"I have to tip my hat to Iowa State's quarterback (Seneca Wallace). He played very well. We chased him all around the lot, and made him throw off rhythm a few times."
For the game Wallace was 25-of 42 passing for 284 yards. He rushed for 28 positive yards, but two sacks lowered that net total to only eight. But the junior sensation played an outstanding game, constantly eluding would-be tacklers and finding open receivers down field.
Versus an Alabama defense that had improved in its last three regular-season games, the Cyclones gained 456 yards of total offense. "Our defense gave up yards but just a few points," Franchione said afterwards. "And that was key. Iowa State made some plays, but we didn't let them in the end zone.
Iowa State was 5-of-16 on third down conversions and 1-of-2 on fourth down. "They drove the ball on us sometimes and certainly converted some third and fourth downs. That was frustrating for us, but we never let them cross the goal line."
The Cyclones had the football eleven times during the game, and five of those possessions resulted in either a touchdown or field-goal attempt. One time Iowa State went for it on fourth-and-seven at the Tide 35 and failed. Tony Yelk, the ISU punter and placekicker, was excellent on kickoffs and punts, averaging 47 yards per punt. But he was only 2-of-5 on field goal attempts, which spelled the difference in the game.
Offensively, Alabama had a sub-par performance, managing only 269 yards versus a tough and well-prepared Cyclone defense. The Tide had the football 12 times in the game, scoring two touchdowns and attempting no field goals. "The offense made some mistakes and Iowa State played well on defense," Franchione said. "We could just never get any rhythm. Other than the one drive, we only had about 100 yards of offense in the first half. That was a little bit frustrating."
Franchione had joked in pre-game press conferences that he had stopped predicting scores, because inevitably the actual result came back to haunt him. And the Independence Bowl was no exception. "I didn't expect the low score," Franchione revealed. "I thought it would be more in the 20s for both teams.
"Not to take anything away from the way Iowa State's defense played. We took the ball inside their ten-yard line just twice. It was tough to drive the ball, and we had one turnover. The entire game was a struggle for us."
For the third game in a row, much of the pre-game talk centered around Alabama's two quarterbacks. But only one played in the game.
Andrew Zow went the whole way, going 11-of-19 for 119 yards passing. The senior record-holder hardly had his best day, throwing one interception and taking four sacks for minus 35 yards in losses. But Zow was good when it counted, scoring one touchdown on an eight-yard option run and throwing a 27-yard TD pass to tight end Terry Jones Jr. to win the game.
"Andrew got his calf hurt early in the fourth quarter," Franchione revealed. "And I briefly thought we might put Tyler in. He could have played, but my concern was for his long-term health. He had torn the ligament away from the bone. It had healed enough that we probably could have played him, but we did not want him to re-tear the muscle. Then he might have been questionable going into spring practice. And with him being a senior next year, that wouldn't have been fair to the team."
Zow got the chance to throw the game-winning pass by virtue of a stellar special-teams' play. With less than six minutes left in the contest, Waine Bacon and Marc Miller burst through to block the punt, setting the Tide up at the Iowa State 29-yard line. "We felt like in our preparation that block scheme would have a chance," Franchione said. "We took a guy from the zone side and brought him to the man side assuming they might not account for him. One side is going to actually block a person, and the other side is blocking a zone.
"I've got to tip my hat to Coach Thurmond our coach of (the punt-block) team and Mark Tommerdahl our Special Teams Coordinator. They had the scheme, and they knew we would have a chance to get a block."
Interestingly, both Bacon and Miller began their careers as walk-ons. A group that with NCAA sanctions looming ahead, could well prove vital to Bama's success over the next few years. "Walk-ons are always critical," Franchione acknowledged. "But I think they will take on even more importance for us."
But despite the punt-block and resulting Tide touchdown, Iowa State had one last chance. Mixing runs and passes, the Cyclones drove into Alabama territory, setting up a 47-yard field goal attempt to take the lead.
The kick sailed just wide of the right upright, setting off a celebration by the Tide bench. But Franchione had too much on his mind to react right away. "You have too many things to think about," he explained. "We were looking at about 45-50 seconds (left in the game). So I was thinking that maybe we could get in field goal range ourselves. (Offensive Coordinator) Les (Koenning) and I were talking about what plays we would use in our two-minute offense. For a long time we were talking about what plays we would have used to run out the clock.
"When the kick was in the air you've got to be ready to respond either way."
Even considering the fact that Alabama played poorly on offense, the two teams seemed evenly matched. "It still came down to the end of the game," Franchione said. "I'm happy for our team and pleased in so many ways."