Quick-striking Tide

Tennessee's defense had better be on its toes when Alabama's offense takes the field for the first time Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Tide's favorite opening play is a fake handoff to star tailback Kenneth Darby, followed by a long pass.

"They've opened four of the first six ball games with a big play off of play-action," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis says. "They scored on the first play against Florida, and three of the other games they had big plays the first play. They create big plays because of the run threat."

The man who makes Bama's passing game go is senior quarterback Brodie Croyle. He missed most of 2004 with a broken leg, and the Tide's aerial attack was woeful without him. Now that he's back, Alabama has a balanced offense again.

"He does a tremendous job leading the offense," Chavis said. "He's a field general. He's in control. He gets them in and out of the right plays. They don't do a tremendous amount of checking but, when they do, they usually check to the right play. He gets them in good situations and keeps them out of most of the bad situations."

Alabama struggled offensively in its most recent game, a 13-10 defeat of Ole Miss. Chavis believes that game might've turned out differently, though, if not for one early play that gave the home-standing Rebels a huge shot of confidence.

"Alabama took the first drive right down the field," he noted. "Then they got down to the seven-yard line, had a fourth-and-short, and a defensive lineman made a play that kept ‘em out of the end zone. That could've easily been a first-drive touchdown. If they'd done that it may have been a whole different ball game."

Part of Bama's offensive futility against Ole Miss was the fact it was adjusting to life without big-play receiver Tyrone Prothro, who suffered a broken leg a week earlier against Florida. Asked if he's relieved he doesn't have to face Prothro, Chavis shook his head.

"You want to compete, their best against your best, and let the game take its shape," the Vol aide said. "I wouldn't say I'm relieved. You hate to see anybody have an injury that ends the season for them."

Although Alabama's offense appears basic, Chavis says there are a few elements of trickery built into it.

"They use motion and they shift," he said. What they like to do is get you misaligned so they can run the football. They're good enough to run the ball without getting you misaligned. But they're going to have some type of movement on every play. If you don't make the right adjustment you get those big gashers."

Chavis' troops have been playing exceptionally well this season, yet UT's struggles on offense and in special teams have relegated the Vols to a 3-2 record. Asked if this is frustrating, the coordinator frowned.

"You don't like to be 3-2," he said. "But this is a football TEAM. I've got a lot of years invested in this program. I've seen it when the offense has carried the defense and I've seen it when the defense has carried the offense.

"We're going to work hard to get things where they need to be. That's not frustrating. That's part of coaching. I don't think you can allow things to frustrate you. If you do, the players see it and it rubs off on them."

Since the Vol defense is playing well and the offense is playing poorly, you wonder if there's any finger-pointing. When this possibility was raised, Chavis responded emphatically.

"No. No. No," he said. "Let me tell you this: If I thought that was going on, I'd be the first one out of here. This is a program that has a lot of pride. The players have a lot of pride, the coaches have a lot of pride, and I guarantee you that's not going to happen here at Tennessee."

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