Number 5 -
September 29, 2005
Inside this Newsletter:
- Editorial: Tide Looks to Be in Better Place
- Tide Slips Past Hogs
- Scouting Report: Florida
- Coach Shula says
- Season Statistics (PDF Version Only)
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Tide Looks To Be In Better Place
One area of media focus this week as Alabama prepared to host
fifth-ranked Florida is that Bama has never beaten a top five team in
Bryant-Denny Stadium. That is primarily a factor of Alabama having played
very few top five teams in Tuscaloosa.
Rest assured, Alabama football teams have beaten more than their fair
share of top five teams. And in many, many years it was Bama that was the
top five team, and not many times has Alabama lost when ranked in the top
But Alabama's wins over top five teams have come at Legion Field in
Birmingham, where Bama played most of its big games before Bryant-Denny
Stadium was expanded; in bowl games, where Alabama has played and won more
than any other team; and in the home stadiums of teams unlucky enough to
have their top five seasons ruined by a visit from the Crimson Tide.
Still, it would be nice for Alabama to get a win over a top five team
this weekend in Tuscaloosa.
As one grows older, there are more and more obligations to commiserate
with friends and loved ones that someone is in what we hope and believe to
be "a better place." That is not the better place Alabama football is
looking for (though it is the place the NCAA Infractions Committee tried to
put it a few years ago).
Alabama football has fought back from a very bad place, a non-competitive
place only a few seasons ago. Bama's current place is better. The Crimson
Tide is given a chance to upset one of the nation's top football teams this
The better place Alabama wants to be is by taking the next step, back
where Crimson Tide football was for many, many years. That is the place
where occasionally the opponent is given a chance of upsetting Bama.
Just beating Florida won't accomplish that. It will take some number of
successes balanced against a fewer number of failures in the arena of the
highly-ranked before Alabama is in that better place. It means wins with
some regularity over the Floridas and Tennessees and top intersectional
opponents in major bowl games.
A win over Florida would be a meaningful step in that direction.
Alabama is in that place where a win over a top five team is a bigger
step forward than a loss to a top five team is a step back. A loss to
Florida won't necessarily mean that Alabama Coach Mike Shula's rebuilding
job is not on schedule–as if there is a schedule beyond "as fast as
So far this season Alabama has defeated two teams that it did not defeat
last year. But even that is not much of a yardstick. Those aren't the same
No one really needs a yardstick to know that Alabama is a better football
team this year than it was at the same time last year. This year's team has
Brodie Croyle at quarterback, and that more than makes up for not having
some offensive linemen. It has a defense that is as good as last year's and
maybe a bit deeper in important areas.
There have been growing pains. But almost everyone who cheers Crimson and
White sees better days ahead. Maybe beginning Saturday.
Tide Slips Past Arkansas To Run Record To 4-0
Arkansas would surely say Alabama is not as good as number one ranked
Southern Cal. The Razorbacks might even say the Crimson Tide isn't as good
as Vanderbilt. But, of course, Arkansas didn't see all of Alabama. The
Razorbacks on defense certainly didn't see the play that sealed the win, at
least not until it was too late. Bama was good enough Saturday to defeat the
Alabama improved its record to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern
Conference games with the win at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. It was the
third consecutive loss for Arkansas, which fell to 1-3, including 0-2 in the
SEC. The Hogs were upset by Vandy in Fayetteville, 28-24, on September 10,
and dismantled by USC, 70-17, the previous Saturday.
There had been speculation that Alabama players might be looking ahead.
Now all eyes will be on fifth-ranked Florida. The 15th-ranked Crimson Tide
will host the Gators Saturday.
Last year in Fayetteville, Coach Houston Nutt's Razorbacks were throwing
for the end zone late in the game, but that was just an attempt to run up
the score against an out-manned Alabama team in a 27-10 Arkansas win.
