Perception doesn’t always equal performance on field

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Sports Columnist

Perception often plays a key role in the world of college football, often nearly as important as actual performance. It’s a foregone conclusion that if you are perceived to have a strong football program, you can often remain close to the top of the polls despite losses to unranked and unheralded teams. Just ask Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Florida State to name a few.

And if your quarterback, is perceived to be a Heisman Trophy candidate, he stands a far greater chance of winning it than a relative unknown from Timbuktu U., who outperforms him week in and week out. Its just the way college football works, Like it or not.

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And more often than not, that perception is molded by what the guys on television say. Saturday’s Alabama – Tennessee game held several glaring examples of this, some of which proved true and many of which proved absolutely false.

Perception No.1: Casey Clausen of Tennessee is a passing quarterback and Alabama’s Tyler Watts is a running quarterback.

Although there is some truth to this comparatively speaking, (Watts entered the game ranked fourth nationally among rushing quarterbacks and Clausen had much rather stand in the pocket than tuck it away and run), the stats coming into Saturday’s game may have been surprising to some. Watts actually had more yards passing than Clausen (979 to 876), a better TD to TNT ratio (7 TD/3 INT to 5 TD/4 INT) and was only four percentage points lower in passing efficiency, (57.4 to 61.6). Both quarterbacks went even further in dispelling the myths with their respective performances on Saturday.

Clausen showed a little bit of running ability as he turned what was perceived (there’s that word again) to be a hand-off to the right into a bootleg left that drove the dagger into the Tide’s heart. The 28-24 fourth quarter lead would never be relinquished.

Meanwhile, Watts proved himself somewhat of a passing threat by connecting on deep passes of 45 yards to A.C. Carter, 39 yards to Freddie Milons, and touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards to Sam Collins. However, consistency is the name of the game, and Watts showed a tendency to overthrow open receivers most of the day, a habit that earned back-up Andrew Zow a great deal of criticism. Unfortunately, Watts also failed to justify his status as a running threat, failing to gain a single yard on the ground. The few positive yards Watts gained

from scrimmage were wiped out by Tennessee sacks.

Perception No.2: Freddie Milons is Alabama’s best receiver and Ahmad Galloway is the

Tide’s best running back.

Milons has certainly earned his reputation as a big-play threat, making his mark two years ago as a receiver, runner, return man and even quarterback. Yet, the receiver who has sprinted into the spotlight this season, especially the last two weeks, has been Sam Collins. With touchdown receptions of 29 and 7-yards against UT, the leading receiver, all-time, in Alabama high school history, further solidified his role as Tyler Watts go-to guy. And although Galloway and Brandon Miree were the backs that had Alabama fans

anticipating the 2001 season, sophomore sensation Santonio Beard continued to impress Saturday, becoming the first back this year to reach the century mark against the Vols. Look for #34 on the field more often after his 141 yard, 14-yards-per-carry performance, which included a 69-yard gallop to setup a TD in the third quarter.

Perception No. 3: Alabama and Tennessee both have a tendency to blow fourth-quarter leads. Well, one team went a long way toward dispelling that rumor, while the other only further justified their critics. Tennessee appeared to put together their strongest and most sustained drives of the night in the final stanza, effectively devouring the clock and keeping the Alabama offense helplessly waiting on the sidelines. And when the Tide finally did take the field, they once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The latest joke I heard goes like this: Why is the Crimson Tide worth less than a dollar? Because a dollar is worth four quarters. In three consecutive SEC losses, the Tide has given up leads of 12 points to South Carolina and I I to Ole Miss while being outscored 40-7 in the fourth quarter. Their demise in these three games is due in large part to their defense’s inability to stop the opposing offense on third down and their inexplicable tendency to abandon a successful running attack in favor of a shaky, inconsistent passing game. After Santonio Beard’s 69 yard run setup a 4 yard go-ahead touchdown run by Ahmad Galloway, showing an obvious weakness in Tennessee’s run defense (not to mention a strength in Alabama’s offensive line), Alabama unbelievably started – and ended – its next drive with three consecutive passes. Whether they were called by the coaching staff or audibles by Watts, they resulted in a punt and allowed the Vols to eat up most of the remainder of the game and seal the Tide’s fate with their final touchdown. There is no mistake Alabama has improved by leaps and bounds over the three-win team of one year ago, and Fran and company have them going in the right direction. And although lately the Tide has been able to shed the label of being unable to capitalize in the redzone, until they are perceived as more than a three-quarter team, they are going to have mighty tough going in the always-powerful SEC.