Steve Spurrier had a remarkable record at Florida before flopping in the NFL. Now Spurrier is back as head coach at South Carolina, and Alabama will go to Columbia Saturday to take on the Gamecocks. It will be the first meeting between Bama and Spurrier since Alabama won the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, 34-7, at the end of the 1999 season.
It was no surprise that a sportswriter on Bama Coach Mike Shula's Sunday teleconference press briefing wanted to know what Shula thought about Spurrier. Shula gave enough praise to Spurrier without appearing to be awestruck.
And, as Shula pointed out, this is about the Alabama football team vs. the South Carolina football team. "We have a lot of respect for their team," Shula said. "They came in and beat us last year. And we have a lot of respect for Coach Spurrier."
Shula has never coached against Spurrier, but has seen the result of Spurrier coaching. When Shula was in professional football, he watched Florida players. "For years we were watching Florida players coming out and we were impressed with his knowledge of the passing game," Shula said. "It's not just the Xs and Os, although it is to large extent. But what was impressive was the knowledge his players had of the passing game and the adjustments they could make. You could tell the guys we got from Florida had been well-coached."
Shula added that going up against coaches like Spurrier "is why it's exciting to be in this conference."
Kickoff Saturday will be at 3:30 p.m. EDT (which is 2:30 in Alabama) with national television coverage by CBS. Alabama is 2-0 after Saturday night's 30-21 win over Southern Miss. Bama is making its first road trip and playing its first SEC game. South Carolina is coming off a tough loss to Georgia in Athens and is now 1-1.
Shula saw something in the passing game Saturday night he might never have seen before, he said. "I'm not sure I've ever seen anything like that," Shula said of the remarkable reception Bama flanker Tyrone Prothro made just before halftime. The 42-yard reception to the one-yard line set up a touchdown with just 12 seconds to play until halftime and cut the Golden Eagles' lead to 21-17.
"It was a tremendous catch," Shula said. "I've seen some incredible one-handed catches, but that one might be one of the catches of the year. Not week. Year."
Shula was not generally happy with Bama's play Saturday, particularly in the first half. "If you give up a touchdown on an interception and a touchdown on a punt return, you are usually not going to win," Shula said. (Bama didn't actually allow a punt return for a touchdown, but a long return to deep into Tide territory set up a touchdown.)
He said the team had good leadership from the seniors. "There was no panic in the dressing room at halftime," he said. "I'm not sure we would have been able to come back last year. It was good to come up with a victory playing the way we did late in the first quarter and in the second quarter. We realize we have got to play better. The effort was good, but the execution has got to be better."
Although got off to a 10-0 lead, then gave up 21 straight points. And Shula pointed out that defensive end Wallace Gilberry "made a touchdown-saving tackle, or it might have been 28-10."
The coach said, "Nothing felt right in the first half."
Shula said coming back as Bama did could be good for confidence in a similar situation later, but added he hoped the Tide was not in that situation again. "But we're going to be playing some good football teams," he said.
Shula did not yet have specifics on some players who were injured in the game, including tailbacks Glen Coffee (concussion, and thought to be the most seriously injured) and Jimmy Johns (shoulder, but Shula didn't know if it was the same shoulder Johns had injured in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in the summer.
The coach said it was possible that Tim Castille could see duty at halfback as well as fullback this week.
Alabama is still young in a number of positions, including the offensive line. "We've got to play to get experience, but we need to win while that is going on," Shula said. "Patience isn't a word in our coaching vocabulary."
Shula said one important aspect of improvement needs to come in the kicking game, citing punting and punt coverage and place-kicking. And, he said, when Prothro is returning, other players don't need to have penalties that take away Prothro's return yardage.
Shula thought the replay officials did a good job on the two plays they reviewed Saturday night. One of them was Prothro's catch, which origianlly ruled a touchdown. One lesson for the coaching staff: as soon as the decision is announced, the game and play clocks are started. Bama had to use a timeout to get lineup up and get a play off after the ruling.
"There were a lot of possible scenarios," Shula said. "And when they made the decision, the clock started running. Fortunately, we had a timeout left."