Run, Bama, Run

You've probably been wincing about half a dozen times a game during these last three Alabama football games. You know, when John Parker Wilson has an unimpeded defender bearing down on him for a high-impact greeting, slash, potential mangling. On both Tide touchdown passes against Duke last week, Wilson could only tell by the crowd noise they were actually completed because he was on his keister.

In fact, Alabama sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson wasn't sure his cross-the-field, 4-yard touchdown pass (that traveled probably 35 yards) to DJ Hall was even a score.

"I really didn't hear the crowd get too excited,'' he said. "I thought the field goal unit was running on. I was running off and Chris Capps told me we scored a touchdown, so I got pretty pumped up.''

Not all of Wilson's punishment has been due to offensive line breakdowns. Part of his game is gliding in and around the pocket, buying time, waiting for receivers to break clear. Several of his big hits have taken place on plays like that, or when he does wait that extra second in the pocket for a route to come open.

So the harm to Wilson can't exactly be linked to letting pass rushers come free. But he's taking the damage nevertheless. Sometimes last week, Duke simply overwhelmed the blocking scheme with sheer numbers, Wilson would get off the hot route or throw the ball away and still take a blasting.

All this discourse, of course, is to point out that the margin of error for the Alabama offense just got tighter this week with the abrupt departure of backup quarterback Marc Guillon.

I think it's been admirable that a lot of the offensive scheme has been placed on Wilson's broad shoulders this season as the Crimson Tide running game searches for its legs. But now that Alabama is a dinged-up quarterback away from running a redshirt freshman with no game experience out there, the protection schemes have to be that much better. The pressure is on the running game to keep Ole Miss from making those repeated kamikaze blitz runs at Wilson.

Though Alabama's season has taken a downturn the last three weeks with those discouraging losses at Arkansas and Florida, Wilson's health and the production of the passing game have been of huge importance in staying competitive.

Coach Mike Shula stresses the need to stay balanced, yet there has been a subtle transition underfoot the last couple of years. With heady passing quarterbacks running the show, the Crimson Tide has been a formidable throwing team ever since the QB Disaster of 2004 when injuries to Croyle and Guillon essentially turned Alabama into a one-dimensional offense.

It's uplifting to see D.J. Hall and Keith Brown flourish as playmakers and touchdown scorers and move into position to smash a lot of the Tide's receiving records. These developments should help Alabama recruit talented receivers who see they'll have chances to shine in this offense.

The frustrating part is knowing Alabama had its most loaded backfield in years–with the senior Kenneth Darby and prime-time fullbacks Le'Ron McClain and Tim Castille backed up by young stars like Jimmy Johns and Roy Upchurch–but not being able to fully unleash that talent.

Around Alabama, the most successful offenses have been the most balanced ones. For the final six games, a committed effort to be strong on the run will serve two purposes: engage that star-studded backfield and keep Wilson more out of harm's way so he can continue to work that magic with Brown and Hall.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He contributes to 'BAMA Magazine and to BamaMag.com


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