Reasonable Tide Goal Is Six Wins, Bowl

It's human nature, and it's understandable. When a football program with the stature and tradition of The University of Alabama loses a couple games in ugly fashion, its fans are going to be angry. And after losses to Arkansas and South Carolina the past two weeks, Alabama fans have been, well, pretty angry.

Scoring a total of only 13 points in two games against beatable foes will do that to a fanbase.

But it shouldn't have sparked the tone or tenure of what a few people have talked about:

Getting rid of Mike Shula.

Sure, the Crimson Tide's second-year head coach has made some mistakes. In fact, he has been far from perfect against a much easier schedule.

But he is hardly to blame for what ails his team, and it is far too early for such a rash action.

Seems some out there on the talk radio airwaves and Internet message boards forgot what a horrible situation Shula walked into 17 months ago.

He was Alabama's third coach in approximately five months.

His new program was in the middle of a serious NCAA probation that included a two-year bowl ban and 21 lost scholarships over three seasons.

And he had far less time to implement his systems before his first season than most head coaches do–head coaches who have been in the game far longer than Shula has.

Shula's biggest mistake was not teaching Brodie Croyle the merits of a good baseball slide, but the Tide's star quarterback isn't wired to concede anything–even a third-and-six against Western Carolina when up 31-0.

Croyle's season-ending right knee injury has thrown Alabama's offense into disarray.

Backups Marc Guillon and Spencer Pennington have shown they aren't yet ready to carry an SEC offense on their arms alone, which has shut down the Tide's burgeoning passing game.

Alabama quarterbacks have thrown for 112 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions the past two weeks. Those are ugly numbers. Numbers that make people question whether Shula and Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader had a plan if Croyle was injured.

They did. It just hasn't worked so far.

Guillon has looked like a typical first-time starter the past two weeks. His timing has been poor. His decisions have been questionable.

So did Croyle in his first week on the job. When starter Tyler Watts fell with a foot sprain two years ago against Southern Miss, Croyle didn't win the game. He just tried not to lose it. That night, the Eagles' only score came on a Croyle interception returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

Croyle got better. So will Guillon, but it will take time and patience, two concepts some can't grasp very well.

His struggles aren't the coach's fault: it's not as if Shula threw down his headset and tossed a rolling body block in the path of Croyle's knee two weeks ago.

Blaming Shula for Croyle's injury makes about as much sense as saying he "quit" late in the second half of the South Carolina game.

Some were critical of the decision to call three consecutive runs with the ball at his own 28, a 20-3 deficit and six minutes on the clock.

What did they want? Here are the passing stats: 10 completions in 24 attempts. 64 yards. No touchdowns. Four interceptions.

Did anyone think that all of a sudden Spencer Pennington–who had already thrown two interceptions on the night–was going to fire five pinpoint strikes down the field for what would still have been a cosmetic score?

No one in Bryant-Denny (as I was) would have expected that.

In my opinion, the only bad call was throwing a pass on fourth-and-one instead of bulling fullbacks Tim Castille or Le'Ron McClain into the line.

Expecting three scores in six minutes against a tough South Carolina defense is unrealistic.

So were, it seems, some of the expectations that formed of this team after two games.

Ole Miss looks like one of the worst teams in the SEC, and Utah State was last seen absorbing a four-touchdown beating from Troy.

Without Croyle, this season has become a race to six victories and a bowl game, which would be a reasonable accomplishment for this program.

Kentucky, Mississippi State and Southern Miss seem reasonable victory possibilities, with the Golden Eagles (unbeaten and owners of a victory at Nebraska) the toughest conquest.

If Shula can work around Croyle's injury and grab six or seven victories this season, it would be a big step forward for a young coach and a recovering program.

If not, it isn't the end of the world or Alabama's return to prominence.

It also isn't the end of Shula's tenure, regardless of what some might say.

Tearing down what Shula has accomplished so far would be as silly and shortsighted as the people who want it done.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald and writes this column weekly for (Greg is under the weather this week, the victim of chicken pox, and staying away from Bama players and coaches.)

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