Tide on rise, but can they run table without Prothro?
Posted: Sunday October 2, 2005 7:26PM; Updated: Monday October 3, 2005 2:11PM
Alabama QB Brodie Croyle had a career game against Florida on Saturday, throwing for 283 yards and three TDs.
More from Stewart Mandel
All across the country Saturday evening, fans of the nation's other national-title aspirants were surely holding up USC's latest near-miss against No. 15 Arizona State as evidence of the Trojans' vulnerability.
The scary truth is, USC has rarely looked stronger than it did against the Sun Devils.
Tyrone Prothro is likely out for the season with a broken leg; can his teammates keeping winning without him?
One of the most popular questions leading up to the 2005 season among fans, writers and radio talk-show hosts was, "Who will be this year's Auburn?" Who would be that team buried toward the bottom of the preseason rankings that would rise up and make a run at perfection?
As it turns out, the answer was just 180 miles way in Tuscaloosa.
It was a year ago this weekend that the undefeated Tigers sent a resounding statement to the SEC and the rest of the country with a stunning 34-10 rout at Tennessee, cementing themselves as the team to beat in arguably the nation's toughest conference. On Saturday, their nemesis accomplished pretty much the same thing with its thunderous 31-3 win over fifth-ranked Florida. And the parallels between 2004 Auburn and 2005 Alabama don't end there.
Like Jason Campbell before him, Brodie Croyle is playing the role of the former all-everything high school quarterback putting four mostly disappointing years behind him in one last, glorious season. Croyle, hampered by injuries and coaching changes throughout his career, had shown signs of brilliance his first four games, but nothing like Saturday's 14-of-17, 283-yard, three-touchdown masterpiece. He continually shredded the Gators' secondary, often zipping the ball to the perfect spot between two, even three defenders, the kind of throws only an elite quarterback makes.
Like Auburn's largely anonymous defense last season, few outside of Tuscaloosa were even aware just how good 'Bama's defense was during last year's 6-6 campaign (No. 2 nationally in yards allowed), and with the core of the unit back, the Tide looked even more dominant against the Gators. A relentless defensive line hounded previously prolific Florida QB Chris Leak from the first snap and made a huge statement when they stopped RB DeShawn Wynn on a fourth-and-goal from the 1.
And just as Auburn emerged from that Tennessee game with legitimate reason to feel an undefeated season was a possibility, you can't help but look at Alabama's remaining schedule and see similar prospects. Between gimmes against Ole Miss, Utah State and Mississippi State, the Tide get both Tennessee and LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium. A once-unthinkable 10-0 record headed into the Iron Bowl at Auburn suddenly seems viable.
There is, however, one major area in which Alabama's potential dream season has already gone astray: Auburn did not lose its best offensive weapon for the season. While most 'Bama fans were too busy celebrating Saturday night to dwell too much on receiver Tyrone Prothro's season-ending broken leg, there's no overstating the magnitude of the loss and, in turn, the stupidity of coach Mike Shula's reasoning for keeping him and the other offensive starters in with a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead. Was the Gators' offense, so inept all afternoon, suddenly going to score four touchdowns in 10 minutes?
Prothro was the Tide's Reggie Bush (relatively speaking), their one truly elite playmaker. It was his 87-yard touchdown catch that got the rout rolling. 'Bama has a couple of other promising receivers (D.J. Hall, Keith Brown) who will need to step up big-time to fill Prothro's shoes. They won't necessarily need to equal his production, but if one can become a reliable, primary target for Croyle to complement the Tide's powerful running game and defense, it could be BCS for 'Bama.
Whether the Auburn parallels continue all the way to a Rose Bowl snub is a story for another day.