Perhaps it was the humidity and heat. Or maybe it was the 12 national championship banners hanging in the north end zone. Better yet, the record crowd of 83,818 who filed into newly expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium may have had something to do with it.
Whatever the reason, it took BYU a while to get comfortable in its first-ever meeting with Alabama. And though the Cougars eventually settled in, it wasn't enough to curb the Crimson Tide, who prevailed 38-31 on a steamy Saturday night in the South."We thought we had them. We thought we had them on the ropes when we tied it," BYU quarterback Kevin Feterik said. "But things happened. It's upsetting."
For the Cougars, it was simply a case of too many penalties, too many turnovers, and too much Shaun Alexander. The Alabama tailback, who finished with 115 yards on 26 carries, set a school record by scoring five touchdowns. The last two came in the final 7:02 and broke a 24-all tie.
"Five touchdowns in one game is nice, but I'm more concerned with wins and losses," Alexander said. "We played well in the first and fourth quarters, but we have to work on the middle two."
The win was Alabama's first in Tuscaloosa in two seasons. Second-year coach Mike DuBose entered the game with an 0-4 mark in games played on campus.
"This was one we desperately needed to win," he understated.
BYU could say the same thing. Dating back to last season, the Cougars have now lost four of their past five games. The skid includes three consecutive losses. BYU's last win on the road was a 19-16 victory at SMU last Sept. 27.
The Cougars, however, aren't ready to pack it in just yet - even with national powers Arizona State and Washington next up on the schedule.
"I think we have something to build on," Feterik said. "We did some good things."
BYU did overcome an early two touchdown deficit. And the Cougars even found themselves holding the ball with less than 10 minutes to play in a tie game. The comeback prompted BYU coach LaVell Edwards to praise his team's effort.
It came as little consolation, though.
"I felt like we could of, should of beat them," said defensive end Byron Frisch, whose team was victimized by a pair of late turnovers. The first was an interception of a Feterik offering to Aaron Roderick by Alabama cornerback Fernando Bryant. Shortly thereafter, Alexander put the Tide ahead for good, at 31-24, on a 28-yard touchdown run with 7:02 left to play.
BYU's next possession further sealed the outcome. A bad snap from Jimmy Richards, who had injured his shoulder on a previous play, gave 'Bama another possession two minutes later. The Tide took almost 31/2 minutes off the clock - thanks in part to a defensive holding penalty on the Cougars - before Alexander capped his scoring with a 2-yard run.
Feterik's 13-yard touchdown scamper made it 38-31 with 13 seconds to go, but BYU failed to retrieve an onside kick and Alabama ran out the clock.
The ending left the Cougars thinking about their slow start.
Alabama led 24-14 at halftime after dominating BYU on both sides of the ball. Tailback Shaun Alexander scored three touchdowns while racking up 77 yards rushing in the first half to headline an offense that produced 212 net yards and 18 first downs. The Tide's defense did their part as well - holding BYU to 90 yards and nine first downs while sacking quarterback Feterik four times.
The tables turned in the third quarter as the Cougars stormed back to erase the deficit. A 6-yard touchdown run by freshman Junior Mahe and a 23-yard field goal from Owen Pochman allowed BYU to pull even.
"We thought we had the momentum," Morris said. "But penalties and turnovers will kill you."
It didn't take long for Alabama quarterback John David Phillips, who eventually left the game for a time because of cramps in his throwing hand and legs, to establish himself. The senior, who made his first start armed with just three career pass attempts, directed the Crimson Tide to touchdowns in their first two possessions.
Phillips completed his first five passes, including a pivotal third-and-14 connection to Quincy Jackson for a first down, to keep the initial drive alive. Alabama eventually capped the 15-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Alexander.
Leading 7-0 after Ryan Pflugner added the PAT, Alabama limited BYU to three shaky plays - which coupled with an illegal procedure penalty resulted in a net loss of 16 yards - before forcing the Cougars to punt.
"Our first couple of plays really got fouled up," said Feterik, who wound up completing 19 of 30 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
Taking over at the BYU 47, the Tide quickly rolled back into the end zone. On the third play of the series, Alexander rambled around the left side of BYU's defense for a 37-yard score.
Alabama racked up eight first downs and 121 yards of total offense to lead 14-0 before the quarter came to an end, shortly after the Cougars punted for the second time.
Although plentiful, BYU's misfortune wasn't a constant. Alabama had its moments as well. And the Cougars willingly capitalized.
The first miscue, a fumble by Alexander, cut 'Bama's lead in half early in the second quarter. Defensive end Byron Frisch scooped up the ball and ran 39 yards for a touchdown to extend BYU's NCAA-record streak of games without being shutout to 287.
The Cougars added another score later in the quarter when Feterik and tight end Tevita Ofahengaue teamed on a 10-yard touchdown pass. BYU began the possession after Carlos Nuno recovered a fumbled Alabama punt return.