'Bama Prepares For Hogs Without Croyle

FAYETTEVILLE -- Minus starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, Alabama is placing an emphasis on quality practices this week in preparation for Saturday's game at Arkansas.

Croyle, the pilot of an offense which put up 442 yards and outscored opponents by nearly 35 points in the first three games, tore a knee ligament early in the third quarter of a 52-0 win against Western Carolina on Saturday. Surgery is scheduled for today and Croyle is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

In his place, the Tide (3-0, 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference) will roll with third-year sophomore Marc Guillon, a transfer from Miami who was 5 of 7 for 71 yards and a touchdown after Croyle went down.

Alabama second-year coach Mike Shula said the key this week will be giving Guillon as many reps as possible since most of the practice snaps had been allotted to Croyle in order to build chemistry with a young receiving corps.

"That's why the premium is going to be on just having real good practices," Shula said. "Getting him to not only feel comfortable with what our game plan is, but with the timing with our receivers.

"In my opinion, by the end of the week, he ought to feel much more comfortable with all those guys. They do get reps in individual work without the defense in there so we're not that far away."

One thing giving Shula some relief is the fact the Tide are rushing for an average of 241 yards per game and 5.4 yards a play. He said the offensive line, anchored by 6-foot-8, 315-pound senior left tackle Wesley Britt, is more confident than last seasoon which should help ease the transition of starting a new quarterback.

Tailbacks Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby are averaging more than 7 yards per carry. Hudson, a senior with breakaway speed, leads the team with 39 rushes for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"I think we'd be nervous if we hadn't run the ball well and then had this happen," Shula said. "Just having success in the running game has made our guys more confident, even defensively.

"It looks like we're playing better and the whole team has confidence."

They have faith in Guillon, too, even though he's now only 8 for 12 for 124 yards and two touchdowns in his career.

"We're going to play to (Guillon's) strengths and our whole thing is we've got to do that and have good balance," Shula said. "We're not going to go on the field and be one-dimensional running the football because we think we've got a guy that can help us win."

The defense has been the biggest help thus far. Led by free safety Roman Harper and linebackers Juwan Garth and Freddie Roach, opponents are averaging just eight points and 216 yards per game.

"Every week, we're getting better," Roach said. "We're going to continue to play good defense. (Against Western Carolina), the defense showed that we can be called a team."

Saturday's shutout of Western Carolina was the second since Shula arrived. The Tide forced five turnovers, had four sacks and three tackles for losses.

"Anytime you can shut somebody out in this day and age, it says a lot about the way your defense played that night," Shula said. "The last two weeks, we've done a nice job just giving up seven points, but it's over and we've got to go and play against a very good, extremely talented offensive team in Arkansas."

Last season, the Razorbacks rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat the Tide 34-31 in double overtime in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Hogs quarterback Matt Jones was 11 of 18 passing for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also rushed nine times for 37 yards and caught a 12-yard pass.

Alabama faced a similar run-pass threat in a 22-9 win against Ole Miss and quarterback Michael Spurlock in the second game of the season. The Tide's defense frustrated Spurlock with a variety of blitzes as he finished with a mere 54 yards passing and negative 11 yards rushing before being replaced.

"Obviously, (Jones) has been a tremendous playmaker for (the Razorbacks)," Shula said. "He's very dangerous running and is very dangerous throwing the football and just making plays. So our plan is going to be a little different than it was for Spurlock because of what he brings to the game."

Another concern for Shula is how his revamped offense will respond to the Razorbacks' pressure.

"Defensively, they've got a real good scheme," Shula said. "They give you a lot of different looks, moving a lot of people around so our communication is going to be our biggest thing offensively and making sure we understand our assignments."

It will be the Tide's first road trip this season and Shula called Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium "one of the toughest places to play in the country."

Alabama leads the overall series 8-6 and is 2-2 in Fayetteville. When Croyle made his first ever start in 2001, the Tide throttled the Hogs 30-12 in Razorback Stadium in their last meeting here.

"We'll probably bring some crowd noise in and some things like that for practice," Shula said. "It's hard to simulate, but we've just got to prepare them as much as we can and do some things that all our guys feel comfortable with.

"It's going to have to be a great week of practice."

Garth agreed, adding that the Tide may not be as solid as their 3-0 record suggests.

"From the outside looking in, it seems like we're playing good," Garth said. "But from the inside, we have things we need to fix. This is our first road game and we are focused and we are ready.

"We're going to work hard this week."


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