In Mike Shula's regular Sunday teleconference with sportswriters, the Alabama coach said that an evaluation of quarterbacks Marc Guillon and Spencer Pennington in a Saturday night loss to South Carolina is that "It was poor, because we threw the interceptions. We have to learn to throw the ball away or come to the second or third receiver. The first thing a quarterback has to do is keep from losing the game. Now, we don't coach that way. We don't want the guys to be afraid of making a mistake. But you have to covet the ball; you have to keep it in your hands. And we didn't do a good job of that."
Both immediately following the game and again on Sunday, Shula declined to name a starting quarterback for this week's game at Kentucky. Bama and the Wildcats will kick off at 11:30 a.m. CDT (12:30 EDT) with regional television coverage by Jefferson Pilot. The Tide coach said a starting quarterback would be named soon. And although he said he did not know how that decision would be made, he was obviously avoiding the question. He knows how he will select his starting quarterback. And, he said, the starter will be "Whoever we think gives us the best chance to win."
Guillon, the starter the past two games after the season-ending injury to Brodie Croyle, completed nine of 18 passes for 63 yards, while Pennington completed one of six tries for only four yards. Both had two interceptions. The Gamecocks had more yardage off interception runbacks (90 yards) than Alabama receivers had off completions (67).
Still, Shula said, "We're not back to square one. But some things are basic to football. We want to protect the football. That's basic. But we're not necessarily going to pull the reins in and just have one or two pass plays. We're still going to cater to the running game, because we feel we have a good running game. But we've got to complete passes."
The Tide coach said Guillon had been better in practice last week than the week before. "And," he said, "hopefully he'll be better still this week."
Shula said he did not agree with the proposition that Pennington is more limited in his knowledge of the offense because of his lack of practice time. As the third quarterback behind Croyle, Pennington got no repetitions. And for the past two weeks Guillon has gotten by far the majority of work as Tide coaches attempted to bring him up to speed as the starter.
Shula called the 20-3 loss to South Carolina in Bryant-Denny Stadium "very disappointing." He said, "We felt we beat ourselves. We played a disciplined South Carolina team that took advantage of the opportunities we gave them. It's hard to overcome turning the ball over inside the 22 twice."
The turnovers allowed South Carolina to break the game open in the third quarter. After Alabama trailed 6-3 at the half, starting quarterback Marc Guillon threw an interception that gave South Carolina the ball at Bama's 20-yard line. Three plays later the Gamecocks had an eight-yard run from back-up quarterback Syvelle Newton for a 13-3 lead. That brought on Spencer Pennington to finish the game at quarterback for Bama. Unfortunately, Pennington fared no better, throwing an interception about a minute later that was returned to the Tide eight-yard line. It took only one play for Newton to score his second touchdown and finish the scoring.
Shula said that Alabama does not intend to simplify its offense, although he did say that "We want to call things the quarterbacks feel comfortable with. That means things that will tie in with the running game. And we will work on things we think they can get better on. And just because we don't call something one week doesn't mean we won't call it the next week, because we are going to keep working on them. But we don't want to calls plays that the quarterbacks will struggle with."
Shula said that when Bama was winning it was hitting on passes that now are "just a little off." Late in the game, when conventional wisdom would have had Bama throwing on every down, the Tide reverted to the running game. "We were just trying to get into a rhythm, just trying to make first downs," Shula said.
Alabama's struggles against South Carolina included having only nine first downs, not making a first down on a third down play in 11 tries, and failing to advance the ball beyond the Alabama 42. The Tide had only 52 plays for only 210 yards. As a measure of offensive futility, on one third-and-three situation the Tide successfully executed a two-yard pass play.
The result would have been worse but for good defensive play. South Carolina was stopped three times deep in Alabama territory–an interception by Anthony Madison at the Bama 20, a fumble recovery by Todd Bates at the Tide 23, and a fumble recovery (and 24-yard return) by Rudy Griffin from the Alabama four.
Shula said the defense "played great. Hopefully that's the last time this year we put our defense in that situation. Even though they are down, when they watch the tape they should come out with some confidence. But we'd like to hold those touchdowns to field goals."
Although better than Bama's, the Gamecocks' offensive numbers were hardly spectacular. South Carolina had 15 first downs (11 rushing, two passing, two by penalty), 54 rushes for 203 yards, and four of 11 passing for 46 yards.
Shula said the running game was good. Ray Hudson was Bama's biggest offensive threat with 15 carries for 74 yards and three pass receptions for 15 yards. And one of those pass receptions would have been for much more yardage except the Tide was called for holding on the play.
In addition to the turnovers, Shula acknowledged Bama's troubling penalties. While South Carolina was not penalized in the game (a holding call was declined and there were off-setting unsportsmanlike conduct calls), Bama was flagged seven times for 74 yards. (In the past two weeks Alabama's opponents have been penalized one time for five yards.)
"We have to get those corrected," Shula said. "We just keep preaching. Just like in a game, they have to keep working.
Although linebacker Juwan Garth suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him out for a few weeks and defensive tackle Jeremy Clark was "poked in the eye" and lost for the latter part of the game, by far the most memorable injury of the game was to wide receiver Keith Brown. In the final seconds of the first half Brown missed a touchdown pass, then slammed into a fence post. He appeared to be motionless for sometime, but Shula said Sunday the early diagnosis is that Brown will be able to play this week.
Although back-up middle linebacker Freddie Roach could go to an outside spot, Shula said the Tide would keep its options open. He noted that back-up outside linebackers Demarcus Waldrop (who replaced Garth) and Terrence Jones are playing well. Waldrop was in on 10 tackles, just behind Cornelius Wortham's game-best 14.
Shula said Waldrop "makes a lot of plays. He missed a couple of tackles, and he's still learning the system–where to line up and reacting to shifts–but he makes plays. He's not the biggest guy, but he plays with good leverage and has good strength."
That injury may have had a secondary impact on the game. Bama was faced with a field goal attempt following the missed pass and it was several minutes before Bostick had his opportunity to give the Tide a halftime tie. When he finally got to kick he pulled it just wide, his first miss of the season.
Shula was not happy with special teams play. In addition to the missed field goal, Bama had a penalty in punt coverage, had minus yardage on punt returns, failed to return a low kickoff, and did not get the usual good punting job from Bo Freelend.
Shula said, "I feel better about our football team. if we can just keep from beating ourselves, we have a chance in every game. We were 3-0 and feeling pretty good. Now we're 3-2 and have to do something about getting our confidence back. Everyone is frustrated, but I think we have good leaders and everyone is committed to doing what he can to make this team better. After today we have to forget it and move on and get ourselves ready for Kentucky."