive backs. But the Marketing major is smart enough to listen to his coach's advice.

"I don't know about linebackers," Watts said laughing. "Defensive backs, maybe, but I definitely avoid linebackers. You've got to be smart about (running the football). Pick up as much yardage as you can, and if the hit is unnecessary then don't take it. Step out of bounds or get down, whatever. Do whatever the situation calls for."

So long as opposing coordinators stubbornly allow him to pick up yardage via the option run, Watts is perfectly willing to run the play. But he also knows that when adjustments are made then it's up to him and the Tide receivers to execute in the passing game.

"In many cases the defenses have worked to shut (the option) down," Watts explained. "They're starting to bring their safeties down. They're starting to give us some different looks. But that will just open up other areas of our offense. That will allow our wide receivers to make some big plays."

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