No More Surprises

This team won't surprise us, or anyone else who has been watching Alabama closely this year, anymore.

Before Saturday's 6-3 win over Tennessee, the Crimson Tide had come from behind to win after trailing at the half (Southern Miss), blown away the team of a legendary Southeastern Conference coach who some thought would out-coach Mike Shula (South Carolina), beat a top-five ranked team with a "hot young coach"(Florida) in signature fashion and, against Ole Miss, won a game decided by eight points or less.

All of these are firsts in the Mike Shula era.

(We've since learned that Florida's offense is about as solid as those hollow plastic thunder sticks some fans bang together use to make noise.)

And the beauty of the win last week at Ole Miss was certainly in the eye of the beholder. One could argue the downside of dropping the level of play to that of the opponent, or one could have focused on the flawlessly crafted two-minute drive as a sign of a team coming of age.

Shula got his fifth first Saturday, defeating the hated rival Tennessee, his first victory in a rivalry game. It seems they have done all there is to do, except for winning them all. Alabama will have two weeks to withstand challenges from inferior opponents before LSU rolls into town.

Tennessee receiver Jayson Swain wasn't sure who the better team was after the game, though. "If a team is better than you and they beat you, you can live with that," he said. "Knowing that you beat yourselves, that hurts."

Soon, perhaps, Swain and Florida defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who "wasn't ready" to say Alabama was a better team after the Tide trounced the Gators 31-3, can get together and re-think things. Or perhaps they can form their own football poll.

The truth is Alabama was better than Tennessee Saturday, and they probably would have been better last Saturday and next Saturday-not that any other day matters.

Opponents shouldn't be surprised at ending up on the losing side of the scoreboard anymore, either. In the lexicon of Tide defensive coordinator Joe Kines, it will take "a full days work" for teams to beat Alabama.

This is the Tide's new challenge.

Alabama was favored in the game against Tennessee by the oddsmakers, but the Tide was also among the most popular upset picks of the day from experts, including uberimbecile ESPN sideshow Lee Corso.

Tide supporters and reporters who cover Alabama now have enough information not to doubt Alabama's ability to prevail in grim circumstances again.

It appeared to me that Alabama had a slight edge due to more talent and experience at the quarterback position, but as the game progressed further as a scoreless tie, memories of some many close plays gone awry over the past two years were hard to shake. They didn't creep to the Alabama sideline.

"We knew our defense was going to keep us in it," quarterback Brodie Croyle said. "They always seem to do it. They always make the plays when they have to. If we get the ball in the last couple of minutes we feel real confident."

The Roman Harper caused fumble left Alabama in a familiar place, having to move the ball into field goal range from inside its own territory as it did a week ago at Ole Miss.

"I knew we had it won," DeMeco Ryans said. "I knew Brodie was going to drive down and someone was going to make a big play. DJ made the big play."

The big third down play from Croyle to DJ Hall put Bama into field goal position.

"They had been blitzing us a little bit more in the second half," Shula said. "We got man coverage and we really hadn't gone deep in the second half like we wanted to. We got them in man-to-man coverage and Brodie made great throw and DJ came down with ball."

A Kenneth Darby run took the ball 11 yards closer to the crossbar.

With a dollar bill taped to his sock, Jamie Christensen kicked the game-winner through the uprights for the second straight week.

"This is a different football team than when we got here," Mike Shula said.

That's been said before during the season. It should be obvious. Perhaps now the college football world will believe it. And remember it.

"It goes back to our kids and goes back to our seniors," Shula said. "There was never any frustration. We just talked about our next series and that's where their minds were. There were more guys into it on the sidelines. I think that's important too, just rooting for each other in sidelines. Whether it was Brodie rooting for our defense or guys that didn't play, that's what I'm talking about when I say our team is coming together."

"But to win it after having some frustration in all three of those areas; to win it with the defensive play and offensively moving the ball, getting into field-goal position and Jaime hitting the field goal. It was an awesome way to win it."

As Brodie Croyle said so well, "It's one thing to beat Ole Miss on a game winning drive, but to do it against Tennessee in the biggest game you've played in your entire career added something to it."

How much more the Tide will add to 7-0 is anyone's guess, but I think it's safe to say there will be no more tip-toeing for this elephant.


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