Cool Collins heating up

It's game day in Tuscaloosa, and the hated Tennessee Vols are in town. Down 14-3 early in the second quarter, the Bama QB gets flushed from the pocket. Then, just as Watts is about to get hit, he spots Sam Collins with a step on his man in the end zone. <br><br>Touchdown, Alabama! <br><br>But don't expect much excitement from either player or coach.

"Sam is doing what he has to do," was Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning's low-key assessment. "He did a good job Saturday with two touchdown catches."

Of course, if anything, Collins downplayed his performance even more. "They called my number, and it was just my job to make the play," was the way he put it.

The truth is, that catching passes is a receiver's job--and reliability from the sure-handed Collins shouldn't be a surprise. "We're really happy for him," Koenning said. "He was in the right spot, and Tyler found him. Sam was a part of the read progression, so a good job all around.

One of the most sure-handed athletes on the squad, Collins leaps to catch a pass from Andrew Zow (#5) during practice.

"For Sam, consistency is the key. You could see that coming out against Ole Miss and also last week against Tennessee."

Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione agreed. "Sam made two big plays for us. There's no doubt about it. Sam's another guy that in the last couple of weeks has made more plays for us. He's played steady and is getting more opportunities."

But making plays involves more than raw athleticism. Successful receivers can adjust in mid-play to help their quarterback complete the pass. Collins explained; "The first touchdown wasn't supposed to go to me. I was just clearing out. But I saw Tyler scrambling, and I broke across the field. He saw me and delivered a good ball."

Early in the third quarter the Tide went back to Collins for another touchdown catch. That six-yard reception won't look like much in the record books, but once again the junior wideout proved to be his quarterback's best friend. "I did have to adjust to the ball," Collins acknowledged. "I was supposed to run a ‘come back,' and when I came out of my break the cornerback was out there before I was. I just kind of stopped, and he went underneath me. Tyler went inside and delivered a good ball."

"He also had to adjust on the ball in the air," Koenning added. "That was a good play. We're very excited about Sam's progress."

Under the coaching of Kenith Pope, Collins (#7)--and the rest of Bama's wide receivers--has learned to play a more physical brand of football.

For Collins, Saturday's two-TD performance makes three scores in the last two games. So might his role in the offense be changing? "We all consider ourselves playmakers," Collins replied. "When our number is called, we need to make plays. Saturday mine was called a couple of times, and I took advantage of the opportunities.

"But who knows? The next game it may be somebody else's chance, and they need to take advantage of their opportunity."

After seven games this season, Collins has caught 11 passes for a total of 140 yards and three touchdowns. His longest has gone for 58 yards, and the Fayette native is averaging 12.7 yards per catch.

During this past off season Collins accepted his head coach's challenge, working hard in the weight room to increase his strength. And the extra work paid off against Tennessee. "They tried to intimidate us, but we were ready to play," Collins related. "They tried, but it didn't work. We went out there with a mindset to be physical, because we knew they would try to intimidate us."

Early in the game after scoring 14 quick points, it looked like the Volunteers would run away and hide. And tentative play combined with penalties had the Bama offense backed up to its own five-yardline, facing second and twenty.

Shown at the line of scrimmage versus Vanderbilt, Collins has caught three touchdown passes in the last two games.

But then Bama gathered itself to march down the field, culminating the drive with Collins' first TD. "We know as an offense we can make plays," Collins said. "We just needed to settle down. At the beginning of the game I think we were a little bit anxious--a little excited. And that turned into a few penalties and mistakes. But we settled down and started making a few plays. When we did, we got our rhythm. From there we were able to go down the field."

The 35-24 loss was tough to take, but Collins made no excuses. "Everyone hates losing. It's a bad feeling when you lose. But we still have a world of opportunity out there. We're very close to achieving that. We've just got to make the plays. What does this team need to do? We just need to learn how to finish.

"We're close. We just need to hang on and win one in the late part of the ball game. But we're very close. We're all still coming together as a team--just a few more plays. We're very close and very capable of turning this thing around."

After playing five consecutive games against Arkansas, South Carolina, UTEP, Ole Miss and Tennessee, the off week comes at a good time for the Tide players. "We've got a few guys that are banged up," Collins explained. "A little rest to heal some wounds is nice. We just need to practice to get better. We've got to win some of these next ball games."

Anyone that has met him knows that last sentence was hardly a Pollyannaish statement. Despite a 3-4 record, Collins and his teammates believe firmly that the season isn't done yet. "We need to win three of these next four games to be bowl eligible," Collins said.

"Every player on the whole team believes we can achieve that."

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