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  • Kevin Scarbinsky

Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: Toughness is not a cuss word

What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's recuperating from back surgery and not coaching football for the first time since his freshman year in college? He's watching games like a coach. Every week, he shares his insight and observations on what caught his trained eye.


Week 3: You can run to win, Coach Clark is obsessed with the Hail Mary, South Alabama gambles and loses a golden opportunity at UCLA and the Rose Bowl is a ghost town. So maybe we all should appreciate UAB's fan support.


DeWayne McBride ran for 223 yards as UAB beat pass-happy Georgia Southern. Penn State freshman Nick Singleton ran for more yards than Auburn's entire team (124-119) as the Nittany Lions romped. Ole Miss ran all over Georgia Tech with 316 yards on the ground. Is it nice to see that you can still run to win?


BC: Yeah. 100 percent. You have to be able to do both, but let's talk running game. There are so many things that go with that. There's the physicality. There's a mental toughness and a physical toughness that goes with running the ball. It also helps your defense. In your practices, it creates a toughness. We've said it for years. Toughness is not a cuss word. We can be safe and practice safe and still have toughness. The running game helps that. You still need balance. Anytime you get so far skewed one way or the other, you're going to have a problem. You're going to need the other side of it.


But there's no doubt you need the running game. It's important. It's important for your whole team. It was good to see. You're still going to see that great teams, teams that win championships, are going to be able to run the ball.


Offensive coaches can get spoiled and get so used to scoring those easy, quick touchdowns (in the passing game). On defense, we say we're going to make these guys work it down the field because they can't really run the ball. I would equate Georgia Southern to that. Look at the success UAB had against that. Georgia Southern had a little bit of a running game, but they didn't have enough of it, and that really hurt them.


In the weekend's most fantastic finish, Appalachian State beat Troy on a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play. The ball was tipped up and caught by a Mountaineer, who ran it into the end zone. Cal almost tied Notre Dame in a similar situation with the ball bouncing around several times, deflecting to a Cal player who couldn't quite corral it before it hit the turf. What's the strategy there?


BC: There's so much to talk about there. I'm such an anal person. That's something that we talked about and worked on. I lost a game we had won that way. It was the last regular-season loss we had at Prattville (High School) in the 2002 season against Central-Tuscaloosa. We were undefeated the year before, and we lost the second game of the year on a Hail Mary. We had worked like crazy on it, and our guy volleyball tipped it up instead of knocking it down, and they ran under it and beat us. The game was over. Same scenario.


I really just became obsessed with it after that. Of course, we didn't lose another regular-season game, (200)3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 before I left.


From a defensive standpoint, there's so much to it. Let's sack this guy. We're going to be physical. We're going to box these receivers out, and we've got to get our hands on top of the ball and throw it down on the ground. We're not going to let them get that rebound. We could talk about this all day.


Obviously you've put a lot of thought into it.


BC: Tons and tons and tons and tons. Offensively, that's exactly what we want. We want the ball to stay alive. The tip is where it seems to always happen. We work on it. We practice it. Because it is going to come into play a lot.


Another much-discussed play Saturday was South Alabama, leading UCLA by two with three minutes left, running a fake field goal and getting sacked, which allowed the Bruins to drive to a winning field goal. What goes into that decision?


BC: You're on the road, and you hear that a lot. We went for two because we were on the road. Then there's the theory: We're not supposed to be here anyway. They're Power 5. We're not. You can see some of that thinking of being aggressive. I do like the aggressiveness. There are other factors. How do you feel about your defense? How has the other team moved the ball? Are you better than them or have you been lucky to stop them? There are a lot of things that go into that decision.


Obviously, he wouldn't have called that if he didn't feel really good about it. It's probably something they'd worked on and had saved. You feel for them because you feel like that day they were the better team.


The official attendance for that game in the Rose Bowl was 29,344 - the second smallest crowd in history for a UCLA regular-season home game - but photos made the crowd appear much smaller. Former UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman took to Twitter, called the size of the crowd "an embarrassment" and suggested "it's time for an on-campus 30,000-seat stadium." UCLA is a Power 5 team that's moving to the Big Ten. That should make people appreciate UAB's fan support, shouldn't it?


BC: Exactly. UAB is sitting here sandwiched between two historically great programs in a not very big state. Let's not forget that, either. We've led the conference in attendance. We've had good attendance, and Saturday, we're playing with Alabama and Auburn almost playing smack dab at the same time. That tells you how good we've done.


I think he's exactly right. If I just said, hey, UCLA, what should they do, he's right. Now what is that number? But there's just something about being on campus. We looked at all of that at UAB. We made the right decision because it was such a win for everybody, for our whole city (to build Protective Stadium at Uptown).


Obviously, being on campus in that situation (at UCLA) would be the right move. He's right, and you hate to see it. You hate to see college football at a place that's been so good to the sport just not have anybody there.