TUSCALOOSA, Ala. Following the University of Alabama football team’s victory over Colorado at the 2007 PetroSun Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 30, the team’s coaching staff selected eight individuals for Player of the Game honors. Two offensive players and three individuals on defense and the special teams units earned recognition for their efforts in the Tide’s 31st all-time bowl win, an NCAA record.
John Parker Wilson, who earned Offensive Most Valuable Player honors from the Independence Bowl, was the first player honored by the Tide coaching staff. Wilson threw three touchdowns, all in the first half, and finished with 256 passing yards in the 30-24 victory. The three touchdown passes set an Independence Bowl record and tied the Alabama record for touchdown throws in a bowl game. Wilson bettered two of his single-season school records from last season, finishing with 2,846 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes in 2007.
Sophomore offensive tackle Andre Smith joined Wilson as the team’s Offensive Player of the Game. Smith, the only UA offensive lineman to start all 13 games at the same position in 2007, helped the offense generate 30 points in the win over Colorado. The offensive line allowed one sack on 32 pass attempts.
Senior Wallace Gilberry, who played in his final game in an Alabama uniform, earned Independence Bowl Defensive MVP honors in addition to the team’s Co-Defensive Player of the Game award for his efforts against the Buffaloes. Gilberry had eight tackles in the game, including five for loss and a sack. The five tackles-for-loss tied the Alabama single-game record and gave him 35 for his career, moving Gilberry ahead of Kindal Moorhead (1998-2002) on the UA all-time charts.
Linebacker Darren Mustin, who was also playing in his final game for the Tide, was the second player to earn recognition on the defensive side of the ball. Mustin, a former walk-on who was voted as a permanent team captain by his peers at the end of the regular season, had eight tackles, including one for loss, to go with an interception in his final collegiate game. The interception came in the fourth quarter off of a tipped pass, setting up a 26-yard field goal from Leigh Tiffin that gave the Tide a 13-point lead.
True freshman Rolando McClain joined his senior teammates as a Defensive Player of the Game honoree after a memorable performance in the win over CU. McClain, who fractured a thumb in the first half of the victory, played the majority of the rest of the game at middle linebacker. He finished with five tackles, including one for loss, and two pass breakups. He recorded his second interception of the season in Colorado’s first play from scrimmage, returning it 17 yards and setting up a Tiffin field goal to give the Tide a six-point advantage.
Javier Arenas, the Tide’s leading return man, earned Co-Special Teams Player of the Game honors in the win. Arenas, who missed the regular-season finale against Auburn with a high ankle injury, returned three kickoffs for 76 yards against Colorado, including a long of 31 yards. The sophomore finished the season with 657 kickoff return yards to set a new school record, bettering the previous mark of 595 set by Arvin Richard in 1998.
Senior wide receiver Matt Caddell, who led the team in receiving yards in the Independence Bowl, also earned accolades for his performance on special teams in the game. Caddell, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass in the first half, also blocked a punt in the second quarter to set up a Wilson touchdown pass to Nikita Stover to give the Tide a 27-0 lead, its largest of the game.
Rounding out the Special Teams Player of the Game honors was punter P.J. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, a sophomore who was the team’s punter throughout the season, punted four times for 180 yards in the Independence Bowl victory for an average of 45.0 yards per kick. He downed one punt inside the CU 20-yard line and had two touchbacks.
Smith finished the season with the most Offensive Player of the Week honors with five, Mustin was honored six times, the most of any player on defense, and Arenas had a team-high seven Special Teams Player of the Week awards in 2007. Rashad Johnson was honored five times on defense and once on special teams.