Every coach has his favorite lines, and one of Franchione's is that "more games are lost than won." What he means is that mistakes are more like to kill you than superlative play by the opposition ever will.
So should Tyler and Brodie be concerned? You bet.
"Any time we get turnovers at a position it's a concern," Franchione said, following Saturday's game.
One of the principal reasons Tyler Watts won the job last year over a talented Andrew Zow was ball security. Numerous times last season Franchione described his starter as a quarterback that would get his offense in the right play--and wouldn't "get you beat."
Watts' 2001 stats bore that out. Most collegiate quarterbacks are happy if their touchdown-to-interception ration exceeds 50 percent. But in his injury-truncated year Watts threw 10 TD passes against a measly three interceptions.
But against a solid North Texas defense, Watts fumbled once and also threw an ill-conceived interception. "I made two mistakes that cost us," Watts acknowledged afterwards.
On the fumble, Watts was running the option deep in his own territory when a Mean Green defender punched the ball out as Watts made his cut upfield. The fumble gave North Texas the ball at the Tide's five-yard line, and three plays later they cashed in for six points.
Last week in Norman, Oklahoma, Watts was also victimized when the ball slipped out of his hands during Alabama's final best chance to defeat the Sooners. That time the defender scooped up the fumble to score and put the game away.
"We've talked about (Watts' turnovers) in the last couple of games," Franchione said. "He has had a couple of turnovers, and each one hurt us. Fortunately we overcame them (against North Texas)."
His two fumbles each led to touchdowns by the opposition, but Saturday night Watts threw an interception as well. With Alabama leading 3-0 midway through the first quarter, Watts had driven his team methodically down the field and appeared poised to score again. But on a second-and-nine play at the Mean Green's 18-yard line, Watts threw an uncharacteristic interception.
The turnover killed the Alabama drive, preventing the Tide from taking early control of the game. Franchione talked about the play. "The thing about Tyler's turnovers is that his pass interception (Saturday) was not a Tyler Watts play. He pushed the ball in there. The safety baited him and made a good play on it."
For a quarterback known for protecting the football, the play frankly surprised Franchione. "That's not been Tyler's strength to make that play happen, when he had a shorter receiver open and he could have run with the ball."
After the game the Pelham senior was harsh in assessing his performance. "Except for myself the rest of the team played well," Watts said in the locker room.
Watts finished the game 12-of-15 passing for 161 yards. For the year he's 44-of-70 (63 percent) for 582 yards and two touchdowns. But it's the two interceptions that has him kicking himself.
Franchione talked about quarterbacks and turnovers. "Any time the quarterback is out there for as many snaps as he is and does all the things that he's going to do, you are placing him in a situation where he is the most likely person to get turnovers.
"But to Tyler's credit, down through the time that he has played for us he has been the guy that we trusted to take risks with the most, because he was the one least likely to put us in a tough situation."
For two weeks in a row now, Franchione has made sure that back-up quarterback Brodie Croyle got into the game. Since Watts is a senior, that move only makes sense--not to mention that Croyle is genuinely talented.
But for now at least Watts has no need to be looking over his shoulder. "Tyler has developed a tremendous amount of trust down through the last year and a half," Franchione said. "We just want him to do the things that he's always done."
The Tide football program has had more than its share of turmoil the past decade, and quarterback controversies--with some fans criticizing the starter and at the same time demanding to see the back-up--were unfortunately common.
But these days there's a new sheriff in town.
Franchione explained the situation. "Tyler knows and understands. He just has to be sharper and shrewder about what he does.
"Tyler has had a couple of uncharacteristic Tyler plays, but he's still Tyler Watts."