This year it was Alabama that threw to the end zone late. With just over
two minutes to play and Bama holding on to a 17-13 lead, the Tide was at the
Arkansas five-yard line with a third down play. The call was for a run that
would either score or set up a field goal opportunity. But after an Alabama
time out, the Tide went to the line of scrimmage. Wide receiver D.J. Hall
was left uncovered. Quarterback Brodie Croyle and Hall made eye contact, and
Croyle snapped a pass to Hall in the end zone for the points that clinched
Looking back, it can be seen why the Arkansas defense missed Hall. Bama
had been in a two-tight end set before taking a time out. When Alabama
returned from the time out, the Tide went back to "regular personnel," which
means one tight end and two wide receivers. The man who should have been on
Hall was inside, where he saw the tight end.
Arkansas was passing for the end zone as the game ended, but the effort
was incomplete and Alabama had ended a two-game losing streak at the hands
of the Razorbacks.
The Croyle-to-Hall combination also worked for Alabama's first touchdown.
After a lethargic first quarter, Bama trailed by 3-0 on the strength of Hogs
placekicker Chris Belseiro's 34-yard field goal midway through the second
On a third-and-five play, Alabama split four men and the Razorbacks left
the middle of the field open. Hall crossed and Croyle hit him. Hall showed
uncharacteristic speed in sprinting away from the defense and completing a
43-yard touchdown play.
Alabama did not trail again.
It looked like Bama might have put the game away with a strong third
quarter. Alabama has not allowed a point in the third period this year, and
held the Razorbacks scoreless. But that wasn't all the defense did.
On Arkansas' first series after intermission, Hogs quarterback Robert
fumble at the Arkansas 19.
The offense didn't take great advantage of that opportunity, but Bama did
get a 36-yard field goal from Jamie Christensen to extend the lead to 10-3.
Alabama didn't score another point in the third quarter, but the Crimson
Tide did everything necessary to get a touchdown. When the third quarter
ended, Bama was at the Arkansas two-yard line with a first-and-goal.
Kenneth Darby had 47 yards in the 78 yards gained before the end of the
third quarter, but by now Darby knows that he needs to get it into the end
zone, not close. Darby's final run of the quarter was a beauty, 24 yards to
the two-yard line.
Darby got to stand on the sidelines and watch Bama's Jumbo Package of Tim
Castille at halfback behind LéRon McClain get the touchdown. It took two
plays, but with 14:15 to play Bama had a 17-3 lead and seemed in control to
wrap up the win.
But not so fast! Arkansas' speedy halfback Darren McFadden went through a
couple of missed tackles for 70 yards and a touchdown, a "drive" that took
just 46 seconds.
On Bama's next possession, Jeremy Schatz–who had punted well–was
victimized by a blocking miscommunication and had a punt blocked.
There is a long and inglorious history of SEC officials having a negative
effect on Alabama in the series against Arkansas. Although it was not the
fault of the officials, a penalty against Arkansas was of great benefit to
the Hogs. On a third-and-eight play from the Alabama nine-yard line, Wallace
Gilberry forced and fumble and Ryans (who had an outstanding defensive game
with six solo tackles and nine assists) recovered for the Tide. But an
Arkansas player had moved, a dead ball foul that was a five-yard penalty
only. The Razorbacks kept the ball and got a 27-yard field goal that closed
the margin to Alabama 17, Arkansas 13 with just under 10 minutes to play.
While that penalty helped Arkansas, both teams had penalties that were
Bama was unable to keep the ball on its next possession and had to punt.
But with 5:50 to play, the Tide got the ball back with Juwan Simpson turning
in an interception at the Arkansas 40.
The Tide got it down to the Arkansas five-yard line with a 12-yard run to
a first down by Darby. It looked like Bama might have to settle for a field
goal when it was still five yards to go on third down, but the Razorbacks
failed to cover Hall and Croyle's pass got Bama to the final margin of 24-13
with just over two minutes to play.
Arkansas made a good effort to drive down to the Alabama goalline, but
the march resulted in no points, ran out the clock, and served merely to pad
the Razorbacks' offensive statistics.
