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September 21, 2007

Wilson, Stafford point to big moments in careers

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - John Parker Wilson remembers the cheers, surging in volume with every completion.

No. 16 Alabama's quarterback remembers the silence, too. A collective, hold-your-breath stillness every time he needed to call the next play.

``And I don't usually notice the crowd,'' Wilson said.

What he doesn't remember about that game-winning touchdown drive against Arkansas was feeling the pressure even with 92,000 fans putting their hopes on his shoulders.

``Everybody thinks the pressure's on us to go out and score,'' he said. ``I don't think of that. I think we have a chance to go out and win.

``We have whatever time left and if we score we're going to win the game. I just think it's exciting.''

Now, Wilson and the Crimson Tide (3-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) are hoping to carry that excitement and confidence from a 41-38 win over Arkansas over into Saturday night's game with No. 22 Georgia (2-1, 0-1).

That 4-yard touchdown pass to Matt Caddell with 8 seconds left was a big moment not only for Alabama, but for Wilson. It might not be the kind of turning point that the Bulldogs' Matthew Stafford had on his team's last visit to this state, though.

Stafford seemed to go from a mistake-prone freshman to a steadier quarterback in last year's 37-15 win over at No. 5 Auburn to start a three-game, season-ending winning streak. Think that's not as dramatic as a game-winning TD?

Well, the Bulldogs had endured nearly unheard-of losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the month leading up to the game and had dropped four of their last five.

``It was just a game that we really started connecting as a quarterback and a receiving corps,'' Stafford said.

Georgia coach Mark Richt took it a step further.

``The greatest improvement he made began at the Auburn game last year, for him to play the way he did and control the turnovers,'' Richt said. ``That was the thing that was killing him and killing us.

``From that point on, he's really done a good job of taking care of the ball and giving us an opportunity to win every game.''

The Arkansas game marked the first time a Tide quarterback had led a comeback victory in the fourth quarter since Brodie Croyle in the 2001 Independence Bowl against Iowa State. Wilson knows it's also an entry into his Alabama legacy, especially since that final drive vaulted the team into the rankings after more than a year's absence.

``That's stuff that people remember,'' he said. ``If you can win games like that, it's just special.''

The game was perhaps Wilson's most impressive and most up-and-down performance all in one. He lost a fumble and threw two interceptions, helping the Razorbacks mount a big comeback in the second half.

``We did some great things in the passing game but a couple of those turnovers were costly,'' said Wilson, who passed for 327 yards and four touchdowns. ``They got them back in the game and could have gotten us beat.''

The Tide's passing game hadn't been all that impressive before that game. Wilson had thrown for just 339 yards and no TDs in wins over Western Carolina and Vanderbilt, but he had also only been intercepted once.

``I don't lose faith in John Parker,'' Alabama center Antoine Caldwell said. ``I know what kind of leader we have on this football team. And he's been like that since I've been here. He's an incredible leader, he stays calm all the time on the sidelines, in the huddle.

``We all know that when the play needs to be made, he's going to make it. I can't say enough about that drive he put together for us.''

As for Stafford, Tide coach Nick Saban praises his accuracy and ``great arm talent.'' Mostly he looks at his 8-3 record as a starter despite being thrust into the starting job so early.

``For a young guy, he's been successful as a quarterback,'' Saban said. ``He seems to have a great understanding of their offense.

``He shows a lot of maturity at his position. I think the guy's a fantastic player and he's already one of the best quarterbacks in the league, but he probably soon will be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.''



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