An Anxious, But Exciting, Time

Alabama's first football game of the 2001 season and of the Dennis Franchione Era could be many things, but the Crimson Tide's new head coach hopes that whether the outcome is good or bad that it doesn't set the tone for the entire season. Regardless of the result when Alabama hosts UCLA Saturday, Franchione hopes that his team will continue to build on the good things and get ready to play its next game.

"We have to keep it all in perspective," he said. "But," he added, "if we win, I hope it leads to about 45 more straight wins."

Franchione acknowledged that last year's Alabama football team never recovered from its 35-24 loss to the Bruins in the season-opener in Pasadena. "It sent them in the wrong direction," Franchione said. "We can't let that happen." He said if the Tide wins it has to avoid becoming too excited and losing direction and if Bama doesn't do well that it must still get prepared for the next game. "Every game counts as one," he said. "UCLA is a big game, but the Vandy game the next week is a (Southeastern) Conference game."

Franchione, speaking to the press prior to Tuesday afternoon's two-hour workout in full gear, said it was good to get to game week. "The players are excited," he said. He added that he is frequently asked if the team is ready, and said, "We're ready to find out if we're ready." He said Alabama still needed as much practice time as it could get.

He noted that opening games are always "anxious times" for coaches. He noted that sometimes an opening game reveals that "the enemy is us." He said he hoped Alabama could avoid the turnovers that have been costly to teams like Colorado and North Carolina in early games this season.

Franchione said there are a number of things that make UCLA a tough opponent, citing, as he has before, the return of tailback DeShaun Foster, who rushed for 1,037 yards last year, including 187 and three touchdowns against Alabama; quarterback Cory Paus, who passed for 2,154 yards, although he played only briefly before being injured against Bama; and wide receiver Brian Poli-Dixon, who caught 53 passes for 750 yards. "They have balance, which means we'll have our hands full," the Alabama coach said.

And even though UCLA did not have good defense last year, Franchione said they have gotten a number of players back from injury and should have a solid, experienced squad.

Personally, Franchione said, he hopes to be able to "savor the moment" for a minute of so during warm-ups. He expects a great atmosphere in part because "Alabama fans are so passionate." He said he hopes the Alabama crowd makes Bryant-Denny Stadium a difficult place for visiting teams.

Alabama's latest depth chart lists Kenny King as the number one nose tackle. Franchione said the primary reason for that "is to get our four best defensive linemen on the field together." He's joined by tackle Jarret Johnson and ends Kindal Moorehead and Aries Monroe. There are no other surprises among the starters.

Franchione is not announcing a starting quarterback and the depth chart lists "Andrew Zow OR Tyler Watts." He said it was "likely" both would play, but wouldn't commit to 100 per cent. The coach said, "We have a plan." He noted that both quarterbacks can run the offense, although he said that both also had particular strengths.

He said it would not be a surprise for Alabama to use all four of its tailbacks Saturday.

The coach thinks that a critical match-up will be Alabama's offensive line, which includes two redshirt freshmen and two others who have played very little, against UCLA's defensive line. Franchione said Bama is getting good leadership from the three junior linemen who have played, strongside tackle Dante Ellington, strongside guard Marico Portis, and center Alonzo Ephraim. Of those Ellington is, by far, the most experienced.

Franchione said last weekend's "mock game" went well. He said players perform best when they are comfortable and he wanted to put them in a comfort zone. The squad went through virtually every eventuality from pre-game warm-ups through a possible overtime.

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