Fletcher making his chances count

Zach Fletcher may not be catching as many balls in his first season as he'd like. But when one comes his way, he makes it count.

In Saturday's victory over Tennessee, Fletcher caught only one of seven pass completions spread among Tide receivers. But the fleet junior made the most of the play, turning a mid-range pass play into a 56-yard run and catch. "Actually it was only designed as a 14-yard pattern," Fletcher recalled, "but it turned into a big play. I didn't think it was going to turn out to be that big.

Fletcher hasn't caught many balls this year, but he's made his few receptions count.

"I don't know if the defender fell or just missed a tackle, I didn't see the whole picture. I just did what I did and took care of the ball."

Fletcher outran the Volunteer defenders down to the Tennessee 10-yard line, and on the next play Bama scored to go up 14-0 just before the half. "Coach Pope always tells us that if the play is designed for 14 yards, then make sure you catch the ball and get the yards," Fletcher said. "I was actually surprised when I wasn't grabbed after the catch. I just ran as far as I could go."

Fletcher's play was the Tide's first offensive touchdown, ensuring that Alabama would hold the lead at halftime. Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione commented. "Zach made a tremendous play Saturday night. Coach Pope is doing a good job of trying to get him into situations to make a play. He got him in there Saturday at a time when he could make one and he did.

"Zach continues to come up big."

Though the outcome might suggest otherwise, Fletcher's route was just one of several run by Bama receivers during the play. "The play isn't called to just a certain receiver," he explained. "(Quarterback) Brodie (Croyle) has to see the whole field. Everybody did their job to get open, and I caught the ball. But it wasn't based on any one person."

Fletcher's height and size present problems for opposing cornerbacks.

Only a redshirt freshman, Croyle scanned the field before delivering a laser strike to Fletcher. That was only one of several big plays that Croyle improvised on the night. "Brodie can pull stuff out of (the air)," Fletcher said with a laugh, "but it works."

Senior Sam Collins and juniors Dre Fulgham and Triandos Luke have been the Tide's top three receivers this season, catching 20, 18 and 16 balls respectively. But Fletcher's ratio of big-play-to-catches is definitely tops on the team. "I'm trying to make my catches count," Fletcher said. "That's another thing Coach (Pope) always says, ‘Whatever chances you get, take care of them.'"

Fletcher's knack for making the big play has not gone unnoticed. "Every time Zach gets into the game he seems to be where a big play or a ball is going to be," Franchione said. "All the coaches have talked about that. He's caught our attention."

Coupled with his 66-yard touchdown reception versus Arkansas, Fletcher is averaging a gaudy 35.5 yards per catch. "That's good, I suppose, but that's not really a big deal to me," he said. "As long as we keep on winning."

There is certainly no denying his ability to catch the football, which causes fans to wonder why Fletcher isn't a bigger part of the Tide offense. Though Fletcher is a junior in terms of eligibility, this is his first year working with the Alabama coaches.

Receivers coach Ken Pope is substituting Fletcher onto the games in situations where he can be most effective.

Franchione explained, "There are aspects of Zach's game that he's not quite as good at as some of the other receivers, so we try to use some of their talents (in those situations). But as far as catching the ball and making plays, he is certainly doing that.

"As Zach improves he's going to get more and more playing time."

Fletcher graduated from Moulton County High School in Alabama, so even though he spent the last two years in junior college he understood the importance of Saturday's win. "The game was real big," Fletcher said. "I actually didn't know that the streak was so long. I thought it was just four games. But it's great to be a part of a win like this."

Leading up to the game, Franchione had a simple message for Fletcher and his teammates. "Coach Fran just said that we were a better team than Tennessee," Fletcher related. "He wasn't saying it to put them down. He just said that so we could have the confidence to go out there and do what we did. Just go in and play our game."

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