Tide Notes–Jeremy Schatz may have been a bit of a surprise. DeMeco Ryans
was a no-brainer. Both were honored as Southeastern Conference players of
the week Tuesday morning. Senior linebacker DeMeco Ryans and senior punter
Jeremy Schatz were picked as SEC Defensive Player of the Week and SEC
Special Teams Player of the Week, respectively, after Bama's victory over
Ryans led all tacklers with 15. He also recorded two tackles for loss
(minus nine yards) including a sack (minus five yards). He recovered a
fumble, returning it for two yards, broke up a pass and recorded a
quarterback pressure. He was also instrumental in the Tide defense allowing
only 81 passing yards against the Hogs.
Although it was not a factor in his selection as Defensive Player of the
Week, it is interesting that Ryans has totaled 52 tackles in his career
against the Razorbacks.
Schatz won his honor despite suffering a blocked punt against the Hogs.
That miscue (which was not his fault) aside, Schatz had a career day punting
the ball in the Tide's victory over Arkansas. He nailed two punts inside the
20, but the highlight of his day was a career long 72-yard punt that ranks
as the 10th longest punt in Alabama history. He finished with a career high
275 yards and a career best average 45.8.
The honor was a first for both athletes and the fourth this season for
the Crimson Tide. Tyrone Prothro was named the league's Special Teams
player of the week on September 12 and running back Kenneth Darby was named
the SEC Offensive Player of the Week last week (September 19).
Is Alabama ever going to throw to the tight end? Would you believe on the
first play of the game? Croyle connected with Nick Walker (who had lined up
outside the left tackle) on a quick pass over the middle and Walker turned
his first college reception into a 24-yard gain. On the day, Walker had
three catches for 34 yards. Alabama had not completed a pass to a tight end
in its first three games.
When Croyle looked across the line of scrimmage and saw 11 defenders, he
knew that unless Arkansas had 12 men on the field (okay, that is a
possibility) that no one was on wide receiver Hall. Croyle and Hall made
quick eye contact and then connected on the final touchdown of the day,
assuring Bama's victory. Croyle and Hall had seen that situation earlier
this year. In the first scrimmage of the year Hall was unguarded on the left
side and Croyle hit him for about a 70-yard touchdown.
The game was the first in his college career that sophomore Hall has had
two touchdown receptions.
Prothro made his first reception in the third quarter. The junior
finished with three catches for 48 yards and extended his streak to 22
consecutive games with at least one reception. That is the longest streak by
any active Southeastern Conference player.
When Ryans recovered a fumble in the third quarter, it marked the 21st
consecutive game Alabama has forced a turnover by the opponent. Bama forced
two turnovers and the Tide turned them into 10 points. Alabama did not have
Alabama has started the season 4-0, the first time Bama has opened a
season with four consecutive victories since 1996 (when Bama went 7-0 to
start the year). And the Crimson Tide has started the season 2-0 in the SEC
for the first time since 2001. It is the 37th time in Alabama football
history the Crimson Tide has opened the season with at least four
Among prospects visiting for the Arkansas game were defensive end
Shades Valley. Motley and Pharr are committed to Bama, while Stokes has been
announced as a commitment to UCLA.
Depth Chart Vs. Arkansas
Alabama was able to dress 95 players with 80 designated as eligible to
play for its Southeastern Conference home game against Arkansas Saturday,
and 58 of them saw action. (An SEC visiting team is limited to 70 players
dressed.) There were no first time starters in Bama's 24-13 win over the
Razorbacks. Tyrone Prothro, who is considered first team but who does not
usually start, got his second consecutive starting opportunity at flanker.
Sophomore Eric Gray, who has been hampered by injury, made his 2005 debut
with some special teams play. Junior Kyle Bennett made his first appearance
of the year as a member of the kickoff return team, and was the return man
(13 yards) on a squibbed Arkansas kickoff in the second quarter. Defensive
a couple of games. Alabama used 21 on offense, 21 on defense, and 16 just on
special teams. Here are those who played with starters listed first. The
number in parenthesis is the number of plays, and if there are two numbers
the second is the number of plays on special teams.
