Watts of course went down last Saturday on Bama's seventh offensive play from scrimmage, suffering a sprained left foot. And the senior's availability against Arkansas is uncertain. "If I have to play this week, then I'll be ready," Croyle said. "Hopefully we can get a win."
Croyle may be only a redshirt freshman, but he literally grew up around Crimson Tide football. And Arkansas will mark Bama's first conference game of the season. "It's the SEC," Croyle said. "Anytime you play an SEC school it's going to be a tough game. We've got to be ready. The coaches will have a good game plan for Arkansas. Our passing game will be fine. Hopefully we'll find some holes somewhere."
Everyone acknowledges that Croyle has impressive talent as a passer, but versus Southern Miss he was only 4-of-15 for 15 yards and two turnovers. "I had my ups and I had my downs," Croyle admitted. "Southern Miss took away the passing game, so we didn't have the big numbers there. We did have a lot of yards rushing. You've got to credit our running backs and our line for that. Southern Miss did some things versus the pass, but that really opened up our running game. We took advantage of that."
The plan all along was to work Croyle into the early games as much as possible, gradually building up his experience and confidence. But Saturday that timetable got accelerated. Croyle explained, "I had gone in and played the past two weeks, so I was expecting to play last Saturday. But I certainly wasn't expecting it the seventh play of our first drive. It was a blast getting to play the whole game, but the turnovers were stupid."
Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione knows there is no substitute for experience. "I think in some respects (Saturday) might have been good for Brodie. Now he has been out there and played a great deal. You can't hand (players) experience, and he got a whole game's worth."
Taking over for Watts, Croyle took the Tide down the field for a go-ahead touchdown, making the fourth-straight time Alabama has scored this season on its opening possession. Later in the second quarter Croyle used his legs to put the Tide up by two touchdowns. "We were going to run the option to the left," Croyle said describing the play. "We had already run it a couple of times, so they knew what we were going to do. They over-pursued it. I saw a lane on the back side. I got a good block and was able to get it into the endzone."
Watts of course is supposed to be the running quarterback, while Croyle is touted for his major-league arm. But the Rainbow City native can run, too. "I still don't consider myself a running quarterback," he said. "I certainly didn't think my first two touchdowns for Alabama would come on the ground--any way we can get it in. But I definitely didn't prove I was a passing quarterback (Saturday). I'm still a freshman, so I've got some things to learn."
A win is a win, but two turnovers marred the victory for Croyle. "I made some stupid freshman mistakes, that there's no way I should have made," he said. "Those were two stupid turnovers."
The turnovers took place on consecutive possessions. The first time Croyle simply misread the Golden Eagle defense, throwing directly into zone coverage for an easy interception. Southern Miss got the ball close to midfield, but Bama's defense held. Helped mightily by a 19-yard Lane Bearden run on a punt play gone awry, Croyle had his team third and four from the Southern Miss 40 when disaster struck.
Croyle described the play. "When my arm went back I thought the ball had gone out of bounds, because I didn't see it on the ground. Then I saw (Michael Boley of Southern Miss) running back and knew I had cost the defense a shutout."
As Franchione noted after the game, the two teams could have played all night and Southern Miss still wouldn't have scored on the Bama defense. But thanks to Croyle's turnover, the game stood at 14-7. "Anytime you turn the ball over it isn't good," Croyle said. "You just learn where you made the mistakes and come out the next week of practice determined not to make them again."
On the sideline, Croyle got encouragement and advice from Tyler Watts. "Tyler told me to go out there and still make the plays," Croyle recalled. "Go out there and pull the trigger. Don't be scared of making a turnover again. It happens. He told me to not be timid, because that's when bad things start happening. When my chance comes, take advantage of it."
Croyle responded by leading the Tide on two clock-eating drives, each of which ended in a field goal, pushing Bama's lead to 20-7. Afterwards, Watts assessed the true freshman's performance. "We won, so Brodie obviously did something right. Brodie took them right down (the field) on several drives."
"Tyler has always been the leader of our team," Croyle explained. "He told me to settle down and that I had to be ready. He helped me with the different fronts, telling me what to look for and what to check to. He couldn't get up on the sideline to watch closely, but he told me what he could spot off the JumboTron. He was positive the whole time, and that really helped me out."
If Watts isn't able to go this Saturday, once again Croyle will guide Alabama's offense. "As a quarterback you want the game to be on your shoulders," he said. "You want to be out there trying to make the plays to win.
"(After the Southern Miss game), Coach Fran and I had a little talk. He was happy that we won the game, but he told me ‘You can't turn the ball over. But it's your first game, and that's how you judge quarterbacks…