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Everything not so simple with Bama football

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
Aug. 31, 2003
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. As has been par for the course, things are not always as they seem when Alabama's football program is involved.
The Crimson Tide appeared to usher in the Mike Shula era with a long touchdown reception in the opening minutes against South Florida on Saturday.
Of course, Alabama thought it had a coach locked into place until he skipped town for Texas.
And the program thought it had a winner in a new coach, but let's just say his persuasions led him astray.
So when Zach Fletcher entered the end zone after a pitch-and-catch play with quarterback Brodie Croyle, the crowd at Legion Field should have known something was amiss.
Fletcher's 70-yard touchdown reception was called back because Croyle had thrown the ball after passing the line of scrimmage.
But what hasn't Alabama done lately that didn't result in a penalty of some kind?
The program has been attacked by NCAA investigators like G-men accountants going through Al Capone's financial records for what seems like forever.
Alabama set a new land speed record in hiring head coaches three in just nine months.
The Tide just has a knack for doing things the hard way recently, and Shula's debut as coach would be no different.
Alabama went on to only produce eight yards of total offense and two first downs in the first quarter, and the offense wouldn't begin to click until 1:31 remained in the opening half.
Following a 45-yard field goal by Santiago Gramatica, whose brothers Martin and Bill add new meaning to the words excessive celebration in the NFL, that put South Florida up 17-7, the Tide went to work.
Croyle executed a five-play, 80-yard drive capped by a scoring toss to Triandos Luke to cut the Bulls lead to 17-14.
The Tide tied the game at the end of the half after picking up a fumble on the Bulls' return and converting a field goal as time expired.
"We kind of came out dead," Croyle said. "The two-minute drill at the end of the half really gave us a spark. After that we started hitting our stride."
The Tide's stride was 16 unanswered points in the third quarter, opening with a field goal followed by a 73-yard punt return by running back Shaud Williams and capped by a three-yard Williams' touchdown run.
Leaving the fans in Legion Field to once again realize, everything is not as it appears in the land of Crimson Tide football.
Shula's debut as the program's 26th head coach in its 109th season could have been a disaster.
Instead, the players who have gone through so much over the summer got their season off to a good, if not quality start.
"A lot of attention has been focused on me this week, but these guys are the ones who have been working hard and they're the ones who went out there and made the plays," Shula said.
The victory also removed a monkey off the coach's back, as he was able to get his first win right off the bat and prove he can move the football better than he did as an NFL coordinator.
After gaining 115 yards in the first half, the Tide rolled up 276 yards in the second half.
The defense also proved to be just as strong as last season, especially in the last two quarters.
South Florida touched up Alabama's defense for 147 yards in the opening half, but as the offense began to click, the Tide's defense got tighter and tighter.
The Bulls only got 107 more yards against the Tide in the second half, and Alabama kept South Florida off the scoreboard following Gramatica's second quarter field goal.
"We played our game," said defensive end Antwan Odom, who finished the day with two tackles and a sack. "We just got off the field by getting a whole bunch of three-and-outs."
But don't expect the celebration to last too long for Alabama.
Shula knows his team merely stuck its toe into the waters of the college football season, and the Tide will have an even tougher challenge Saturday when the No. 1-ranked Oklahoma Sooners roll into town.
"We get to enjoy this for about 10 hours," Shula said. "Then it is back to work (tonight). We will watch this game once and start working on Oklahoma."xx