Shula Pleased with Season

"Don't let that get on ESPN."

That was Mike Shula's plea after his chair slid out from underneath him during the post game press conference at the Cotton Bowl.

"The only glitch we've had so far with the Cotton Bowl," he said.

Shula's ironic fall capsulated a day that buttressed Alabama's continued rise back to the upper ranks of college football. Shula's fall will probably be on ESPN, but because of his squad's 13-10 last-second win over Texas Tech Alabama's fall in past years is old news and its rise will top headlines.

"The last few years, for these guys here, we've been through some tough times," Shula said with seniors Brodie Croyle DeMeco Ryans, Roman Harper, Charlie Peprah, Jamie Christensen, Kenneth Darby and Le'Ron McClain sitting to either side. "We played some real tough games and had some tough losses: Oklahoma, some multiple overtime game losses. We hit a low point after the Ole Miss game, I think everyone at this table would agree. We found a way to circle the wagons so to speak, after that first year and keep fighting."

Shula said, "Last year was tough, too. We had a lot of injuries starting with [Croyle], and we lost a couple of other guys here on this table that were playmakers. They continued to stick with it and believe in themselves. [Croyle] worked his tail off, KD worked his tail off in the off season to get back healthy and we stuck together. When you go through tough times together and this was a goal, 10 wins."

Shula took time before leaving the field to address the fans who traveled to the game, as well as the television audience on FOX Sports. "First of all I'd like to thank all of our fans out here that came out," he said to a roaring 10,000 Tide fans. "We've got the best fans in the country and our players know it."

"They way our defense played today is the way we've played all year," he said. "Even though we gave up the one touchdown at the end you can't say enough. We had heard through the media all about the high-powered offense and they were really, really good, but I think one thing the media may have forgotten was the guys on our defensive football team and our senior leadership."

Shula also took the media to task over questions raised about DJ Hall's status for the game. Shula dodged questions about Hall's status both in Tuscaloosa and in Dallas before the game, but afterwards he said that Hall ["DJ didn't play for violating team policies which obviously we like to keep in house,"] as well as Chris Keys, ["Keys didn't play because he had violated team policy also," Shula said] did not play because of rules violations.

"The one thing that we did that nobody recognized during the course of the three or four weeks, nobody asked me, they asked me about DJ, they didn't ask me about Keith Brown playing DJ's position. You guys missed that for two weeks out there on the practice field. But we wanted to move Keith over to the other side to get him a few more balls because of the coverage that they played. Brodie was able to take advantage of Keith getting some one-on-one," Shula said.

Despite 420 yards, Alabama's offense managed only 13 points in the game. Its most important role was in controlling the ball, however, keeping the Tide defense fresh and the Alabama defense off the field.

Texas Tech had 60 offensive plays in the game to Alabama's 75, and the Red Raiders only had 18 offensive snaps in the second half.

"I can't say enough about our offense and the way they controlled the football and helped our field position," Shula said. "We played field position. We wanted to establish the running game, come out with a physical attitude. We converted more third downs than we have in a long time and helped us stay on the field. Overall, real happy about how our offense played."

"Our offensive line did a great job with the game on the line and the crowd got a little noisy," Shula said. "They gave us good protection. It wasn't real pretty. We had a lot of yards but we didn't have a lot of points. We didn't take advantage of some opportunities in plus territory but we found a way. We've done that a few times this year. This guy has had three game winning kicks. What a way to finish a game and finish the year."

Shula also talked about Antoine Caldwell's first start at center, which was not a certainty until kickoff.

"There's a reason sometimes why we tell you things and there's a reason we don't," Shula said. "You go ahead and make an announcement on a change and all of a sudden it gets back to them then maybe they can do some things. We heard some things coming out of through the media from their personnel situation and we changed some things because of that. Whether or not that helps you win the game or not– Having Antoine at center, like Brodie said, he felt comfortable with him. He had taken some snaps earlier in the season. He was really earlier in the year would have been one of our centers if we had needed to go to him earlier. Antoine's a very good football player. The next time we take a snap on the offense he might not be playing center. He can play guard, he can play center, he can play tackle."

Shula lauded the play of Texas Tech quarterback Cody Hodges, who threw for 196 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a net of 66 yards. Hodges injured his leg in the fourth quarter but returned for Texas Tech's final offensive series and its only touchdown.

"What a great competitor," he said. "I saw him afterwards and we talked about him going into the game, what a true warrior; very productive. We've got a lot of respect for him and he's got a real good future. Our hat goes off to Texas Tech and their fans and their whole program."

Shula's highest praise came for his own seniors, however, who finished their careers 30-20 over the past four seasons, but brought the Tide through the turmoil of NCAA sanctions and coaching changes.

"We're going to miss these guys," he said. "They've been through a lot. When we first got here I was the third head coach they saw in one year as sophomores. They stuck with it through thick and thin. Stuck with it through our first year; had some injuries last year. They deserve this. They deserve the success. What a great year."


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