Even after Dennis Franchione's abrupt departure to Texas A&M, former coach Mike Price's debacle with a stripper named "Destiny," and the May hiring of current coach Mike Shula, Alabama hasn't lost sight of Oklahoma.
After all, the Crimson Tide dropped a 37-27 decision to OU last year in Norman, a game in which they led 27-23 with 3:37 left in the game. But Renaldo Works answered with a miraculous 39-yard shovel pass reception to set up Kejuan Jones' 8-yard touchdown run. Then, Eric Bassey scooped up a fumble and ran it back 45 yards for a touchdown to stamp out a potential game-winning Alabama drive at midfield.
"We owe them (Oklahoma) one — big time," said Alabama defensive end Antwan Odom.
So big, that everyone, including ESPN's College GameDay, which will be in Tuscaloosa, is eyeing the game.
"It's definitely a chance to show out to the nation. Our backs have been to the wall," said Alabama offensive lineman Justin Smiley. "We've been backed in the corner for a while with the NCAA stuff and coaching changes. It's going to be a battle."
Besides the game at hand, Coach Shula said he's excited about the historical magnitude of the two national college football powers colliding.
"It's great to see how over the years the schools have gone on with their national championships and the seasons they've had," said Shula. "That's what's going to make this neat."
The following is a scouting report of Alabama's offense, defense and special teams heading into Saturday night's showdown.
Alabama returns six starters from last year's offense, but that doesn't include sophomore quarterback Brodie Croyle (6-3, 200). Croyle, who was heavily recruited by OU, was 14-of-27 passing for 203 yards and one touchdown pass last week in a 40-17 romp over South Florida. Last season, Croyle split time with Tyler Watts and became only the second quarterback in Alabama history to throw for 1,000 yards. The Rainbow City, Ala. native connected on 60-of-123 passes for 1,046 yards, five TDs and five interceptions. Last season against OU, Croyle played sparingly and only completed 1-of-3 passes for 7 yards.
At running back, the Crimson Tide returns its most dangerous offensive threat in senior Shaud Williams (5-8, 191). Williams rushed for 98 yards and two TDs vs. South Florida, while returning a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. But just like Croyle, Williams saw limited playing time against the Sooners last year and did not register a carry or a reception. He did return three punts for 29 yards.
Paving the way for Williams and Croyle is a mammoth offensive line led by returning starters Wesley Britt (6-8, 312), Justin Smiley (6-4, 301) and Evan Mathis (6-5, 294). Smiley is an All-American candidate at tackle, while Britt and Mathis are the guards. Sophomore J.B. Closner (6-4, 295) starts at center and Dennis Alexander, a 6-foot-6, 352-pounder, will start at the other tackle spot.
Alabama will use several three-receiver sets and the leaders of the Tide's receiving corps are Triandos Luke and Zach Fletcher. Luke caught four passes for 45 yards, including a 10-yard TD reception against South Florida, while Fletcher added three catches for 79 yards. Luke started all 13 games last year and led the team with 41 catches.
Former Arkansas and Georgia defensive coordinator Joe Kines joined Shula's staff earlier this summer to help shore up a defense that returns six starters and only gave up an average of 10.7 points per game after the OU game last year.
Alabama's defensive line baffled the Sooner running game and held OU to -23 yards on 23 carries during last year's contest. The Tide lost both of last year's starting tackles (Kindel Moorehead and Jarrett Johnson), but have filled those voids with seniors Anthony Bryant (6-3, 245) and Ahmad Childress (6-7, 345) and freshmen Jeremy Clark (6-3, 280). Defensive ends Antwan Odom (6-5, 273), who was seventh in the nation with 10 sacks last season, and senior Nautyn McKay-Loescher (6-4, 255) also play major roles.
Sophomore Freddie Roach (6-2, 237) and seniors Cornelius Wortham (6-1, 233) and Derrick Pope return to anchor the Tide's linebackers. Wortham (doubtful for Saturday) and Roach are returning starters, while Pope (6-0, 223) steps in for sidelined senior Brooks Daniels, the Tide's leading tackler last year, who is sitting out this season due to personal reasons. Pope is the son of former Sooner standout Kenny Pope.
In the secondary, Alabama returns starting cornerback Charlie Peprah (5-11, 195) and free safety Charles Jones (6-0, 183). Peprah returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown vs. South Florida. Sophomore Roman Harper (6-1, 182) will start at strong safety and he led the Tide with seven tackles vs. South Florida. Junior Anthony Madison (5-9, 180) will start at the other corner spot.
Junior Bo Freeland handled the punting duties vs. South Florida and averaged 41 yards on four kicks. Junior Brian Bostick, who was 6-of-8 on field goals and 4-of-5 extra points in eight games last season, was 2-for-3 on field goals (long of 40) and 4-for-5 on extra point attempts vs. South Florida.
"Our team is very excited about this opportunity," Shula said. "Both teams have high expectations. That's why we're looking forward to it. Our team is very excited about this opportunity to see how we measure up against the nation's number one team."
"We've got to be on top of our game for four quarters and get off to a good start," Shula said. "Oklahoma is a team with a lot of talent that is well-coached and gets after people for 60 minutes. I want people to think that about our program."
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