When asked whether the Tide had proved anything Saturday, starting tailback Ahmaad Galloway's reply was succinct. "I think we proved that we needed to make three or four more plays earlier in the ball game."
"Honestly, I mean that," Galloway continued. "Regardless of who we play--I don't care how good or how low they might be on the totem pole. We found that out with South Carolina last year. We can't sit back on our heels.
"We've got to find a way to make a couple of more plays."
Unranked and prohibited from playing in a bowl due to NCAA sanctions, this Alabama team had been written off my many of the so-called experts. The Tide's gritty performance last Saturday left many of the ‘talking heads' scrambling to explain how they misread the situation. But for Bama's players the end result was all that mattered. Galloway explained, "It hurt to lose. We've just got to find a way to make three, four or five more plays."
The Tide carried a four-point lead deep into the fourth quarter. And even after Oklahoma scored to take the lead, Bama's offense was on its way to tying the game or winning outright--only to have its hopes dashed by a Tyler Watts fumble.
But don't even think of naming a scapegoat--at least not around Ahmaad Galloway. "A lot of people want to say, ‘What if this happened? What if that happened?'" he commented. "Well, what if I had broken a run early in the game on one of those plays that I got tackled? It's impossible to blame (the loss) on one or two plays. You've got to make plays all throughout the game."
At the half Alabama trailed by 20 points, but Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione made certain his players still believed. Galloway talked about their attitude heading into the second half. "You've got a whole 30 more minutes. You've got to go out there and play. Coach Fran told us to erase the score off our minds. I don't even know if we knew the score going out there. We just wanted to make plays, and fortunately we were able to make some.
"Just not enough."
Several players ran the football for Alabama, but Galloway led the way with 66 yards on 18 carries, including a touchdown. After the game, Sooner fans went out of their way to compliment him on his hard running. "It kind of hit me--the realization that it was the last of many lasts," Galloway said. "That was my last game against Oklahoma. I don't think it really set in until after the game when Coach Fran said, ‘Next year we've got to…' When I heard that it kind of hurt.
"When I line up this season, I think of guys like Tyler (Watts), Sam Collins, Kindal Moorehead--guys that I've been here with for five years. And I sell out on every play for them."
Galloway led the Tide in rushing both of the past two years, and two games into 2002 he's again Bama's bell cow. "This year is a fresh start," he said. "I have a chance to start over and get some things straight within my mind. I'm starting to show now."
Oklahoma's defense is touted among the nation's best, especially against the run. But the Tide was able to move the ball consistently during the third and fourth quarters, punting not once in the second half.
Galloway acknowledges the Sooners' talent on D, but he also credits the Alabama offensive line. "(The Oklahoma defense) was very good, disciplined. They put themselves in position to make plays. But you've got to credit our offensive line. They accept the challenge every single week. If one of them falls, the other four pick him up.
"Regardless of who we play, I can always count on our offensive line to show up. I don't think it's a credit to me or any one back in our backfield. It starts up front with those guys. They show up every week."
Oklahoma's speed on defense is indeed outstanding, and heading into the game few believed the Tide could move the ball with any consistency. "People ranked us No. 3 a couple of years back, and we ended up going 3-8," Galloway pointed out, referring to expert expectations. "Regardless of what people say, the games are played between the lines. That's the reason we're here, to play the game. If you listened to what everybody thinks, we would have been beaten a long time ago. Regardless of the odds, you've got to go out there and prepare every week.
"If we don't prepare this week, we'll lose."
Galloway is definitely not into moral victories. But he does see several positives that his teammates can take from Saturday's effort.
"There are a lot of things that we can build on," he explained. "We saw ourselves come back from a deficit--a pretty big one against a pretty good team. Right there you saw a lot of guys pulling together.
"I don't know necessarily if we had better athletes, but we had a lot of guys with heart."