Split End–Keith Brown (34), Zeke Knight (12-17), Matt Caddell (20)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (59-5), Cody Davis (4)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (63-5)
Center–J.B. Closner (63)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (58), Taylor Britt (5)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (63-5)
Tight End–Nick Walker (47-5), Travis McCall (11-9), Charles Hoke (2)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (62)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (46-12), Tim Castille (22)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (38), Glen Coffee (4)
Flanker–Tyrone Prothro (51-11), D.J. Hall (28-4), Brandon Brooks (1)
Right End–Mark Anderson (56-1), Keith Saunders (11)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (37-1), J.P. Adams (9), Dominic Lee (12)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (54), Chris Harris (14), Bobby Greenwood (7)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (67-8)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (64-1), Matt Collins (7-12)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (69-8), Demarcus Waldrop (6-15)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (29-2), Simeon Castille (60-4)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (70-4)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (71-5), Jeffrey Dukes (35-12)
Safety–Roman Harper (71-8)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (10, 2 FG, 3 PAT, 5 KO)
Punter–Jeremy Schatz (7)
Snapper–Drew Lane (12, 2 FG, 3 PAT, 7 P)
Holder–Matt Miller (2 FG, 3 PAT, 13 other)
Coverage and Returns–Marcel Stamps (11), Jimmy Johns (5), Cory Reamer (9),
Lionel Mitchell (5), Marcus Carter (4), Chris Keys (15), Eric Gray (6), Juke
King (8), Kyle Bennett (4), Rashad Johnson (22), Justin Moon (5), Theo
Scouting Report: All The Talk Is About Gators' Offense
Florida has outstanding talent on both offense and defense. Quarterback
Southeastern Conference regardless of position, and the Gator defense ranks
at or near the top in every statistical category.
Florida's depth is a questionable. The second-team offense was held
scoreless and second-team defense gave up four touchdowns and 226 yards last
week against Kentucky before the starters were re-inserted.
Urban Meyer's newfangled offense has broken up the monotony of the SEC,
which typically used very few option plays, two backs, and a 60/40 run-pass
mix of smash-mouth style to which we have become accustomed.
The jury is still out on the long-term prospects for Meyer's
spread-option running game and wide open passing attack, but one thing is
certain–Leak and Jackson make the Gator offense move, and would make most
offensive schemes look good.
Leak, 6-0, 210, has unquestioned arm strength and accuracy, and decent
speed. Leak is a rushing threat, but also a sack target. He has gained 94
yards this season on rushing plays, but lost 95 yards, all but two of which
came as a result of 14 sacks allowed by the Florida offensive line.
Leak has completed 81-of-114 pass attempts (71.1 per cent) for 1,037
yards. In his third season at Florida, he is the SEC's career active leader
in completion percentage (.61.1) and touchdown passes (54), and he's second
to Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler in every other quarterback stat.
Jackson (6-1, 205) could be the SEC Player of the Year. He leads the SEC
and is fifth in the nation with eight receptions per game, averaging 100
yards receiving per game. He has six touchdowns among his 32 receptions and
is averaging 12.5 yards per catch.
Jackson will be the focal point of Alabama's secondary, especially with
the Gators' loss of Andre Caldwell, who started opposite Jackson before
breaking his femur in the Tennessee game. Caldwell is expected to miss the
remainder of the season.
Senior Dallas Baker (6-3, 204) started five games a year ago, and has
starts in all four Florida games. With Caldwell out, Baker is the
second-leading receiver with 15 receptions for 158 yards
As a result of Caldwell's injury, Junior Jemalle Cornelius (5-11, 190)
rose to the starter's spot for Florida's last game against futile Kentucky,
catching eight passes for 138 yards.
Florida is one of only two schools in the nation to have a running back
rank in the top 10 in rushing touchdowns and wide receiver rank among the
ranks tied for tenth and Chad Jackson is tied for second nationally. Wynn
(5-11, 230) is averaging just 65 yards per game rushing, but has scored five
touchdowns. Wynn is also a receiving threat with four catches for 72 yards.
Tailbacks Marcus Manson (6-0, 210 from Tuscaloosa) and Skyler Thornton
(5-11, 209) average 24 yards per game and Kestahn Moore, listed second on
the Florida depth chart, has picked up 17 yards per game.
Like Alabama's offensive line, Florida's men up front have had their
issues–giving up a league-leading 14 sacks to opponents and leading the
middle-of-the-pack rushing attack to 149 yards per game. Each of the massive
linemen tops 300.
