‘BAMA Newsletter

Inside this Newsletter: - Tide Wins Cotton Bowl - Depth Chart vs. Texas Tech - Recruiting Update - Coach Shula Says - Season Statistics (PDF version only)



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Cotton Bowl Win Has Benefits

Winning is better than losing. That goes mostly for the big games, and Alabama experienced both emotions in the 2005 football season. There were big wins over teams that had beaten Bama the year before–Arkansas and South Carolina. There was a big win over a team that had beaten Alabama for years, on and off the field–Tennessee. There was a big win over The Offense That Couldn't Be Stopped, Part I–Florida. All-in-all there were nine victories to start the 2005 season as an unlikely Alabama rose to number three in the nation. Then there were losses, in overtime to LSU and overwhelming at the hands of Auburn.

In some respects, the Bowl Championship Series has made bowl season a national championship game and two dozen or so other bowl games. Still, some bowls are better remembered than others. It is better to win a Sugar, Orange or Cotton Bowl than, say, a bowl named after a chip or a restaurant or a credit card. The big traditional bowls have their corporate sponsors, too. The Cotton Bowl is actually the AT&T Cotton Bowl. But for 70 years it has been known as one of THE bowls, even after the BCS sold the Cotton's birthright to Tostito for the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix.

When Alabama faced The Offense That Couldn't Be Stopped, Part II–Texas Tech–in the Cotton Bowl, there was more on the line than might have met the eye.

Alabama is not just another bowl team. Alabama is THE bowl team. As was reported over and over during bowl season, the Crimson Tide has been to more bowl games (53) than any other team. And Bama has won more bowl games than any other (30, two more than runner-up Southern Cal). And because the bowl victory gave Alabama a 10-2 season, the Crimson Tide also extended its NCAA record for most 10-win seasons, now at 28.

There was also the obvious. A few bowl games other than the Texas-USC Rose Bowl for the national championship caught the attention of college football fans. There was the Orange Bowl, with the two winningest coaches of all time going head-to-head, Joe Paterno at 79 and Bobby Bowden at 76. There was the Fiesta Bowl, which had a rejuvenated Notre Dame against one of the traditional all-time powers in Ohio State. And there was Texas Tech with its gaudy offensive statistics against the Crimson Tide's outstanding defense. A few other bowls would gain attention, such as erstwhile powers Nebraska meeting Michigan.

But for the most part, bowl games other than those with compelling reasons to be remembered are soon forgotten.

The Cotton Bowl victory brought another benefit. With a handful of teams ranked higher than Bama losing their bowl games, Alabama's strong showing and 10-2 record propelled the Crimson Tide back into the nation's top ten at eighth.

And in upcoming weeks the over-achieving performance of a team that was not ranked in the pre-season polls finishing in the top ten could provide more benefits. The bowl season is followed immediately by the recruiting season. While most of the work has already been done, Bama's Cotton Bowl performance and the records and rankings that derived from that win send Crimson Tide coaches into the homes of top prospects with a legitimate product to sell.

Alabama is not completely clear of the devastation of unprecedented NCAA penalties, but the 2005 season is evidence that Bama is at least on the way back. And that road is paved with good recruiting.

–Kirk McNair

Crimson Tide Gets Kick Out Of Cotton Bowl Win

Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach saw it the way almost everyone else did, probably. "It didn't look very good when it left his foot," Leach said of Jamie Christensen's 45-yard field goal that won the Cotton Bowl for Alabama Monday. "I don't know what you guys thought," Leach told reporters, "but I had high hopes for it not being good at that point."

Jamie Christensen made Alabama a 13-10 winner of the 70th annual Cotton Bowl game against Texas Tech Monday when his kick sailed just inside the left upright and just over the crossbar as time expired. "When I hit the ball, I knew it was accurate, but I wasn't exactly sure if it was going to go in or not," Christensen said. "I just had to wait for the referees back there."

Alabama Coach Mike Shula could joke afterwards that "There was never a doubt." But Shula was serious when he pointed out, "This guy has kicked three game-winning field goals."

Christensen's kick was hardly a thing of beauty. He caught it heavy and it spun helicopter-like rather than turning over. "The grass is a little thicker than I'm used to, almost like AstroTurf" Christensen said. "I caught some grass and it wasn't as clean as I would have liked. I knew it was accurate. I had a good follow through, kept my head down. I just didn't know it if had enough distance. The wind may have helped it."

Christensen hadn't been worried about the distance. "I kicked a 56-yarder in warm-ups," he said.

