"You have to tip your hat to our players, because they kept battling and believing in each other."
Franchione noted that once again Alabama put up more than 400 yards on the offensive side of the ledger. But the defensive effort--especially in the final stanza--was particularly satisfying. "It was one of our better defensive games," he said. "Holding State to 117 yards rushing was big, because we put an emphasis on that. Our (defensive) front was able to pressure the quarterback more. We held them to six of 16 conversions and 0-for-1 on fourth down. They had 13 plays for only 28 yards in the fourth quarter."
In recent games the Bama defense had struggled to get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But Saturday both Kindal Moorehead and Jarret Johnson sacked the QB. And no less than seven different defenders were credited with quarterback hurries.
Franchione explained; "Kindal Moorehead came back (from injury) and played solid for us. Jarret Johnson played well. David Daniel probably had his best game. Hirchel Bolden and Gerald Dixon made some plays. Reggie Myles gave us a spark and played his best game. There were a number of guys that played well. That's hopefully something that we'll take with us."
The worst part of Saturday's game came early in the first quarter, when starting quarterback Tyler Watts landed awkwardly, pulling a groin muscle. But backup and former starter Andrew Zow came off the bench to perform solidly, directing two fourth-quarter touchdown drives to win the game.
With Watts out of the game, Alabama turned to a more pass-oriented attack, exemplified by a fourth-quarter frozen rope down the middle of the field to a streaking Sam Collins. The play netted 27 yards, setting the Tide up in Bulldog territory and leading to the tying TD. "The pass that Andrew completed to Sam was really a great throw," Franchione said. "He had a little pressure on him and had to throw a little off balance. Andrew can make those throws very well because of the strength of his arm. So it was a plus having Andrew in to make that one."
Following the game Franchione awarded Zow a game ball, explaining to the squad that it was partly in recognition of Zow's efforts during the ball game--but mainly because he epitomized the ideals of a ‘team player,' so necessary for any team to succeed.
Franchione also listed the other players honored:
- Defensive Back of the Week: Reggie Myles
- Defensive Lineman of the Week: Jarret Johnson
- Special Teams Player of the Week: Waine Bacon
- Offensive Lineman of the Week: Wesley Britt
- Offensive Back of the Week: Santonio Beard and Andrew Zow
- Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week: Brandon Brooks
- Defensive Scout Team honors: both squads, the ‘Green Machine' and the ‘Red Ball Jets'
Both of Alabama's top two tailbacks ran well Saturday. Ahmaad Galloway started the game, gaining 71 yards on only ten attempts. But it was backup Santonio Beard's 95-yard, two-touchdown effort that caught Franchione's eye. "It's possible Santonio could start on Saturday," Franchione said.
Back in August when the Tide was preparing for its season opener against UCLA, Beard was no better than fourth string on the depth chart at tailback. But Franchione believes the sophomore runner just needed time and chances.
Lots of chances.
Franchione explained; "Santonio is probably a ‘rep learner.' Some guys need to take a rep every time they can to get better, while other guys can get a ‘mental rep' and get better just by watching. Blocking and all those things took time for him as he learned. As he's gotten more repetitions, that part has now started to fall into place much better.
Sophomore Santonio Beard has a chance to earn the starting tailback job this week in practice.
"I think Santonio is a guy that needs to do it as many times as possible. I would think he would tell you that running the football right now, he's as confident as he's ever been."
Franchione also had praise for Freddie Milons. Though the senior wideout had just a single reception Saturday for 30 yards, Franchione believes that Milons' relatively small number of catches is a sign the team is stronger overall.
"We have spread the wealth around," Franchione explained. "We haven't relied on any one person or two people. We've been able to count on a number of people to make plays. Saturday Sam Collins had another good day, and AC Carter did as well. Andrew Zow made the most of his opportunity. Santonio Beard had a good day. We've used all of our weapons.
"Freddie has been a leader and hasn't complained. I've had a lot of admiration for him in that regard."
After Saturday's victory over Mississippi State, the Tide's record stands at 4-5. To qualify for a bowl, Alabama must win both its remaining games. And division-leading Auburn on the road promises to be a tough challenge. "Auburn seems to have always made a right play when they needed one this year," Franchione said. "They've been in the right place at the right time. Winning close games can involve confidence. You gain confidence when you do that and probably lose some when you don't.
"Auburn's defensive line has played well. They have good athletes that move around well and make a lot of plays. And they may have the best offensive line in the conference. I've been really impressed with the film I've seen as we've prepared for other teams."
The first-year Tide coach has obviously never participated in an Alabama/Auburn game before, but he's aware of its importance. "I'm really excited about this game," he said. "In addition to the game itself, it would get us to our fifth win, so there are a lot of implications to the game. I've heard so much about it and read so much about it. To be a part of it is really exciting."
Franchione said in the locker room Saturday following the game, that the team could savor the victory "until 3:01," at which time their focus would shift to Auburn. And for him that started with a television-aided scouting report later that night. "Certainly I watched the game Saturday night far more than just for entertainment value. No, I didn't care how it turned out one way or another. I was watching what they did--to see how the teams reacted. I was being more analytical and a football coach than anything else."
"Actually, I was hoping the game would go 12 overtimes and tire them out," he said laughing.
But fans shouldn't think that Franchione doesn't understand the game's importance---both in terms of on-the-field results and its potential effect on recruiting. "Winning and losing always has an impact on recruiting to a certain degree," he explained. "I don't know if one game in one year has a huge impact. I think there is the test of time that determines a lot of those issues. But there is no doubt that winning and winning a game like this has an impact."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Normally, a story like this would be available only to holders of BamaMag.com's Crimson Ticket. But while obviously hoping that current non-subscribers will be motivated to give us a try, we're making the article available to everyone.
If you don't yet own a Crimson Ticket, we encourage you to try one out for a month. We believe in the value of our content and are confident you'll be satisfied--after all, at our current rate the $4.95 cost averages out to less than 10 cents a story. But if you're not happy, then let the account lapse. At the next home game we'll buy you a drink and call it even. Seriously.