Watts had started the first nine games of the year, but he would not take a snap in the 10th. The groin pull he suffered against Mississippi State wouldn't heal quite that quickly. But Auburn could not be sure of Watts' status. As a result, the Tigers admittedly spent much of their preparation time working on the option, the strength of Watts' game. Instead they got drop-back passer Zow, and that was considered a major factor in Alabama's surprisingly easy 31-7 victory over the Tigers.
Prior to that Auburn game, Franchione had said that the matter of starting quarterback would be based on whether Watts was healthy enough to play. Following the Auburn game in which Zow completed 22 of 29 passes for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and was named Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week, Franchione said that Zow's performance had to be an additional factor in determining the starter and playing time.
"Earlier this year Tyler understood the offense better," Franchione said. "Andrew acknowledged that. Tyler picked up the nuances of the offense more quickly. Now Andrew has caught up."
Franchione acknowledged that Zow might have caught up earlier than he got playing time, but said, "By then we were in a rhythm with Tyler."
The coach then added, "I'm glad Andrew was ready when he was."
"The team has confidence in both of them," Franchione said. "When both are healthy, it's very competitive and both will play."
Franchione said, "Andrew has done a good job of approaching every game as if he was going to be the starter. He has always given his best to this team, whether in a game or in practice or on the sidelines. He has always prepared well, and he has gotten better every week. He's gotten a better understanding, a better grasp, of our offense, and now he goes into every game running the offense better than ever."
There's still no answer as to who will start at quarterback for Alabama against Southern Miss when the teams meet at 6 p.m. CST Thursday at Birmingham's Legion Field. Franchione said the decision would be announced "at game time."
He said that Southern Miss, as Auburn in the previous game, "will have to prepare for both, and there's just enough difference in the two they have to think about it." Franchione said much of the offense is the same regardless of which quarterback is in the game, but that Zow and Watts have different styles that force teams to spend time working for both. If the opponent doesn't which one is going to start and which one is going to play most, Franchione said, "I think it's an advantage for us."
Southern Miss Coach Jeff Bower said, "They have two good quarterbacks, and I don't know which one we'll see. Zow has played in the last couple of games. They are a little different when he is in there. They are more one-back, throw the football more and run a lot less option. When you see Watts in there, they run a little bit more two-back stuff with more option and play action pass. You have to prepare for all of it. I assume there is a good chance that both of them may play. In knowing that, you prepare for two different styles of offense that you may see in the game, depending on who is going to be in."