November 9, 2007

Lowe fuel

Forgive Jonathan Lowe if he wouldn't mind seeing Mississippi State win the coin toss before Saturday's game between his Alabama team and his former teammates at MSU.

Alabama at Mississippi State
When: Saturday, 11:30 a.m. CST
Where: Scott Field, Starkville, MS.
Records: Alabama (6-3, 4-2 SEC); MSU (5-4, 2-3 SEC)
The line: Alabama by 4
Television: Lincoln-Financial.
After all, the second-half deferral that has become the norm for the coin-toss winner would get Lowe on the field as soon as toe meets leather. And for a guy returning to Scott Field wearing an enemy uniform, Lowe would just as soon handle the opening kickoff and get his jitters out immediately.

"I can't lie," said the 5-foot-7 transfer. "There's going to be a little extra intensity down in Starkville."

Lowe played at Mississippi State for two years, mostly as a return specialist, until transferring to Alabama in the spring of 2006. He sat out that season while redshirting, and has impressed new coach Nick Saban enough to earn a bit of playing time this year. Until a week ago, it appeared Lowe's chance to burn his old team would come only as a kickoff returner. But last week in Alabama's loss to LSU, the junior got his first action of the season at running back and carried 10 times.

If he is the primary backup for starting running back Terry Grant again Saturday, Lowe figures to get at least 10 touches between that role and his kickoff return duty.

"I'm excited to be playing period," he said. "That [increased role just before the MSU game] is a coincidence - I just feel like this was meant to happen."

Lowe's first chance at playing time at Alabama got off to the worst of starts when he was academically ineligible to join the team at the beginning of Fall camp. That set him back on the depth chart, and an ankle injury set him back mid-season. Now healthy, Lowe hopes the last third of Alabama's season can serve as a springboard for 2008.

"We haven't been able to get him in the running back flow of things like we had planned to do a long time ago," said Saban. "I think Jonathan Lowe is healthy now and, hopefully, he will continue to get healthier and become more of a contributor with his explosiveness."

Lowe watched helplessly last year as MSU's upset of Alabama sent the Crimson Tide's season into a tailspin and simultaneously renewed faith in Croom's program.

"I was in the stands that game and I was thinking 'Did I bring these guys bad luck'?", Lowe said.

Despite the limited action he saw in his two years at Mississippi State, Lowe said playing time was a non-factor in his decision to transfer to his home-state school. As a freshman in 2004, he delivered the key play in MSU's upset win over Florida with a 73-yard punt return for a score. In fact, transferring wasn't even his idea.

"Your mom is going to me a mom. So when things aren't going the way she feels they should go, she steps in," said Lowe. "If your mom feels like things aren't going right, she has to step in and do her duty and that's exactly what she did. Her decision overrides anyone."

Lowe said MSU coach Sylvester Croom tried to convince him to stay, but eventually relented. Croom, on the other hand, hinted that playing time was indeed a factor.

"Jonathan had strong Alabama ties as we know with his family," Croom said. "... He hit a small spell where he was not handling the ball as well and we made a change there. He did not get a whole lot of playing time. ... We just could never find a fit for him. In the process, he decided it was best if he moved on and we granted him his wish."

Either way, Lowe hasn't taken long to earn the respect of his Alabama teammates.

"On defense we have to go against him on scout team we had a difficult time tackling him all the time," said safety Rashad Johnson. "We all talked amongst each other and said 'You know, sooner or later coach [Saban] is going to put him out there'."

He did. And if Lowe has his way, the Bulldogs will regret every time he touches the ball.

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