The job of being Crimson Tide coach means getting second-guessed on your choice of paper or plastic at the Piggly Wiggly. It also means you’re supposed to win every game. That’s why he’ll get almost $8 million over the life of his seven-year deal after working miracles at hopeless causes like TCU and New Mexico. And winning is possible this year, as the SEC West lacks a dominant team.
One of the biggest first steps to that end took place in the offseason, when the weight program was overhauled. To culminate the winter work, Franchione introduced a “Night of Champions,” which he held at previous coaching stops. More than 1,000 people attended the event inside Coleman Coliseum to watch the Tide players show off their new strength. Twenty players competed in four lifting categories: bench, squat, hang clean and incline bench. Seven records were broken. Saleem Rasheed set a bench standard for linebackers with a 475 press. Tyler Watts set the squat record for quarterbacks at 515. It was a testosterone fest.
The extent of change is such that even players’ Friday night routines are different. One example: no more movies. The night before a game is to be devoted to silent contemplation of the job ahead. Focus, not fun.
And then there’s that offense. Coach Fran was secretive about revealing many details pertinent to the attack. Heck, he even was mum about who would be the starting quarterback: Watts or Andrew Zow. It hearkened to 30 years ago–Tide fans love the past–when Bear Bryant secretly installed a wishbone offense that helped Bama re-establish its dominance.
Bryant implemented the attack over the summer of 1971 and kept it hush-hush. When SEC writers paid a visit, he had his offense run out of an I-formation as a ruse. Alabama unveiled the attack in its opener at USC and won, 17-10, avenging a 42-21 loss the year before to the Trojans. That set in motion a run in the 1970s during which the Tide won 103 games and played for, or won, the national title six times.
Alas, last Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Bama was unable to avenge its season-opening loss of a year ago to UCLA. But this game was the unveiling of a multiple attack that featured a variety of formations and kept the Bruins off-balance. The Tide easily won the battle of yards, 458-291. With Watts playing almost the entire game, Alabama showed one-back, four wide; one-back, tight end, three wides; two split backs, tight end, two wides. You name it, Alabama did it.
“They came out with some formations we didn’t expect, and that hurt us a little bit,” UCLA coach Bob Toledo says.
Watts, who worked under center and in the shotgun, was effective running the option and the sprint draw, but he needs work as a passer, and he needs better protection. He missed open receivers frequently, and the line, which starts two redshirt freshmen, broke down too many times. It’s obvious the Tide will be in trouble this year if it falls behind.
And it’s obvious Freddie Milons, who got lost in last year’s offensive confusion, must be involved–often. He’s the offense’s best difference-maker. Against UCLA, he caught four passes for 124 yards, including an electrifying 71-yard touchdown grab late in the fourth quarter that made it 20-17 and gave Bama life. He also had an impact as a kickoff returner, running back three for 107 yards (a 35.7 average), including a 50-yard effort.
The Tide should throw Milons hitches and screens. And go deep, Freddie. While you’re at it, take some end-arounds and handoffs in the backfield. And go ahead and line up under center on occasion. Milons was a star quarterback in high school.
“If we can continue to get this effort and continue to improve, we’ll be a factor in a lot of games,” says Franchione. “I saw a lot of positive things. The only thing missing was the `W’ They made one or two plays more than we did in the end”
There Franchione was in the aftermath of the game, standing eyeball to eyeball with defeat yet kindly asking those around him how they were doing, and even apologizing to Tide supporters for losing. He was disappointed, but calm and in complete control. Not a hair was out of place, nor a button undone. He even managed to smile. This is a confident man. Bama fans should have confidence in him.
And here’s some added consolation: Bear Bryant lost his first game as Tide coach. DuBose won his.