Coach Fran Looks For Improvement

Every football coach hopes that his team shows great improvement between its first game and its second game. Alabama's football team did some good things in its opening game, but the result was a 20-17 loss to UCLA. Although this is not the same Alabama team as the squad that went 3-8 in 2000 (any more than that was the same UCLA team that had lost nine of its previous ten road games), Bama has, indeed, lost six straight games dating back to last year.

The Tide will try to get on a winning track beginning this week in Nashville when the Tide takes on Vanderbilt, a team Bama has defeated 16 straight games. Kickoff Saturday in Vanderbilt Stadium will be shortly after 11:30 a.m. CDT with regional television coverage by Jefferson Pilot.

One thing Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione is not worried about is his team being overconfident against Vanderbilt. "If this team has over-confidence, it's arrogance," he said. "There's no reason for us to be overconfident."

The coach said, "If we had been able to win (last week) it would have been a really good step. I think we're kind of re-learning that aura…how to fight and play to the end and make that extra play or two and not make those mistakes that keep you from winning."

Franchione didn't say whether he has yet seen the improvement he is looking for this week against the Commodores, who also lost their opening game. "I was disappointed in Tuesday's practice," he said, calling that workout sluggish. He said that Wednesday's practice was better. "I would have liked to have seen more purpose Tuesday," he said. "Sometimes the players want to do what they ‘have' to do instead of what they ‘need' to do, and it's the responsibility of the coaches to extract that extra. It is important that we have better focus. Everything we do is still in our first cycle. This is our first week after a game. We're having a growing period together. We're beginning to understand how to prepare. You don't win on Saturday. You win through your preparation on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, which gives you a chance to win on Saturday."

He added, "Players love Saturdays. Coaches love Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays."

Franchione isn't expecting many changes in the Tide's starting line-up Saturday, although he did say that Waine Bacon had moved ahead of Shontua Ray at strong safety since Ray was injured during the UCLA game.

The Tide coach thinks there is a chance that back-up tailback Ray Hudson could play more this week. "I think he played about the right number of plays for a first game," Franchione said. Hudson, who was a defensive back until this fall, was in on 22 offensive plays and seven special teams snaps. He had two rushes for 19 yards and was also part of an exciting late game, last ditch effort taking a lateral from Freddie Milons and going 21 yards, a play that took Bama from its own 10-yard line to the 36. However, the Tide was unable to move into field goal range and a chance to put the game in overtime.

Franchione said Alabama's Southeastern Conference road game limit of 70 players would include four quarterbacks. He does not yet know if it will include tailback Santonio Beard, who the coach said is "on the bubble." He said Beard has great athletic ability but continues to have too many missed assignments.

Alabama's Achilles heel against UCLA was 15 penalties, a staggering number in any event and made to seem greater in that UCLA was not penalized. Although Franchione said coaches and players have been putting more emphasis on avoiding infractions in practice this week, the head coach said, "I don't think we had a lot of penalties (in practice) going into last week." He said, "We had nice yardage last week, but we didn't convert it into points. We shot ourselves in the foot too often."

Franchione expects Vanderbilt to play much better against Alabama than the Commodores did in their season-opening loss to Middle Tennessee State last Thursday. He said "I expect them to come back and fight hard. I expect a totally different team than the one we saw last Thursday. That put them in a corner and a guy cornered is going to fight hard. Plus, they've had two extra days to prepare. And I think it's an advantage that they have a senior quarterback (Greg Zolman) who has played a lot of snaps in their offense. That's one reason they are able to run a no-huddle offense."

He said that Vanderbilt's no-huddle offense is "deliberate," and said the Commodores would throw the ball downfield.

Franchione said there was no concern about the early kickoff time. Bama will go to Nashville Friday for a short workout. He said the change in routine would involve having the kicking game meeting on Friday night. "Then we just have to get up earlier on Saturday," he said.

As for the big question of the day, Franchione is not as blessed as Birmingham television reporters. He doesn't have any "inside sources" who have told him whether the Letter of Official Inquiry from the NCAA has arrived. (No responsible journalist has any reason to believe it has or has not.) In any event, Franchione repeated, "There's not anything we can do about it. We have to keep our focus on what we have control over. What we need to do is our very best to prepare for Vanderbilt."

But speaking of letters, Franchione said he has received some from Alabama fans following his first game. He joked that he has his staff destroy the negative ones, but said the majority were very supportive. "We had a lot of positive comments," he said. "Most people appreciated the effort by the players, and I appreciated hearing that." He added that he really didn't have much time for the letters, but said it is a tribute to Alabama fans that they care enough about the program to take the time to write.

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