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April 13, 2012

A-Day success most often belongs to No. 1 offense

TUSCALOOSA | Brandon Gibson caught more than a game-winning touchdown pass to finish the 2010 A-Day game for a 23-17 White squad victory. He also caught some good-natured grief in the locker room, because UA coach Nick Saban extended the game by one play after time had expired in an effort to break a tie.

"Of course, the other team thought it was (wrong) considering time was expired, but they had a chance to stop me, and AJ made a good throw," Gibson said. "We took it as a win."

Recruiting Corner: A-Day Edition

Which recruits are bound for Tuscaloosa for A-Day? Check it out here.

What Gibson didn't realize until last week, however, was that the bonus play remains the only thing that keeps one A-Day squad from a perfect 5-0 record against the other under Saban. The A-Day squads are divided each year in the same way, with one team featuring the first-team offense and the second-team defense, and the other combining the second-team offense with the first-team defense. And Alabama's first-team offense and second-team defense has won every time except the year in which Gibson changed the script with the benefit of an extra play.

Is it coincidence?

Is there an advantage?

According to former UA quarterback Greg McElroy, there is definitely something to it.

"I don't think there's any question A-Day favors the team with the first offense and the second defense, because we were with the second defense, and those guys play a lot in the fall," McElroy said. "The third corner, your fourth corner, your third safety, those are all guys who really know what they're doing. The same goes for your whole second defensive line. So it's an experience thing."

Linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive end Quinton Dial are among the most experienced defenders playing with the second-team defense Saturday, although virtually all of the game-experienced defensive backs will play with the first-team defense.

Saban said Thursday the way the teams are divided provides the most competitive possible atmosphere.

"I think that makes the most competitive game. You can play these games best against the rest, you can use a points system, you can let them draft," Saban said. "I've done it every way you can do it. We've kind of settled here on doing it this way."

While the win-loss record may support the McElroy theory, the victory margins support Saban's. Every final score over the past five years has been relatively close, with the largest margin of victory only 10 points. Last year's game finished 14-10, and the previous year -- which Gibson's play ended -- was tied at 17 at the end of regulation time.

Saban noted the primary focus is on improving the team for the fall, regardless of the competitive structure used to divide the A-Day teams.

"I think this is going to be the best way to help our team develop and get ready for the season," he said.

The stakes are, well, steaks.

The winning A-Day squad will enjoy a steak dinner early next week, while the losing team will be treated to a plate of beans. Said linebacker Adrian Hubbard, who ate steak last year as part of the usual winning squad: "I'm not a beans man."

McElroy found himself on the losing end of A-Day in 2010, the year Gibson caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron to give the second offense its only taste of steak in five years.

And while he recognized losing A-Day isn't the same as losing a real game, he nevertheless wasn't happy about it.

"Of course, I was happy for AJ and Brandon and those guys. That goes without saying," McElroy said. "But yeah, I was bugged by it. I don't like to lose at anything. It was my last A-Day, and to end it like that wasn't much fun for our side. ... I didn't eat the beans. I just moved them around my plate in a circle. I guess you could say that was a silent protest, so to speak."

Saban ruled out three injured players for A-Day participation: offensive lineman Arie Kouandjio, and running backs Eddie Lacy and Blake Sims. The playing status of quarterback Phillip Sims (sore shoulder) remains uncertain; he has been limited in previous scrimmages. ... Saban and former Alabama running back Johnny Musso will form one of 16 teams in the sixth annual Chick-Fil-A Bowl Challenge charity golf tournament April 29-May 1. Other Southeastern Conference head coaches scheduled to compete include Steve Spurrier (South Carolina) and Derek Dooley (Tennessee). ... Visitors to Thursday's practice included former Alabama offensive tackle and Seattle Seahawks first-round draft pick James Carpenter.

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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