Christensen has been in the same position before, breaking a tie at the gun to beat Ole Miss and kicking a three-pointer with 13 seconds to play in a 6-3 win over Tennessee.

And what did his teammates say to him? "They said it was the ugliest kick of the year," Christensen said.

The 45-yard field goal that concluded three hours and 34 minutes of play in the 70th annual Cotton Bowl was Christensen's career longest.

Quarterback Brodie Croyle was selected as the game's most valuable offensive player, while Tide linebacker DeMeco Ryans took the defensive trophy.

Alabama started the game with fireworks, scoring on a 76-yard Croyle-to-Keith Brown touchdown pass and finished with a near-miracle comeback after it appeared the Red Raiders were the men with momentum for the end-game.

Alabama never trailed in the game and it was not tied until Texas Tech got a 12-yard pass from Cody Hodges to Jarrrett Hicks with 2:56 to play. Texas Tech's Alex Trlica kicked the extra point to tie the game at 10-10.

Things did not start well for Bama on its last possession. A holding call put Bama starting at its own 14-yard line. Two plays gained four yards and then Croyle hit his friend of nearly 20 years, little-used wide receiver Matt Miller, for a 17-yard gain to the 35.

Croyle then hit little-used Brandon Brooks (who had been able to avoid goat horns when he twice fumbled punts, but was able to recover them) for an 11-yard gain and Keith Brown for a 23-yard pick-up to the Texas Tech 31 with 49 seconds to play. Bama tried one pass, then let Darby run it a couple of times to the Texas Tech 28 and called time with five seconds to play.

The game would be decided on the final kick or in overtime. Christensen decided it for Bama.

It was no secret that a key to the game for Alabama would be for the Crimson Tide offense to stay on the field. Time of possession in Alabama's favor would mean Texas Tech's high-powered offense would be on the sidelines. Mission accomplished. Alabama had the ball for 38:58, Texas Tech for 21:02. Bama started the second half with a drive that last 8:08, over half of the third quarter, and ended with Christensen hitting on a 31-yard field goal that gave Alabama a 10-3 lead.

Crimson Tide coaches debated on whether to open the game with a pass to Brown or a run. After opening the first 10 games of the season with a completed pass, the string was stopped when Croyle was sacked on the first play of the Auburn game. The coaches finally decided they wanted a revamped offensive line to open firing out on a run play, and it gained eight yards.

The Tide offensive staff then went to a play it expected to work, but probably couldn't have dreamed would work so well. Croyle looked right, then turned and fired back to Brown on the left on a slip screen. He got a couple of blocks and then was off and no one had a chance to catch him. It was 7-0 with 11:37 to play in the first quarter and Bama having accumulated only 46 seconds time of possession. Replays show Brown's knee might have been down as he caught the ball, which would have negated the gain, but there was no call.

A suspension of wide receiver D.J. Hall for an unspecified violation of team rules resulted in Brown playing in his spot (and, thus, drawing single coverage on the opening pass play). It was also the reason that Matt Miller played more as a receiver. Miller is best known for his work on special teams, including being the holder on Christensen's kicks.

Alabama won most of the ballyhooed battles of the nation's number two defense against the nation's number two offense. Bama probably would have been pleased with a 7-3 halftime score no matter which team was leading. The Tide led by that margin when Texas Tech got a second chance at a first quarter field goal. Trlica missed from 39 yards, but Alabama was offsides and he was good on his 34-yard try.

In an unusual end to the first half, Christensen, who missed on a 39-yard field goal try early in the second quarter, had his 38-yard try with about a minute to play before intermission blocked by the Red Raiders' Dwayne Slay. (Miller made a touchdown-saving tackle.) On Texas Tech's recovery and return, Alabama was called for a personal foul penalty, and the Red Raiders were at Bama's 31. On the final play of the half Trlica's 37-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Bama's Mark Anderson.

Alabama had several nice drives that did not result in touchdowns, including the opening drive of the second half. But Christensen's 31-yard field goal did give the Tide a little breathing room, which would be needed. Alabama got close to a chance for a fourth quarter field goal that might have sealed the victory, but with five minutes to play Bama found itself backed up to its nine-yard line. The Tide was unable to get out of the hole, and after a nice punt return the Red Raiders were set up at Alabama's 38.

Texas Tech's fine quarterback, Cody Hodges, had missed a series with a knee injury (he was on crutches following the game), but he returned to get the Red Raiders into the end zone in only two plays. A reverse gained 26 yards and then Hodges hit Jarrett Hicks for 12 yards with 2:56 to play. The touchdown "drive" had taken just 16 seconds.

That left Croyle and company 2:56 and Bama used all of it to get the win.