Center Mike Degory (6-6, 304) is on several award watch lists. He, left
tackle Randy Hand (6-6, 310), right tackle Lance Butler (6-7, 315) and
senior left guard Tavares Washington (6-4, 320) have seen action in 123
games combined and have started 106 games between them. Soph Drew Miller
(6-5, 310) is at right guard.
Washington moved from left tackle where he was a back-up to left guard,
and moved to the bench for the Kentucky game to make way for freshman Jim
Tartt (6-3, 315). Florida has thrown to tight end Tate Casey (6-6, 242) just
twice for a total of 21 yards.
Co-Defensive Coordinators Charlie Strong and Greg Mattison will play an
in-your-face style of defense, pressing receivers and often putting eight
men in the box to either stop the run or pressure the quarterback.
The Gator defense has been dominant, leading the league in total (223
yards per game allowed) and pass defense (144 ypg), while ranking second in
run defense (79 ypg).
Florida has recorded 10 quarterback sacks, three behind league-leading
Junior Ray McDonald started the first three games at defensive end, but
suffered a knee injury against Tennessee and is out for another month or so.
But the Gators have experience at the position, as Junior Joe Cohen (6-2,
275) stepped in. Cohen started every game at defensive end a year ago
opposite senior Jeremy Mincey (6-4, 265). Mincey is the leading tackler
among the defensive linemen with 17, including four for loss and half a
tackle and have a combined 12 stops and a half sack. Sophomore middle
linebacker Brandon Siler (6-2, 239) has 20 tackles on the year, tied for the
team lead with diminutive cornerback Vernell Brown (5-8, 165).
Junior left cornerback Demetrice Webb (5-11, 190) has a team-leading six
pass break ups. Webb has seven tackles on the year. Senior safety Jarvis
Herring (5-11, 205) ranks fifth for Florida in tackles with 15 (10 solo).
Weakside linebacker Earl Everett (6-2, 231) has two interceptions to lead
the team, and along with Herring, is on the Bednarik Award Watch List for
the nation's best defensive player. Everett is an all-around player with 15
tackles, a sack and a pass break up to go with the two picks.
Fifth defensive back Reggie Nelson (6-1, 175) has recorded 14 tackles on
the season, including the team leading two sacs for a loss of 17 yards. Free
safety Kyle Jacskon (6-1, 200) has 13 tackles and an interception through
Junior placekicker Chris Hetland has converted all five field goal
attempts with a long of 47.. His long came from 47 yards. He has made 15 of
17 PAT attempts. Freshman James Smith is the snapper and Nick Fleming the
Eric Wilbur kicks off and punts for the Gators (Florida has kicked off
more than it has punted.) Alabama should have a chance to return some kicks.
Wilbur has two touchbacks and has kicked out of bounds twice in 21 attempts
on the year.
His punting average is 40.9 yards per kick with a long of 55. He has had
one punt blocked, and four have landed inside the 20.
Cornelius and Tremaine McCollum serve as the kick return men, while Brown
is the Gator punt returner. Caldwell was the leading kickoff return man
before his injury, and Cornelius has two returns for a total of 40 yards.
The Gators have had just six kick returns all year. Brown has 14 punt
returns for an underwhelming 4.3 yard per return average. His long was a
Coach Mike Shula Says
There is a tendency to make it all about Florida. After all, it is the
Gators who are ranked fifth in the nation. It is Florida that has the flashy
new coach in Urban Meyer. The Gators have athletes galore.
But Alabama Coach Mike Shula is concentrating on his own team as the
Crimson Tide, ranked 15th in the nation, prepares to host Florida Saturday.
Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS.
Both teams are 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference games.
Shula can't make the game about Alabama in the pre-game hype. And, of
course, he can't ignore the tremendous talent of the Gators. Alabama's
preparation this week has to be better than it has been, and Shula
acknowledges that. But, he said in his regular Tuesday press briefing, "We
want our guys playing the way they have in the first four games. Now, we
want to correct the mistakes. But we don't want to try to do something
He said, "The kids are more excited. Last week's game made this one
bigger. We have to be focused. Each week in the SEC as you win, the games
get bigger. There are a lot of things you can't control. But you can control
your meetings, your practices, and how you play on Saturday."
