Tide works special-teams magic

Saturday's loss to Oklahoma will be long remembered for its special teams. Time after time Alabama pulled off remarkable plays in the kicking game, only to be frustrated by its own mistakes later. <br><br>Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione commented, "We felt like (the opportunities) were there and we felt like we could execute. And we did."

Facing the No. 2 ranked team on the road on national television, Alabama's coaches emptied the playbook. "We certainly weren't taking a ‘nothing to lose' attitude," Franchione said Sunday. "But it's safe to say that when you play a highly ranked team, if you can steal a possession or two in the kicking game, then it enhances your chance to pull an upset on the road.

Special Teams Coordinator Mark Tommerdahl refused to take credit for Saturday's performance, insisting that the players deserved the praise.

"But it wasn't a ‘nothing to lose' attitude."

The Tide trickery began on the opening kickoff, when Lane Bearden followed his own kick the requisite ten yards to fall on the ball and give Bama the ball at midfield. Franchione explained, "I made the decision to do the Gomer Pyle (on-side kick) because the alignment they gave us was as good as it gets to do it. We had executed it well in practice. We had a good plan for it. We thought we had a good chance to get it."

Bearden explained that from watching film, it was evident that the Oklahoma players were sprinting backwards to set up a return. "Mark Anderson hit the one man that was close," Bearden said. "I just fell on the ball. Actually, I hit it a little hard."

Alabama took advantage of the possession to take an early 3-point lead, but the Tide was hardly done yet. Before the game was finished virtually every play in Bama's bag of tricks would be used. "We go in every week with a block plan and a fake plan," Franchione explained. "We don't necessarily go into every game with our ‘Gomer Pyle' (on side kick). This was just a game that we felt like they were there. The timing was right. The situation was right."

The Good

1. Bearden recovers on-side kick on opening kickoff.
2. Ziifle 45-yard field goal gives Bama the early lead.
3. Taylor blocks OU punt in the first quarter.
4. Bacon blocks OU field goal attempt and Jones records a 30-yard return.
5. James recovers an OU fumble on a "sky" kick after a UA touchdown in the third quarter.
6. Williams blocks a third quarter OU punt, and Taylor scores TD on an eight-yard return.
7. Bearden gives Alabama a 24-23 lead on a three-yard TD run off a fake field goal in the fourth quarter.
8. Ziifle 45-yard field goal puts Tide up by four late in the game.

One later kickoff that appeared to be a fake play really wasn't. After scoring on its opening drive of the second half, Alabama attempted to sky the ensuing kickoff to around the 20-yardline or so, hoping to limit the Sooner return. But a strong wind held the ball up, forcing the up man to make the catch, which he fumbled away to Alabama. "The wind just caught it," Bearden explained. "Their guy bobbled the ball and Chris James got it."

A missed field goal by the Tide botched that chance, but Bama's kicking-game magic wasn't finished. Two possessions later Leslie Williams broke free to block an OU punt, which Lance Taylor promptly scooped up to take in for the touchdown. Earlier, Taylor had blocked his own punt. "The play was designed to get me open," Taylor related. "I thought about falling on the ball for a second, but when you're that close you've got to try and score."

Alabama's two blocked punts against Oklahoma was the first time that had happened since November 5, 1994 at LSU. Taylor's eight-yard punt return was the first blocked punt return for a TD by Alabama since Roman Colburn had a 33-yard return (Sam Shade blocked the punt) against LSU on Nov. 5, 1994.

"The things we used worked well," Franchione said. "It wasn't a situation where all of a sudden we saw a weakness in their kicking game. It's what we do week in and week out. We actually called the fake punt as well, but Oklahoma gave us an alignment that wasn't conducive to it, so we checked out of it."

Might Tide fans see more fakes in the future?

That depends on the situation. Franchione explained, "There have been a lot of times that we've called fakes and had to check out of them, because (the other team) changed alignments on us. But most of the time (Saturday) Oklahoma didn't do that. We executed them well, and they looked good."

The Bad

1. OU blocks a 52-yard field goal try by Alabama.
2. McBride fumbles a punt but Collins recovers.
3. Bearden fumbles punt snap, then kicks ball through endzone for a safety.
4. On ensuing kickoff from 20-yardline, Bearden kicks ball out of bounds. OU begins drive at midfield.
5. OU fumbles a punt in the second quarter, but Bama fails to recover.
6. McBride fumbles another punt, but it goes out of bounds.
7. Tide misses a short field goal try.

Like Virginia Tech (a team noted for its outstanding special teams play), Franchione believes in using his starters in the kicking game. "I don't want to criticize what happened before," he noted, "but I think that when we arrived there may have been a belief that special teams was where the second team plays. As a coaching staff we had to convey our attitude about special teams to our players. That's taken some time. You see a lot of our starters on special teams."

"I would hope our success last Saturday is a sign of what's to come," Franchione continued. "So often on special teams you don't create big plays--you take advantage of your opponent to get a big play. That's a little bit of what happened (against Oklahoma). We took advantage of their weakness or their flaws, and we made big plays from them."

Franchione warned against expecting spectacular plays in every game, pointing out instead that consistency is every bit as important. "The main thing (in the kicking game) is you always make solid plays--and occasionally some very good plays. Hopefully we're getting closer to that demeanor. The positive is that we have made dramatic improvement.

"Hopefully that will continue."


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