OU-Bama quarterbacks hoping for better endings

Friday, September 5th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) _ Alabama's Brodie Croyle made his college football debut before 75,000 hostile fans in Norman, Okla.

Oklahoma's Jason White remembers last year's meeting for a different reason _ the torn knee ligament that ended his season.

Both quarterbacks are hoping for happier endings when the two tradition-rich teams meet again Saturday night, with Croyle facing the top-ranked Sooners' stingy defense and White battling the memories of his second straight season-ending knee injury.

Both quarterbacks had solid performances in season-opening victories.

Croyle, a sophomore, actually seems excited about going against linebacker Teddy Lehman & Co. after his abbreviated appearance in last year's 37-27 loss. He took nine snaps, and was 1-of-3 for 7 yards.

Croyle is glad for the rematch.

``What else can you ask for? We want the best of the best to come in here, and we're going to find out where we are in a hurry,'' he said. ``We're looking forward to it.''

White has tried to forget last year's disastrous play when he crumpled to the ground untouched in the open field. He said it's a nonissue in this game.

``At this point right now I have nothing to lose, so I'm going out there to have a lot of fun and to compete,'' said White, who injured his other knee the previous year against Nebraska. ``I'm not going to play not to get hurt.''

He didn't seem too concerned about his knees in the opener against North Texas, completing 23 of 35 passes for 248 yards in a 37-3 win.

The Sooners' strength remains a defense that held the Mean Green to 50 yards in the first three quarters of that game.

Alabama coach Mike Shula, a former Tide quarterback and longtime NFL assistant, was asked if Oklahoma's defense was similar to those he saw in the pro ranks.

``Their personnel is,'' he responded quickly.

``They've got great personnel. They've got great team speed on defense, and they're big. That's a tough combination go up against offensively.''

Croyle, who passed for 203 yards against South Florida, is more of a dropback passer than Oklahoma saw in Tyler Watts last season.

His biggest assets against the Sooners could be an offensive line that features All-America candidates Justin Smiley and Wesley Britt on the left side and preseason All-Southeastern Conference Shaud Williams at tailback.

``Those guys are amazing,'' Smiley said, ``but our offense is pretty good, too.''

Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris noticed last season.

``Justin Smiley is one of the best guards I've been against since I've been playing college football,'' the Associated Press All-American said. ``They've got some experience up front and it's a line I'm looking forward to playing against.''

The Sooners' defensive credentials are impressive, with a handful of All-American candidates and a nation's best 24 interceptions last season. North Texas found out the hard way.

The team's passing totals: 7-of-25, 79 yards and one interception, eye-catching numbers for an Alabama offense that really didn't need further evidence of Oklahoma's abilities.

``They're so much better than they were last year,'' Williams said. ``It's pretty scary. Tommie Harris up front, then you've got Teddy Lehman at linebacker, then you've got Derrick Strait in the secondary. At each level, it's going to be pretty tough to get some yards.''

Croyle admits the Sooners defense is ``as good as advertised.'' He doesn't seem too daunted when asked about the notion that the Tide offense is being given little chance of success.

``That's what we've been hearing,'' Croyle said. ``Everybody wants to count us down and out and they want to say we don't have a chance against them. That's what we want.

``People doubted us against South Florida and we came out and won. They doubted us even more this week, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.''

Alabama found a way to score without huge offensive production in last season's meeting. The Tide scored on a fake field goal, blocked two punts and a field goal and started the game with a successful onside kick.

The Sooners, meanwhile, were limited to minus 23 yards rushing in the game.

Still, they survived.

``I go back and look that game and marvel that we were able to win it,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ``If somebody told you we'd do all that wrong and beat Alabama, you'd laugh at them. We were very fortunate we had all those mistakes and still were able to win.''