2006 was a very tumultuous year for the Alabama football program. Coming off of a 10-2 season in 2005, the unrealistic expectation machine was firing on all cylinders for much of the Bama fan base before the beginning of the 2006 season. Mike Shula was given a contract extension and many were under the impression that the Tide had managed to ride out out the storm of sanctions and the revolving door that was the head coach's office in 2003 and that the ship was finally back on course.
Things started off painfully sluggishly that year with close wins over Hawai'i and Vanderbilt and a win over cupcake (ahem) Louisiana-Monroe to get the season off to 3-0 start. Then the wheels started to come off a little bit. Leigh Tiffin, who went on to a solid career at Alabama, missed kick after kick after kick in Fayetteville on the way to Alabama losing in overtime to the Razorbacks.
Things just got uglier the rest of the season as Alabama often played down to its level of competition with ugly wins over the likes of Ole Miss, Duke and Florida International. That year also saw a home loss to Mississippi State that put the fans in an absolute panic. Losses to LSU and Auburn capped a three game losing streak to end the regular season at 6-6, which at the time in the SEC, typically meant a trip to Shreveport.
The University apparently had all it could stand and despite being given a contract extension at the end of the previous season, Mike Shula found himself jobless after the Iron Bowl. This put Alabama in the rare position of having to use an assistant coach for the bowl game and it was settled upon that defensive coordinator Joe Kines, a fan favorite, would get the nod in Shreveport.
Alabama's opponent that day, Oklahoma State, also came in at 6-6 but had the opposite problem of Alabama. Oklahoma State could pretty much score at will, they just had zero defense. They only scored less that 24 points twice all season (in losses to Texas and Oklahoma.) Their prolific offense often racked up tallies in the 40 and 50 point range and even hung 66 on hapless Baylor that year.
Alabama never led in the game in Shreveport after falling behind 7-0 five minutes and some change into the first quarter, but they tied it up a time or two and kept it close enough throughout the game to keep it interesting. Despite being a lower tier bowl, it had a lot of excitement in the form of eight touchdowns and a few clutch field goals.
Javier Arenas had an 86 yard punt return for a TD in the fourth quarter that gave Alabama a glimmer of hope that victory could be theirs. The Arenas TD cut the lead to 31-24 with plenty of time left in the game. Oklahoma State's Grant Jones fumbled the kickoff at their own 21 and it was recovered by Chris Rogers. At this point, it looked like Alabama would at least put points on the board and have plenty of time to tie or eventually win the game despite the offense being extremely sluggish in the 2nd half.
In a classic bit of Shula ball, the first play was Darby up the middle for a gain of one. Second down was an incomplete pass. On third down and nine (not exactly Alabama's forte), John Parker Wilson hits Nikita Stover for 18 yards for a first and goal on the two yard line. In comes the jumbo package and Tim Castille goes up the middle for no gain.
With second and goal at the two, Joe Kines makes what is one of my favorite play calls of all time: a lateral to left tackle Andre Smith. Smith lines up uncovered on the left side and when the ball is snapped, he makes a soft attempt at a block and then drops into the backfield to receive the pass from Wilson where he waddles into the endzone untouched. The play call befuddled the announcers and you can hear them stumbling for words while making the call. A flag is thrown and only after an instant replay review is the touchdown confirmed. Though the ball was passed, it counted as a rush since Smith received it in the backfield. Total genius. Kines had nothing to lose by making that call. We still had third down had it gone horribly wrong and it's not like Kines was going to get promoted to head coach even if Alabama had won the game.
Despite the game being tied and having all of the momentum, Alabama simply couldn't capitalize. Simeon Castille's intereception on Oklahoma State's next possession put Alabama in a great position to win since they got the ball on their own 42 yard line. A touchdown wasn't needed, a mere field goal would've done the job. After gaining one first down, the offense stalled and Alabama punted. Oklahoma State then mounted a 75 yard drive that pretty much chewed up the entire clock and the Cowboys kicked the winning field goal leaving only seconds on the clock. Alabama would've had to return the following kickoff for a TD to win and needless to say, that didn't happen.
Despite this being a lower tier bowl between two 6-6 teams and Alabama losing, I doubt there's a Tide fan out there that wouldn't call this play an absolute classic. Hats off to you Coach Kines for making this fantastic call...