Shula Surprised by Line Play

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula tried to prepare for everything that could possibly come up in his first bowl game, but he said he was surprised Friday that his Alabama squad was dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the Tide's 20-16 Music City Bowl loss to Minnesota.

"They're big. They're probably as big as we've seen up front offensively," Shula said. "They did a nice job getting the ball on the corner. We made some adjustments there toward the end and made more plays in the end, but we needed to do that earlier in the game."

Minnesota had 167 rushing yards at hafltime – 100 of those by junior Marion Barber III. Before Friday Alabama had not allowed an opposing running back to break the 100-yard milestone in a single game, but Minnesota had two players rush for over 100 Friday. Barber finished with 187 rushing yards and sophomore Laurence Maroney tallied 105 yards.

"It's going to leave a sour taste in my mouth and I would think in a lot of our players," Shula said. "It does take away from some of the good things we did this year. We had a great week but now it doesn't feel too good and it won't from here on out."

Equally as surprising as the number of yards allowed by the Bama defense was the non-existence of a running game for Alabama – 21 net rushing yards led by wide receiver Keith Brown's 17 yards on one reverse play.

Alabama's leading rusher in 2004, Kenneth Darby, was rendered wholly ineffective as he continued to suffer from a nagging abdominal strain. Darby was in the game mostly for blocking in passing situations. He had one carry on the night for a one-yard gain, and he had two receptions for nine yards.

"I think it limits us for sure," Shula said of not having Darby healthy. "He's a good player, just like Ray Hudson's a good player. Aaron Johns is a smaller type back who I think is going to be a good player. I don't know if he had his best day.

"But we weren't very good up front," Shula said "Look at the tape. It was hard to find – I talked on the sidelines and upstairs to the coaches – a lot of places to run. Minnesota's defensive line did a good job, and one of our strengths, I don't think played to the best of their capabilities."

"We wanted to try to spread the ball around, too, and makes some plays," he said. "Let DJ Hall and Prothro and Keith Brown try to make some plays, and we did at times, but as you saw out there not consistently enough. And we turned the ball, and that hurt us, too."

Shula had a long discussion with the Big East officiating crew in the second quarter of the game about "the play clock," he said, but Shula did not elaborate. On several occasions, Minnesota was allowed to snap the ball after the 25-second play clock had expired.

Despite a statistically improved performance from quarterback Spencer Pennington, 22-of-36 passing for 243 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, Pennington could not forge a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.

On third-and-six with just over a minute to play in the game, Pennington overthrew an open Tyrone Prothro in the end zone, and missed his next pass attempt on fourth down to DJ Hall to end Bama's chances.

"It's frustrating. Sure," Shula said. "You see a guy open in the end zone and you just miss him. It's frustrating for all of us, for all the kids. They want more than anything to win and to do well – play in front of a great crowd."

Despite being frustrated, Shula said, "I don't think it's a step back. Probably the biggest thing – I think we all would have felt a lot better going into the off-season."

"It's a big learning process for all of us, including myself," he said, "how to handle and go about the week of a bowl game, because we plan on being in more bowl games. This team hasn't been in a bowl game in a couple of years and its coach hadn't been in a bowl game as a coach. I think all of us learned a little something this week. We better be better because of it."

Alabama could not maintain momentum after Freddie Roach picked up a Gopher fumble at the Minnesota two yard line, leading to a Tide touchdown on its first offensive snap. Spencer Pennington fumbled at the Alabama one yard line two offensive possessions later and Keith Lipka recovered the fumble in the Tide end zone.

"I was disappointed in the way we played in the first half after the first couple of plays were we pick up the fumble, and then go score offensively," Shula said. "We set ourselves up in bad field position offensively because we went backwards after that for two series and obviously had the one fumble and gave them seven points."

"We've got to keep working on our recruiting and get some of these younger guys in here to come in and step up and make some plays," Shula said. "We're going to lose some seniors on the offensive line. We're going to lose some seniors on the offensive line. We've got to find the answers there."

"We've got a lot of work to do on offense for next year," he said. "Defensively we've got more guys coming back but it wasn't our best effort today."

Asked about what jumps out at him when he looks back at the injury-filled season, Shula said, "How we've got to continue to recruit as hard as we can – that's probably the biggest thing. But also how our football team is coming together and that we're doing a lot of things, and that we've taken steps. Hopefully what this does is light another fire under us – another fire – as we get into the off-season."

Shula was also asked about his position on the Southeastern Conference moving to an instant replay system similar to the one used by the Big Ten this season. Shula said, "We're going to do a little research on it. I don't know enough about it. They've all talked about it. They like it. If you had it today there may have been a couple of calls overturned, huh?"

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