A SMALL Step

Alabama head coach Mike Shula wasn't quite ready to crown his team kings of the world after the Tide's 37-14 win over South Carolina and the revered Steve Spurrier, but the Tide Coach did say the win might be some sort of milestone for his squad.

"I think it was a small step for sure," Shula said after the game. "If we keep playing this way as the season goes along I think we'll- but again, it's over with now. We can enjoy it tonight. But we get back to the grind. We've got another SEC opponent coming in next week and it starts all over again."

"I thought it was the result of a real good week of practice. I thought our seniors and the guys with experience showed a lot of leadership. For us to get off to a good start and to finish it like that was good for us."

There wasn't much second-guessing of offense, defense or even special teams (Alabama punted thrice for a 39.0 yard average) after the all-around strong performance.

Shula was asked plenty, however, about the difficulties of stopping his offense when it is in synch as it was tonight, and specifically about the use multi-dimensional Tyrone Prothro out of the backfield.

"Well, it added some productivity," Shula said. "It helps all those other guys. We've got some other guys besides Prothro who can make plays and 81 (Keith Brown) did it today on a little quick pass out there in the flat.

"For us to be able to spread the ball around and then to run the ball effectively it's going to be tougher for defenses to try to defend us. That was today. Last week was last week. We've got to prove ourselves all over again when next week starts."

The ultimate goal, Shula said, is to be able to do more things with similar personnel groupings. "It keeps you out of certain tendencies, that's probably the biggest thing," he said.

"He looked pretty good back there," Shula said in assessing Prothro's running back ability. "I think Coach Woods and Coach Harbison are going to be talking a little bit tonight. Coach Woods probably wants to get him some more carries back there and Coach Harbison probably wants him back at wide out."

Shula introduced a more frightening, triple-threat possibility.

"We might have to throw it yet before we know it. He's got a good arm," Shula said.

"Prothro made some plays last week. Keith Brown made the plays today. Ken Darby has been real solid the last three weeks. Guys that have played have to show up on days like today and they did."

it was hard to find the minuses for many, but Shula was ready. "We've got some work to do. We've got to finish better in the plus territory," citiing times the squad settled for field goals instead of touchdowns. "But it's a win and we're happy."

Another cog that drove the offense Saturday was the much-maligned offensive line, who had their best performance of the year against the Gamecocks.

"(Offensive line) Coach (Bob) Connelly has probably talked to you guys more than I have," Shula said. "He's worked real hard with those guys and there are a lot of young guys playing. They were focused today and just stayed on blocks a little bit longer. When you do that and you get a guy like 34 running the ball – and he can run through arm tackles."

South Carolina's offensive attack had the Bama defense on its heals early, but they recovered quickly.

"That first drive was a wake-up call for our defense," Shula said. "They moved it right down and made a big play there. We were just a little off-balance there, but that's why when you have some seniors they can make adjustments on the side. It was nice to see them pretty much shut them down after that."

A source of levity was Brodie Croyle's ad-libbing, and his running skills that earned him a (perhaps) temporary sarcastically loaded nickname on the sideline: Vanilla Vick.

I kind of was laughing, actually," Shula said of Croyle's runs. "I thought I was the slowest quarterback in Alabama history. You do a little bit of everything… He's feeling much more comfortable in the pocket moving around and he can make some things happen. Obviously, every play isn't going to work the way you draw it up."

On flipping the ball "You don't teach that but we got away with it today."

"You just try to coach them to react in positive ways and make those adjustments."

On the injury front, the Tide did not come out unscaved, but there were no major injuries either.

"I haven't talked to the trainer yet," Shula said. "Hopefully nothing is serious. I know Jimmy Johns twisted his ankle. Le'Ron (McClain)'s a bit banged up but he'll be fine.

Tyrone Prothro hurt his foot but he came back.

Croyle appeared to be ailing in the second quarter, but returned for the second half with no ill-effects.


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