Tide battling through injuries

After losing its two marquee offensive players to injuries, Alabama's Crimson Tide could wallow in self pity, ride out the season in mediocrity and look longingly to next season.

Alabama coach Mike Shula hopes his team takes a different approach to the absence of quarterback Brodie Croyle nd running back Ray Hudson. As his team prepares for Saturday's battle with Tennessee, Shula hopes one-time backups seize the opportunity of unexpected playing time.

Ken Darby has filled in nicely for Hudson, who recently had knee surgery and is expected to be on crutches for 4-6 weeks. Darby rushed for 100 yards on 20 carries in a win over Kentucky.

Spencer Pennington and March Guillon are replacing Croyle. The Alabama passing game hasn't been the same without Croyle, but Shula believes it will improve.

If the Crimson Tide can overcome the loss of Croyle and Hudson, along with some other injuries, Alabama could present problems for a number of opponents.

"As far as our team dealing with injuries, I think our guys have done a great job that way," Shula said. "They have focused in on doing their job better and haven't made a big deal of it. We are getting better depth in positions, even though we are young in some places. We've had some injuries at certain positions where we have been fortunate enough to have good depth. "It's just a matter of our guys focusing on their own responsibility and not letting a lot of other things effect them. There are things we can't control and injuries are one of those. There is nothing we can do about Croyle, and nothing we can do about Hudson. The mindset has got to be 'Hey, let's move on.' It's a great opportunity for the guys who are here to have a great opportunity. They have to step up."

Darby should uphold the tradition of strong running backs at Alabama, Shula said.

"Ken is similar to Ray," Shula said. "Ray kind of waited patiently for his opportunity. He played last year and contributed and helped us win some games. Then all of a sudden he had his chance to start. He got a lot more carries and flourished. I think Ken cam be the same type of guy, have that same type of productivity. He's kind of waiting his turn. He is showing signs of elusiveness, speed , toughness, quickness. Now he will have a greater opportunity."

Alabama running backs coach Sparky Woods has been impressed with Darby's work ethic and toughness so far.

"We have asked him to pick up the slack," Woods said. "I think he is a good runner. We are confident in him. We will have to have some other guys carry part of the burden, but Darby will have to be the workhorse. He's in good shape and is a tough kid. I think he will be a guy who will have fresh legs in the fourth quarter."

While he has seen Pennington make strides at quarterback, Woods said the passing game needs work if the Crimson Tide is to be balanced on offense. So far, the offensive success has come primarily on the ground.

"He has done an adequate job," Woods said. "He can run the offense well and he doesn't turn the ball over. He's had a good start. I think he will get better, but there is a drop off. "It's hard to win if you are one dimensional. We have to throw the ball better. We are working on that. We are making an effort to win games. The best way so far has been to keep the ball on the ground and not turn it over. We have run it well, but we still have to throw it better."

Woods, like Shula, believes Alabama can overcome the loss of Croyle and Hudson. But he admitted the team was stunned by the bad luck.

"They were two critical injuries," he said. "It's hard to lose your quarterback and the guy who gets the ball the most after the quarterback. Everybody was disappointed. They were such vital players. It's been a shock to us all, but that's football. You have to go on and play. Sometimes misfortune is an opportunity for another player. I think we can improve."

While they wait for the team to adjust, the Crimson Tide isn't setting particularly high goals.

"Coach Shula has done a great job of talking about making progress," Woods said. "There are always high expectations here, but we are just focusing on the team and getting ready for the next game. We'll just keep battling."


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