Tide Marches On

Alabama's football team appeared dead in the water following the loss of star quarterback Brodie Croyle to a Game 3 knee injury. The next two games saw the Tide lose 27-10 to Arkansas and 20-3 to South Carolina.

Coach Mike Shula has closed ranks and closed down the passing game since then, however, enabling Bama to make an amazing turnaround. The Tide pounded Kentucky 45-17 in Game 6, then upset previously unbeaten Southern Mississippi 27-3 last weekend in Game 7.

Basically, Bama has reacted to Croyle's absence by concentrating more on the ground attack and virtually abandoning the passing game.

''It's a lot easier to throw the football if you can run it up and down the field, and that's what they've done the past two games,'' Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said. ''They've thrown it nine and 11 times, and most of that was play-action stuff.''

Although Bama rarely passes the ball these days, the Tide has made some big gains through the air in recent weeks.

''You get teams putting extra people in the box to try and stop the run, then you can hit 'em with a play-action pass,'' Chavis said. ''They've made some big plays the last two weeks throwing the football. They haven't thrown it much but they've thrown it for yardage.''

Even with No. 1 tailback Ray Hudson sidelined, Alabama's ground game continues to roll. That's because No. 2 tailback Kenneth Darby has really picked up the slack.

''A lot of things are working together,'' Chavis said. ''It starts with great blocking. They run-block as well as anybody we've seen in recent times. And he (Darby) has really, really good feet. He can stop and cut on a dime. He has great agility for a back and he's pretty strong. The qualities he has make him an outstanding runner.

''At most SEC schools, when somebody goes down, you expect the next guy to come in and play. That's what's happened at Alabama. They lost an outstanding tailback but they didn't lose anything in their running game. Darby comes in and picks up where Hudson left off.''

It's a safe bet Tennessee will see a lot of Darby Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. The Tide's passing game is little more than a change-of-pace weapon since Croyle went down.

''They've turned their attention to doing what they do best, and that's running the football,'' UT head man Phil Fulmer said. ''They slip guys down the field on you but they're not throwing it as much as they did when they did when they had their starting quarterback.

''But you don't have to (throw much) if you keep the ball all day, score more points than the other team, play good defense and kick it.

''That's really what they've gotten done.''

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