Shula said upperclassmen must provide leadership for a big game. "That
means attention to detail and intensity," he said. "When the game kicks off,
our players' motors will be running."
Shula said Alabama's chance for success Saturday depends in great part on
quarterback Brodie Croyle. He said, "I think the biggest thing mentally is
that Brodie not feel like he has to win the game by himself. He has to make
good decisions; continue to do the things he's been doing. Physically, we're
going to have to adjust to a defense that's got more speed that we probably
have ever seen. We saw a defense (Arkansas) with pretty good speed last
week, but I think overall the way Florida blitzes with their linebackers and
the way they cover in their secondary, Brodie has got to make sure that
we're not trying to force things; we're not late with the football. And we
need to continue to be accurate."
He also said Croyle is a good man to have in that place. "He's
experienced," Shula said. "He's an accurate passer. And he's a leader, the
ind of guy who keeps the younger guys going. And he's gotten better each
week. He is definitely a key for us."
Shula also said that Alabama would not ask Croyle to run the option. "At
least, we won't let Florida know about it." Croyle, despite a couple of nice
scrambles against South Carolina two weeks ago, is not considered a runner,
and because of past injuries is urged to not run.
Shula added, "His pulse kind of slows down during the course of the game
when others' start racing."
Alabama has not had success against ranked teams in recent years. Last
year the Tide played close games against some good teams. Did Shula expect
this year's team to be a championship contender? Shula said, "Looking back
at last year, we didn't do a good enough job. Maybe I don't think that we're
that far away. But I don't think we've arrived, either."
Shula said Florida "is a very talented team: real good size, good speed.
We're going to have our hands full in all three areas. Our coaches now are
finishing up on our game plans. We're seeing a lot of different things from
Florida. They're versatile in all three aspects, so we're going to have to
really make sure our preparation is thorough."
On the injury front, Shula said, "We're probably as healthy as we've been
in a while. We made it through the game in good shape. Hopefully we'll get
some guys back like (linebacker) Terrence Jones this week and possibly
(guard) Mark Sanders."
Shula said that Florida's defense includes a number of blitzes. He said,
"They bring linebackers, nickel; defensive backs; they bring corners; they
bring safeties. And they do it a lot. If they're not bringing it from one
side, they're usually bringing it from the other. We've seen a lot of
blitzing already this year in all types of situations. We've got to do a
better job picking it up. Our receivers have a huge challenge this week
against some very talented corners that like to play bump and run and
aggressive style defense. But we just have to go out and play our game and
do the things that we do well."
As good as the Florida defense is, it is the offense which draws the most
interest. Shula said, "They give you a little bit of everything. Out of the
shotgun they give you the running plays and then the misdirection off the
running plays and then the option off a fake run and the misdirection with
the option with the quarterback and a back coming out the back side. They've
got misdirection passing game with their receivers they do a good job of
getting certain guys open in all areas of the field. They'll throw it deep.
They throw it short and underneath. They've got guys that when they catch it
that they do a good job after the catch. So there are a lot of things for us
to have to look at and cover. But again, defensively, we've got to make sure
we play our game and don't try to do more than what our coaches are asking
our players to do and yet be aggressive to the football and know that
they're going to be some talented players carrying the ball."
Shula said, "The linebackers played as good a game as they have played
collectively. They all have good speed. All of them have motors that run
hard. Usually when a linebacker gets to the football fast, good things
happen. Hopefully it will continue to happen."
Shula wanted to make sure everyone understood that Arkansas has a good
team. After the Razorbacks lost a home game to Vanderbilt, then were
humiliated by number one-ranked Southern Cal the week before the Bama game,
Shula thought some may have underestimated the Hogs. He gave assurances that
Alabama coaches and players expected Arkansas to be good.
"We didn't play as well as we could, but Arkansas was a good team," Shula
said in his regular weekly teleconference with sportswriters. "We came up
with some big plays and some big drives to get the ball in the end zone. It
was good to win.