'Bama Coach Defends His Calls

FAYETTEVILLE -- Joe Kines, who served as Arkansas' football coach for 10 games in 1992, was asked Saturday how he likes working as defensive coodinator for Alabama coach Mike Shula.

"I love it," Kines answered quickly, despite his disappointment over the Tide's 27-10 loss to Arkansas.

"Coach Shula has been a class act. When you look back 20 years from now, he'll be one of the superstars of this game. He has a great feel for the football end of it, and that's what counts. He's growing into the job, and he'll do well."

The last two weeks have tested the patience of some Alabama fans and media, however.

First, Shula left quarterback Brodie Croyle in the game with Alabama leading Western Carolina 31-0 en route to a 52-0 rout last week, and Croyle suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Then on Saturday, with his team trailing Arkansas 14-10 and facing fourth-and-1 at the Hogs 39 with 13 minutes left, Shula sent in the punt team.

Alabama tailback Ray Hudson (20 carries, 170 yards) wanted to go for the first down.

"Yeah, but I mean you never know about that," Hudson said.

Quarterback Marc Guillon offered his opinion.

"Yeah, we wanted to go for it and I thought we were going to, but it's not my call, it's not anybody else's call -- it's coach Shula's," Guillon said.

The first time Shula was asked about the decision, he said, "We discussed it, but we decided to kick it. We were playing great defense, there was a lot of time left and we wanted to see if we could get the ball back."

Bo Freelend punted for a touchback, Alabama did get the ball back at its 46, but Freelend eventually punted for another touchback when Tide freshman Ezekiel Knight failed to down the ball at the Arkansas 1.

"Our freshman gunner just didn't execute," Shula said. "So many things can change momentum. Penalties hurt us, too."

Inevitably, an Alabama scribe revisited the fourth-and-1 decision, asking if it was a key play.

"It was one of the key points of the game," Shula said. "We thought about going for it. But the way the game was going, we were playing great defense. If you go for it and make it, it's a great call. If you don't get it, it gives them momentum. You weigh those percentages, make a decision and live with it."

Shula wasn't about to second-guess Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, either.

At the end, leading 20-10, Arkansas could have run out the clock by kneeling three times from the Alabama 5-yard line. Instead, Darrius Howard scored on second down by beating his opposite No. 26, 'Bama strong safety Charlie Peprah, to the goal line near the pylon.

Did that offend Shula?

"No, I coach Alabama," he said. "Those are the guys I work on."

Kines said the game, like many, came down to four or five key plays -- one of which was Arkansas flanker Cedric Washington out-battling 'Bama free safety Roman Harper for a 41-yard catch.

"I went up for it, but it's hard to judge the ball when Matt Jones throws it," Harper said. "The football has no white lines on it. (Washington) played defense and I played offense on that ball, but it got stuck on my hip and he was on top of it at the end."

Kines called Jones' 18-yard scoring pass to Peyton Hillis late in the second quarter another key play.

"We sacked Matt three times, but if you put him on any team in the country he'll make a big difference," Kines said. "On that play we weren't able to cut him off and Hillis got outside us on the sideline."

In the fourth quarter, on a third-and-4 from the Arkansas 26, Jones outran Harper -- one of Alabama's fastest players -- for a 50-yard run that led to a 20-10 Hogs lead.

"Matt just outran all of us," Kines said.

"Arkansas is not going to use four wide receivers. The one time they used three, we stopped it. They hang their hat on play-action passes and power running."

So did Alabama on Saturday, as Hogs defensive coordinator Dave Wommack had predicted.

"Because we were running well, we kept running," Shula said. "Even more than I would like. Our game plan was to have balance."

But Shula said the Hogs "brought their safeties up a little tighter in the second half."

A soft-spoken Guillon said, "We made some awesome plays on offense. Not to discredit Arkansas -- they played great -- but we beat ourselves today. Little things like penalties and a fumble. The good thing is, it's early."

By Kines' reckoning, it's still early for Shula in Alabama football history, too.

Kines congratulated Arkansas, as did 'Bama offensive coordinator Dave Rader, the former Tulsa coach.

"Tell Houston (Nutt) they really played a great game," Rader said.

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