Good times roll for Tide with 5-0 start

Alabama's Croyle and Virginia Tech's Vick riding high

Florida's Leak and Minnesota's Maroney struggle mightily

Notebook

College football

October 03, 2005|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN REPORTER

Patience is not part of the vernacular when it comes to football in the state of Alabama, whether it's a high-school team in some one-stoplight town or the beloved Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

Mike Shula, hired in 2003 because of playing ties as a former Alabama quarterback and family ties to a certain Hall of Fame coach, was running out of time to prove himself worthy of his position.

Those who scoffed at Alabama's 4-0 start and its No. 15 ranking before Saturday's game against No. 5 Florida have no doubts now that the Crimson Tide (5-0) could play a major role in determining the SEC race - East and West.

"There were a lot of questions about how we'd match up against a very talented football team, and hopefully we answered some of those questions today," Shula said after his team's impressive 31-3 victory Saturday.

It was Alabama's first win at Bryant-Denny Stadium over a team ranked in the top five, and Shula's first win of national significance since being hired amid controversy over Sylvester Croom, now the head coach at Mississippi State.

But in helping end the personal streak of 20 straight wins for first-year Gators coach Urban Meyer, Shula wasn't the only one to make a statement. His quarterback, Brodie Croyle, made an even bigger one.

Croyle, who started as a sophomore and tied his coach's record for most touchdown passes in a season, then missed the final nine games of last season with a knee injury, outplayed Florida's Chris Leak.

"I don't know if any college quarterback is better than Brodie Croyle," Alabama offensive coordinator Dave Rader said.

Said Meyer: "Croyle's passes were right on the dot. He's an NFL quarterback, and he played like it, too."

Croyle completed 15 of 18 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns, helping him break the school career record of 35 previously shared by Shula and Andrew Zow.

For the season, Croyle is 76 of 126 for 1,111 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions.

The victory gave No. 7 Alabama a 3-0 record in the SEC and, thanks to LSU's loss last week at home to Tennessee, the Crimson Tide is now in control in the SEC West. Alabama's two toughest remaining games, against Tennessee and LSU, are both at home.

"This is the biggest thing that's happened in this state, in this city, for a long time," Croyle said. "It's crazy right now. It's as crazy as it's ever been since I've been here. This is why I came here to play, for games like this."

Here's a look at what happened in the rest of the country this weekend:

Best game: Given the rivalry and the reversal of roles this season, there was a lot of hype going into the Michigan-Michigan State game in East Lansing. The Spartans were able to come back from an early 21-7 deficit and force overtime on a 74-yard fumble return for a touchdown by 320-pound defensive tackle Domata Peco with 6:43 left in regulation. But the Wolverines won, 34-31, on a 35-yard field goal by Garrett Rivas.

Best call: What's gotten into Penn State coach Joe Paterno at age 78? Most don't figure on the Nittany Lions running an end-around, and certainly Minnesota didn't when Penn State's new star, freshman wide-out Derrick Williams, took the handoff that resulted in a 5-yard touchdown run. It was the second touchdown of the game for Williams in a 44-14 victory over the 14th-ranked Golden Gophers, and the third for Williams in what is now a 5-0 start for the Nittany Lions.

Best performance by a Heisman hopeful: While USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush continue to put up impressive numbers, voters are going to have a difficult time distinguishing between the two. That could leave the door open for others, including Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick. The sophomore quarterback had another strong performance in a 34-17 win at West Virginia, throwing for 177 yards and two TDs on 15 of 17 passes, and rushing for 74 yards and one TD on 12 carries.

Worst game: Though the Hiram-Earlham game doesn't register - a 7-2 win for the Hiram Terriers, for those who are interested - the Florida-Alabama game was a channel-changer for most non-partisans looking for an interesting matchup. The Crimson Tide led 17-0 late in the first quarter - click - and the Gators looked as if Ron Zook were still coaching them.

Worst performances by Heisman hopefuls: Chris Leak was said to be uncomfortable in Florida's first four games even though his numbers were good and the Gators were winning. His numbers against Alabama - 16 of 37 for 187 yards and two interceptions - might lead to freshman Josh Portis getting more time in Meyer's spread offense. Leading the nation in rushing, Laurence Maroney of Minnesota was held to 48 yards on 16 carries by Penn State, but did you really think a Golden Gopher was going to win the Heisman?

don.markus@baltsun.com

The Mobile Register and other news organizations contributed to this article.

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