September 9, 2006

New names, same story for Crimson Tide

Allegro buses for everyone!

OK, so maybe the level of joy the Tiffin family experienced following Alabama's 13-10 defeat of those pesky Vanderbilt Commodores didn't reach that point early Saturday evening. Come to think of it, it didn't seem to make a huge impression on the latest Tiffin to kick Alabama to a win.

In fact, you almost got the feeling that reporters were bummed out by Leigh Tiffin[db]'s "that's what I'm supposed to do" take on his 47-yarder, which never looked anything but good in splitting the sticks midway through the fourth quarter.

Wasn't this the same guy who just a month ago listed making the travel roster as his top goal for the 2006 season? As we all know, a lot has changed in the four weeks since Tiffin outlined his personal goals.

That was before [db]Jamie Christensen strained his right groin in the first scrimmage of the preseason. That was before Tiffin earned the respect and trust of his teammates by nailing 4-of-4 field goal attempts at the end of a two-a-day practice, thus saving 104 teammates from conditioning work.

Over the next four or five years there will be plenty of comparisons made between Tiffin and his father, Van, who will be forever remembered in this state as the man who kicked the Auburn Tigers in 1985. In breaking down their techniques, father and son couldn't be more different. As Leigh is quick to point out, he's a two-step kicker while the old man went with a three-step approach.

More important, the mental makeup needed to perform under fire has apparently made its way down to the kid. And in supporting an offense that continues to call on its kicker to finish drives by knocking home field goals instead of extra points, Tiffin will be asked to summon that poise more than once during his time at UA.

So how do you reward a guy for going 4-of-5 on field goals in his first two games? For Tiffin, it might involve a return to backing up Christensen. That's right, the role Tiffin coveted just a month ago.

While Alabama coach Mike Shula conceded that the gap between Christensen and Tiffin had closed a good bit, Shula did little else to spark a potential controversy at the position in his postgame remarks, saying that Christensen, who dressed and warmed up for Saturday's game, will take over once his ailing right leg fully recovers.

But we all know that won't stop Tide fans from debating who should attempt next week's game winner against Louisiana-Monroe. And for a fan base that loves a good quarterback controversy, the placekicking job will have to do.

Lost amid concerns about Alabama's inability to run the ball effectively in the first two games has been this glimmer of sunshine: The Tide is set at quarterback until 2009.

Heading into the season, the hope was that John Parker Wilson would manage the offense and make a play or two in between handoffs to Kenneth Darby. Two second-half drives Saturday showed he's capable of much more than that.

With his team trailing 10-3 at the half, Wilson took matters into his own hands at the start of third quarter, completing all five of his passes on a 81-yard scoring march that pulled the Tide even. Wilson threw for 73 yards on the drive, including a 31-yard touchdown to DJ Hall that required a sight adjustment by both quarterback and receiver. Wilson got a coverage he wasn't expecting, but instead of giving up on the play like most second-game starters would, he calmly waited for Hall to clear the corner before delivering.

As sharp as he was on that drive, it was Wilson's play on third down was even more impressive.

In setting up Tiffin's winning kick, the sophomore converted a third-and-2 by scrambling for seven yards and a first down. He followed that up by hitting Nikita Stover in stride for 36 yards on a third-and-18 play. Due in large part to Wilson, the Tide converted 8-of-15 third down opportunities.

An offense that was supposed to run through Darby, is being carried by the quarterback and placekicker. Has a familiar ring to it, huh? The names have changed, but the results have been the same against inferior opponents to this point.

And just like a year ago, a team that can't run eventually won't be able to hide from one of its most glaring weaknesses.

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