Alabama planned to have Texas Tech have to make long marches, and for the most part Bama was successful in giving the Red Raiders the ball deep in their own territory. It may have been a bit of a surprise that Texas Tech quarterback Cody Hodges was able to run for 66 yards, but that was primarily because the Tide's coverage (mostly man-to-man) forced Hodges to keep the ball. In last year's Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech through 60 passes. This year the Red Raiders threw 36 passes and had 24 runs.

The game, in front of a crowd of 74,222 that included a surprisingly large Alabama contingent, went much as Bama would have liked. The Tide had 44 runs for 145 yards (Kenneth Darby getting most of that with 29 runs for 81 yards) and Croyle hitting 19 of 31 passes for 275 yards with no sacks or interceptions. In fact, there were no turnovers in the game.

COTTON BOWL NOTES–It's hard for Alabama to set records in bowl games, other than the obvious…most bowls participated in, now 53, and most bowls won, now 30. But Bama wasted no time in setting a new standard.

On the second play from scrimmage, Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle connected with sophomore wide receiver Keith Brown on a screen pass. Brown split a couple of defenders and raced 76 yards for a touchdown. It was the longest scoring pass play and the longest offensive touchdown in Alabama's storied bowl history.

Brown's TD reception was also the third-longest scoring play in Alabama bowl history. It was also Brown's longest reception of the year. Matt Caddell also had his longest reception of the season, a 50-yarder.

Alabama is now 30-20-3 in all bowl games and 19-14-1 in the traditional "New Year's Day" bowl games. This year there were no bowl games on New Year's Day because January 1 fell on a Sunday.

This was the first meeting between Texas Tech and Alabama. The win improved Alabama's Cotton Bowl record to 3-4.

In addition to being the NCAA leader in bowl games and bowl game victories, the win was Bama's 10th of the year, giving Alabama 28 ten-win seasons, also best in college football.

Matt Miller had two receptions in the Cotton Bowl and Brandon Brooks had one. Those numbers equaled their season totals going into the game.

The 2006 Cotton Bowl was the final game for 23 Tide seniors. The class posted a 30-20 record over the past four years. Mark Anderson, Anthony Madison, Charlie Peprah, Freddie Roach, and DeMeco Ryans played in all 50 games.

The winning team produced the Most Valuable Player awards on both offense and defense. Brodie Croyle won the offensive award as he completed 19 of 31 passes for 275 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions and no sacks.

Senior Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans was the defensive winner as he turned in seven tackles, including two for losses of 12 yards. He was in on two sacks.

No one would have complained if two Texas Tech players had been the honorees. Red Raiders quarterback Cody Hodges completed 15 of 32 passes for 196 yards and one touchdown and suffered no interceptions and was also his team's leading rusher with 17 carries for 66 yards. The Red Raiders' Dwayne Slay was in on 13 tackles and broke up a pass.

–Kirk McNair

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Texas Tech

Alabama took all eligible players, between 110 and 120, to Dallas for this year's Cotton Bowl game. The Crimson Tide played 52 men in the 13-10 win over Texas Tech. Alabama used 19 on offense, 22 on defense, and 11 just on special teams. A handful of Alabama players on hand for the game did not play. In addition to back-ups who just didn't get into a close game, injured players who made the trip included center J.B. Closner, wide receiver Tyrone Prothro, defensive tackle Justin Britt, linebacker Matt Collins, safety Cory Reamer, and Lionel Mitchell. Cornerback Simeon Castille missed for academic reasons. Two others were held out for what Coach Mike Shula said were "violations of team policy." They are wide receiver D.J. Hall and safety Chris Keys. Castille's place was taken by Jeffrey Dukes, who started the game as a nickel back. Alabama played almost the entire game in a three-man defensive front (starting with ends Wallace Gilberry and Mark Anderson and tackle Jeremy Clark). Alabama had a couple of changes in the offensive line. Freshman Antoine Caldwell moved from starting left guard to center with senior Mark Sanders opening at left guard, his first start since starting the opening game of the season at right guard. Travis McCall started at tight end in front of Nick Walker. Matt Caddell got his first start since the season-opener at split end, while regular split end Keith Brown took Hall's starting flanker spot. Halfback Jimmy Johns had one play at quarterback, an end-around. Here are those who played with starters listed first and the number of plays in parenthesis. If there are two numbers, the second is the number of kicking game plays.

