Croyle's performance frankly surprised many of the so-called "experts," but his coaches weren't among them. "We certainly felt that Brodie could do all these things," Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione said.
Coming off the bench the previous week for an injured Tyler Watts, Croyle had completed only 4-of-15 passes for a paltry 15 yards. But Saturday he threw for 285 yards, including two key touchdown passes. "Coming in we knew Arkansas would be a big game," Croyle said. "I'm just happy we got the win."
Croyle's talent has never been in doubt. But the Tide coaches have been careful in bringing him along at a pace where he could be successful. "When you start a redshirt freshman quarterback, it's continually a building process," Franchione explained. "But we've been able to put him in a lot of situations since he's been here to aid his growth. The experience that he received in playing in the Oklahoma game, the Southern Miss game and the North Texas game was very valuable. Those were situations that helped him be even better prepared for his first start."
No matter how talented, every athlete needs time to mature and adjust to the speed of big-time college football. And Tyler Watts' injury during Bama's initial drive versus Southern Miss frankly caught Croyle by surprise. Franchione explained, "The only thing that was different for Brodie (versus Arkansas) was that he knew he was going to be the starter. He probably devoted more personal attention to the game plan than ever before, which was good. You should do that every week, because as he found out in the Southern Miss game, on the seventh play he was the guy. But backups sometimes have a hard time doing that."
Franchione and his staff take pride in tweaking their schemes to fit their athletes--and not the other way around.
Last week the Tide coaches worked late, searching for ways to showcase Croyle's talents. Franchione talked about the process. "We've always tried to be flexible enough so we can adjust to the strengths of our players and the people that are going to make plays and get them the ball as much as we can. We didn't really scale back the offense. We put our focus on putting Brodie in as many positive situations as we could."
As a redshirt freshman participating in only his fourth college game, Croyle had a lot to learn. But Bama's coaches knew he had a big-play arm. Against Southern Miss Croyle had thrown two interceptions and no TDs, but Saturday he reversed those numbers with two crucial touchdown passes and no INTs.
Croyle's initial touchdown pass of his college career came in the first quarter. At the time his 28-yard strike to Sam Collins put Bama up 14-0. But his fourth-quarter rainbow to a streaking Zach Fletcher nailed the coffin lid shut. "That was a great throw-and-catch," Franchione said.
Officially it went into the record books as a 50-yard pass, but the football traveled more than 65 yards in the air. "Zach made a good catch," Croyle said. "The safety really read the play. I was just trying to throw it over the safety. If you want to know the truth, I was really just trying to throw it away.
"Zach's a big-play guy. He went and got it for me."
Croyle finished up with a big day passing, but much of that resulted from a carefully crafted game plan that emphasized the Tide rushers. "Arkansas' defense was a challenge for a first-time quarterback," Franchione related. "They're pretty multiple. They do a lot of different stunts and blitzes. We had to make sure that with the game plan that regardless of how much they wanted to throw at Brodie, we could still be sound and efficient and handle things well."
The idea was to force the Razorbacks to defend the run, thereby freeing up one-on-one opportunities for Croyle in the passing game. But no one anticipated things working that well...
Or that fast.
On the Tide's first offensive play from scrimmage, Croyle handed off to Shaud Williams on a sprint draw--and the Tide was off to the races. Croyle described what happened. "I just handed off and continued my bootleg (fake) out. When I looked up Shaud hadn't been touched yet. I was thinking they must have blitzed or something. Shaud turned on the jets, and he got it into the endzone for us."
Williams' 80-yard touchdown run through the heart of the Razorback defense took the wind out of Arkansas and its record-setting home crowd. But the Tide wasn't finished. Behind the blocking of its outstanding offensive line, Alabama piled up 552 yards of total offense.
Croyle talked about his five blockers up front. "They really gave me time. Everything revolves around our line. We had a good night throwing. We had a good night running. We played a very good defense in Arkansas. That wasn't a slack defense.
"To come out and be able to do what we did, our coaches and us are very proud of the line."
With a talented but inexperienced quarterback, the Tide coaches were more than willing to put the game in the hands of their offensive line. This week Tyler Watts is still recovering, so for the second straight game Alabama's opponent won't know which quarterback to prepare for.
But as Franchione explains, it might not make much of a difference anyway.
"Probably 85 or 90 percent of what we did against Arkansas with Brodie, Tyler has done every day, too," Franchione said. "There was a small portion that we didn't do as much of--like the option. And there is a small portion that we might have done a little bit more of.
"Again the beauty of our offense is its multiplicity and our ability to adapt to the quarterback."
If Watts is completely healthy, then expect the senior quarterback to start versus the Bulldogs with Croyle getting significant playing time off the bench. But when and how often either athlete will play is the coaches' decision.
According to Croyle, the next game is the only thing that matters.
"Now it's time for Georgia."