So where is the Alabama offense as 2004 comes to a close? "Lacking," Quarterbacks Coach Dave Rader said. "It's not where we want to be. When we got into the game and really wanted to put our teeth into something, we ask ‘Who can we go to?' Partly because of their defense being pretty good, we didn't answer that.
"We have a lot of fight in our guys. But we need to fight better."
Rader is positive in looking to the future. "We can move the ball with this offense," he said. "We we have more players and healthier players, we will move the ball and have a great offense. The great majority of our players have the will to prepare to win, and we'll have a higher percentage of those players. Coach Shula is adamant about that. He is looking straight ahead."
Rader didn't make any injury excuses, but 2004 was a disaster with the Tide losing offensive stars. In 2005 Bama expects to have quarterback Brodie Croyle and fullback Tim Castille back. They, along with senior halfback Ray Hudson, were the most prominent losses of the season.
And while the loss to Minnesota was disappointing, Rader knows the bowl practice time with a young Alabama football team can pay future dividends.
"We came to play and win," Rader said. "The positive things that came out of the experience are still positive, but we needed to win."
On poor third down performance (Alabama was 0-11 on third down plays), particularly third-and-shorts, he said, "We had some miscommunication in the huddle on one third-and-short. You can't have that happen. It puts you in a bad position."
Regarding a third down pass that went incomplete on a third-and-two situation, he said, "I thought we had a good short yardage plan. We threw a pass that I thought was good. We had been hitting it and hitting it and hitting it in practice. They were in the coverage we wanted. And we didn't hit it."
On going with the hurry-up offense with three minutes to play and 48 yards to go, Rader said, "We were sort of betwixt and between. We didn't want to dawdle around with the huddle because we had no timeouts. We did use one huddle when the clock was stopped. But we knew what plays we wanted to use. By saving that time, it gave us a chance for the quarterback to be able to dump it off to a running back in the middle of the field without having to worry about trying to complete passes and get out of bounds on every play."
As for the play that could have provided Alabama with a come-from-behind win in the final moments, a third-and-six from the Minnesota 13, Rader said, "We had Tyrone (Prothro) open in the end zone. We didn't connect."
A big play in the game was quarterback Spencer Pennington being the victim of a personal foul, thrown out of bounds near the Minnesota goalline. While the play may have helped Bama get that touchdown on a short run by LeRon McClain, it was costly in that Pennington emerged "a little whoozy."
Rader said, "I'm proud of our kids. I'm proud of Wesley Britt for trying to push off on that foot and David Cavan for playing with that back." All-America offensive tackle Britt had a sprained foot that kept him out of some practice work, but he played every play. David Cavan returned to the starting lineup after having missed late season work with three broken vertebrae."
Rader said, "I wish I could have been around these seniors for four years. They have been great leaders. Danny Martz is such a great story. Matt Ragland (a recently graduated walk-on who suffered a torn ACL on the opening kickoff) gives everything he has. Josh Smith (a walk-on fullback and halfback who started the game) is going to be a success. We're going to see Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis playing for a long time to come. I wish I could have coached A.C. Carter (who was unable to play the past three years because of a leg injury). What a great young man. David Cavan is such a tough kid who has had such bad injury luck. And Ray Hudson (Bama's starting halfback at the beginning of the season who was lost to a knee injury at mid-year). I can remember in staff meeting last spring Coach Shula stopped the tape and asked if Ray Hudson was good enough to win with in the SEC. Every offensive coach in the room said ‘Yes.' He is smart and he is good and we will miss him."
Neither Rader nor any other Alabama coach was surprised by Minnesota's decision to take a safety with about three minutes to play and the Golden Gophers facing fourth-and-five from their 15-yard line. "We thought they would give up a safety," Rader said. "It makes sense. We still had to have a touchdown to win and they were playing field position. They couldn't know if we were going to rush the punter or put on a return. So they did the sound thing. And then Prothro gave us great field position–he came close to breaking the return for a touchdown–but we didn't finish it."