OFFENSE
Split End–Matt Caddell (37), Matt Miller (31-12), Zeke Knight (19-3)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (71)
Left Guard–Mark Sanders (49), Taylor Britt (22)
Center–Antoine Caldwell (71-2)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (71)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (71-5)
Tight End–Travis McCall (33-8), Nick Walker (37-5)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (70)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (43-10), Tim Castille (30)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (48), Jimmy Johns (6-6)
Flanker–Keith Brown (57), Brandon Brooks (14-7), Will Oakley (1)

DEFENSE
Right End–Mark Anderson (46), Keith Saunders (15-1)
Tackle–Jeremy Clark (29), J.P. Adams (6)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (23-1), Dominic Lee (11)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (44), Bobby Greenwood (13), Chris Harris (9-1)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (55-7)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (48-5), Terrence Jones (19-17)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (51-6), Demarcus Waldrop (8-11)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (62-3), Eric Gray (2-12)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (63-2)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (62-5)
Nickel- Jeffrey Dukes (61-11), Rashad Johnson (3-13)
Safety–Roman Harper (62-7), Marcus Carter (1-11)

SPECIAL TEAMS
Punter–Jeremy Schatz (5)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (8, 1 PAT, 4 FG, 3 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (43, 1 PAT, 4 FG, 7 other special teams, 31 split end)
Snapper–Drew Lane (10, 1 PAT, 4 FG, 5 P)
Coverage and Returns–Marcel Stamps (8), Aaron McDaniel (3), Juke King (5), Glen Coffee (3), Kyle Bennett (8), Theo Townsend (8), Justin Moon (3), Marlon Davis (5)

Recruiting Update: Alabama Gets Commitment, Looks For More Stars

Mountain Brook three-star safety Jake Jones started to narrow down his list, but instead made his college decision on Wednesday. "I committed to Alabama about 30 minutes ago," Jones said Wednesday afternoon. "I talked to Coach Shula on the phone, and Charlie Harbison, and they are very excited about my decision."

Jones said he felt that he was down to two schools, but he wanted to go where he felt like he knew the people the best.

"I've been ready to make my decision for a week and a half," he said. "It was between Alabama and LSU, but I felt more comfortable with Alabama. I grew up an Alabama fan my whole life and three of my best friends are already committed to Alabama." Jones played defensive back at Mountain Brook, but could also play wide receiver in college.

The Alabama coaching staff offered a scholarship to Lone Star state quarterback Greg McElroy after the Cotton Bowl win against Texas Tech. The Red Raider verbal commitment, who attended the Cotton Bowl game between Alabama and Texas Tech, was eagerly awaiting an offer from the Tide.

McElroy attended practices of the Cotton Bowl teams with high interest in the two teams.

After throwing for over 4,600 yards and winning the Texas Class 5A state championship, McElroy began receiving heavy interest from the Tide. He learned Monday night how serious Alabama really is in his signature.

"Coach Mike Shula offered me a scholarship," said McElroy. "I was very excited they finally offered me. Alabama is a great school with a rich tradition. They have had a great line of quarterbacks. It was fun watching Brodie this year. He was a great player and a great leader."

"The Alabama coaches feel like I could come in and fill that role. I am very flattered they have thought about me as being their future quarterback," McElory added.

An official visit date has not been set, but the Scout.com three-star quarterback said he will visit Tuscaloosa.

"It's something I will have to talk about with my parents this week," McElroy said. "We have not figured out a date or anything. I want to visit the campus and see what all Alabama has to offer. I want to spend a lot more time with the coaching staff. I want to get to know them a lot more."

"I still feel pretty good about Texas Tech," he said. "It's a good situation for me. I am going to check out Alabama now that they have offered. I am going to make sure I make the right decision."

The U.S. Army High School All-American game will feature the nation's top 78 prep football players, and is scheduled to kick-off at noon CST from San Antonio with NBC providing the national broadcast.

Scout.com's top-rated offensive lineman Andre Smith received rave reviews as practice kicked-off this week. Smith also received the Most Valuable Player award at last year's national combine for juniors. The Huffman star plans to announce his decision with Scout.com-Countdown to Signing Day on national signing day, and Alabama is a strong hopeful for Smith's signature.

Scout.com top-rated quarterback, Mitch Mustain, is in San Antonio and will lead the West team in Saturday's All-Star match-up. After de-committing from Arkansas the Springdale, Arkansas, gunslinger has four schools he is now considering for his signature: Alabama, Arkansas, Notre Dame and Tennessee.

Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt recently named Mustain's high school head coach, Gus Malzahn, as the new offensive coordinator for the Razorbacks (although it had nothing to do with Mustain, Nutt assured). Mustain said he will set official visits following the game. He is expected to take two weekend visits and two mid-week visits this month before announcing his final decision.

