Tide a blue-collar team?

When asked by a reporter during his regular Sunday teleconference if he thought the 2001 Crimson Tide would have to scratch and claw for every point, Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione didn't disagree. "Blue-collar team? I think that's exactly right. I think we'll have to fight our tail off every week. If we get it down to a play or two here and there, we've just got to hope we can make our two more plays."

Though the margin of victory was much closer than any Bama fan would have liked, Franchione found some positives in the way the Tide offense ran the football. "I think our whole offensive unit, the offensive line and the backs, felt like we could run the ball right at Vanderbilt, and we did a good job of that," Franchione said. "It wasn't a game where we need or had to throw the ball as much as we did the week before. The reason for that was the success that Ahmaad (Galloway) and Ray (Hudson) had in the running game. (Ahmaad) broke some tackles yesterday, made some nice cuts. I thought our line took a step and got a little bit better yesterday, and Ahmaad read their blocks well."

Ahmaad Galloway gained 144 yards rushing versus Vanderbilt.

Galloway started versus Vanderbilt, and he and Hudson wound up being the only two tailbacks used by the Tide. "Both have played consistently," Franchione said. "Ahmaad especially has been very consistent. And Ray certainly gave us a nice burst at times yesterday. He very nearly broke one all the way. A shoestring tackle saved it. Those two have probably done very well. There's no doubt about it.

"Ahmaad is a smart football player as well as a good runner. He understands the offense, and he is very responsible in trying to make sure he has his assignments down. He is a leader, a guy that teaches the other backs sometimes, if they're missing their assignments during practice or games."

But just the fact that sophomore Brandon Miree didn't see action Saturday does not mean that Franchione is dissatisfied with his ability. "The week before we played UCLA Brandon missed most of that week of practice with an infection in his foot," Franchione revealed. "He got to play a little bit in that game and had some handoff problems that were obviously from missing some time in practice, which hurt him.

Reserve tailback Brandon Miree

"Saturday it was more a matter of us getting into a rhythm with (Galloway and Hudson), and we stayed with them. As the game wore on, every play became critical. I think sometimes if you don't substitute early, then it's hard to substitute late. Both those guys had good solid days. They were seeing the seams and running the ball well. It was such that they spelled each other nicely. It wasn't a situation where we needed to go to a third running back, but there may be a day like that."

Under Franchione, the Tide assistants name a top player at each position based on their evaluation of game film. "Our Offensive Lineman of the Week is Alonzo Ephraim, and our Offensive Back of the Week is Ahmaad Galloway. The Special Teams Player of the Week went to Neal Thomas and Saleem Rasheed. Kindal Moorehead was our Defensive Lineman of the Week. Waine Bacon was our Defensive Back of the Week."

"Waine has done well," Franchione added. "He played a solid football game for us yesterday. He graded out with what we would call a winning performance. He gave us a solid effort. He did not have a missed tackle and had one pass breakup. His emergence has been not been a surprise. He's been pleasant to have, because we needed him to step with Shontua (Ray) and his (injury). I think Waine is only going to get better."

Redshirt freshmen linemen Justin Smiley (#78) and Wesley Britt (#70) led the team in knockdown blocks.

Another performance measure kept by the Bama coaches tracks blocking. "We ended up with 70 knockdowns as an offense," Franchione revealed. "Justin Smiley led us with nine. Wesley Britt had eight. We ended up with 13 from our receivers and 14 from our tight ends. We would like to see those number rise. In a game where we ran the ball as much as we did versus Vanderbilt (the number) should be higher. I think over time it will be higher."

Improving Bama's blocking and tackling remain key goals for Franchione. But his squad has now gone eight quarters without scoring a touchdown from within the opponent's 20-yardline. "Obviously my main concern is being able to get points when we get into the red zone," he said. "We got down there enough times now, and we have not gotten a touchdown yet from the red zone. That is a concern for us and something that we'll work hard on this week. We've just got to execute better in the red zone."

Franchione revealed what he believes to be the problems. "We've got to handle our assignments better. We've got to do the little things right. When you get down close, every little thing you don't do correctly becomes magnified, and it hurts your chance to score. Being able to power-run the ball better would help."

‘AC' Carter had a 50-yard kickoff return versus Vandy.

On offense, Franchione singled out several players for their play versus the Commodores. "We felt like Tyler (Watts) played a solid game. Freddie (Milons) and AC (Carter) gave us some good returns. Our offensive line as a group improved. Alonzo Ephraim would be our Offensive Lineman of the Week. He probably gave us a good performance. Wesley Britt took some big steps and improved. Terry Jones and Theo Sanders both played solid for us."

"Defensively, Kindal Moorehead had the best game of anybody up front, though we felt like Kenny King, Jarret Johnson and Aries Monroe did give us a winning grade," Franchione continued. "Brooks Daniels at linebacker was the one guy that flew around and gave us the effort. We felt pretty good about (Waine) Bacon and (Charles) Jones at the safety position."

With a fifth-year senior quarterback throwing effectively all game, it wasn't the best effort from the Tide cornerbacks. "I know Coach Thurmond was concerned about all his corners yesterday," Franchione admitted. "Though I think he felt like Hirchel Bolden made some plays and Thurman Ward got better. But they all need to play better man coverage. I don't want to sound critical of them. They did a pretty good job for most of the day. They didn't let a touchdown get in there."

Reserve cornerback Thurman Ward

Fifteen missed tackles also concern Franchione. "We're going to continue to work our tackling drills in practice. The week before we were really pretty good in that area. So until the amount that we had yesterday, we hadn't thrown up a red flag. We went into the season knowing this team needed to improve its tackling."

Interestingly, despite exhaustive coverage of Alabama's NCAA problems prompted by the receipt Thursday of the Official Letter of Inquiry, Franchione doesn't think the squad was distracted. "I thought our kids focused as well as you could ask them to on what was important in their preparation and doing the things that we can to have a chance to play well."

Keeping his commitment to play reserves on a regular basis, Alabama went two deep at many positions versus the Commodores. Explained Franchione; "You get into a game and get into tight situations and you don't substitute as much as you had hoped to going in, but to this point in time I think our coaches have done a good job of playing a lot of people. For the last two years, especially defensively, we've hoped to be deep enough to play two people (at every position)."

Junior-college transfer Donald Clarke improving at tight end

"I think for defensive linemen especially, it's important to be two-deep," Franchione continued. "The amount of times you rush the passer is so much greater than ever before, and if you can keep some freshness to those D-Linemen, then it helps them step forward. Fortunately, there's not a lot that separates our DBs. We feel pretty good about all of them playing, and they're all playing on special teams. Having eight offensive linemen is a real plus. Our two tight ends help, and I think Donald Clarke is starting to get closer and closer. We want to play as many people as we can, if we have confidence in them, to give us our best chance to win."

Following the season-opener in with quarterback Tyler Watts repeatedly attacked the Bruin defense with the option, many analysts were quick to label Alabama an option team. But the play was little-used versus the Commodores. "Yesterday's game plan was different," Franchione said. "As I've said before, we're not an option team. We just run some option now and then. The UCLA game plan worked well for us, and we ended up using it more. Yesterday it was not as big a part of the plan. I think we ran one or two. It's going to be something that we use as a mixer play. If it's there, then we certainly want to take advantage, but it's not what we rely on."

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