After the January college football bowl games concluded, coverage of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl began with unique, exclusive coverage only found at BamaMag.com and the Scout.com network, including: Insider videos, audio transcripts of interviews, exclusive one-on-one interviews with Alabama prospects, practice updates from the sidelines, special "cam" views where prospects carry around video cameras for their own perspective during the week, breaking Hot News, exclusive Insider tidbits on our message boards, special coverage of the US Army junior National Combine, restricted to Scout.com's recruiting team, and additional coverage from 14 other Scout.com analysts.

Two of the 78 players scheduled to participate in the event are from Alabama–Scout.com's number one offensive lineman, Andre Smith from Huffman, and Trinity Presbyterian defensive tackle Bart Eddins. The state of Alabama was not represented in last year's game, but Crimson Tide defensive back Simeon Castille played in the 2004 game, during which he announced his commitment to Alabama.

It has become a tradition for several players to verbally commit throughout the game, and a full cast is ready to pull a hat from a duffel bag for their chosen schools. Smith, however, plans to wait until National Signing Day on February 1. Eddins announced his verbal pledge to Auburn during the summer.

Scout.com four-star linebacker Brandon Spikes will announce his college decision at the game. His list of college choices includes Alabama, Florida and Virginia Tech. Spikes has informed the coaching staffs of his decision and is waiting for the game for the formal announcement.

While Florida continues to send text messages to the Shelby (North Carolina) Crest star, Spikes is a big fan of Alabama's Coach Joe Kines. Spikes' announcement is anxiously awaited by the fans of all three schools still in the running.

Fans can visit www.usarmy.scout.com for the complete rosters of the East and West teams.

In other news, Meridian, Mississippi running back Cordera Eason has set three official visits. Alabama, Auburn and Ole Miss will receive visits this month, with the official visit to the Tide set for January 20.

"Alabama is a good overall team," Eason said." If they can get the offense going, the defense will take care of the rest. Alabama's defense will always hold up their end. I like the coaching staff a lot. I feel like I could fit in very well with their system."

Eason's teammate, Roshaad Byrd, has Alabama at the top of his list. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker will visit The Capstone on January 20. Alabama is the only school the teammates have in common, with Byrd also considering Texas A&M and Southern Miss.

"I really love the way the coaches coach the defense," said Byrd, who took several unofficial visits to Tuscaloosa during the season. "It's a great defense, and it has worked really good over the past few years. I love the atmosphere in Tuscaloosa."

Scout.com four-star linebacker Derrick Odom announced his verbal commitment last week to LSU following his official visit to Baton Rouge, but Odom's comments indicate Alabama might still remain in the hunt for his signature.

"I don't think I will take any more visits, but this is a huge decision," Odom said. "I am keeping myself open to other possibilities. I am solid, to a certain degree, but I owe it to myself to keep listening to other schools, too."

Scout.com four-star receiver Tim Hawthorne of Homewood has taken several unofficial visits to Tuscaloosa but eliminated the Tide for an official visit. The 6-2, 205-pound Parade All-America and his parents will take an unofficial visit on January 6.
–Andrew Bone

Coach Mike Shula Says
It is understandable that Alabama Coach Mike Shula saw a lot of good things from the Crimson Tide's 13-10 win over Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.

He said, "I hope this gives us some momentum in recruiting. You get confidence with wins. You get confidence with experience. Well, we played a bowl game in January and we won it. That's got to make the guys coming back feel confident about what lies ahead."

There was probably only one negative moment for Alabama Monday, and that came when Shula and some of his players were fielding questions from the media. Suddenly Shula was gone, the victim of a chair that went out from under him. Fortunately, the Crimson Tide coach popped right up. "Don't let that get on ESPN," he said, but Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle, surpressing a grin, had already called it. "You just made Gameday," he told his coach.

Shula continued, "The only glitch we've had so far with the Cotton Bowl." Shula fell, but the Cotton Bowl victory had Bama on the rise in the final polls, up to eighth.

"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 LéRon 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 (Darby) 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."

Shula said, "They way our defense played today is the way we've played all year. 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 D.J. 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 "didn't play for violating team policies which obviously we like to keep in house," as was the case with freshman safety Chris Keys.

"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 D.J., they didn't ask me about Keith Brown playing D.J.'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. [NOTE: Sportswriters might have missed that subtle move anyway, but since practice is closed to the media it would have taken some sort of mind reader to ask about Brown.]

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 would have been one of our centers if we had needed to go to him earlier in the season. Antoine's a very good football player. The next time we take a snap on 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."

–Mitch Dobbs


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