The most notable effect of the terrorism that killed thousands in New York, Washington, C.D. and Pennsylvania, insofar as Alabama football is concerned is that last Saturday's game against Southern Miss, like all major college football games and most major sporting events, was postponed. There is a possibility that progress on rescheduling games will be made early this week.
Alabama will host Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a game that will be televised by CBS. Both teams are 1-1 with Alabama 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play, Arkansas 0-1 in the league.
In his regular Sunday afternoon telephone press briefing, Franchione said, "We spent a good bit of time at the office Saturday working on Arkansas and starting on our game plan." But, he said, he had the television set on in his office in order to keep up with what was going on in the world. Additionally, he said, "During the day coaches would pop into my office with the latest news." And, he said, when he went home the news and ramifications of the terrorism were the items of discussion. He said there was also time spent making sure family was safe. And he and his wife had a special concern with the serious illness of the provost at TCU, where Franchione previously coached.
"I'm trying to maintain focus on what we have control over, but it's difficult to ignore what is going on in the world," Franchione said.
The Tide head coach said that what turned out to be an open week gave his staff an opportunity to get about a day ahead in preparation. He said, "I think it's a benefit to get ready early. Now, we didn't gain an advantage, because Arkansas could too. But it gave the coaches and players a little time to re-charge their batteries."
Franchione said, "I think there are some things we can carry over from offensive preparation last week because Southern Miss and Arkansas do some things similar on defense." He noted that John Thompson, a former Alabama assistant coach who is now defensive coordinator at Arkansas, was previously defensive coordinator at Southern Miss. Franchione sees similarities in what Southern Miss does (and which Alabama prepared for last week) and in what Arkansas does. Franchione is impressed with an Arkansas defense that he says is aggressive, runs to the ball well, and is playing well.
As for the Arkansas offense, Franchione said, "I think they are still kind of finding themselves. I suspect they wish they could have played, just like we wish we could have, so we could get better."
In order to handle the Arkansas offense, Franchione said, "We'd like to shore up our tackling. We gave up a big play or two in the UCLA game. We haven't had many sacks. We've played pretty good in the red zone. We haven't given up a lot of points. If we can play just a little more consistently I believe we can get better defensively."
He noted that Arkansas has a young quarterback and that Alabama's defense needs to try to put pressure on him with the defensive line rush and also give different looks. "Sometimes threat of pressure is as good as the actual pressure," the coach said. He noted that in Bama's last game Vanderbilt quarterback Greg Zolman, a senior veteran, was unaffected by the Tide's rush. He added that Tide defensive tackle Jarrett Johnson had said that some defensive linemen are getting double-teamed and the other ones have to make the plays. "And I agree with Jarrett," the coach said.
Normalcy has not been part of the nomenclature recently. In addition to the national horror of last week, Alabama's football program has been distracted by the NCAA investigation into its program. "I'd like to get back into a normal rhythm," Franchione said. "If it had been a normal open week we could have spent Tuesday and Wednesday just working on us. But we were in normal game plan preparation for Southern Miss."
Franchione said that one area in which Alabama showed improvement against Vanderbilt was in the kicking game. "We did pretty well in all aspects and didn't have any glaring errors," he said.
The Tide head coach said he expected strong safety Shontua Ray to return to action this week. Ray was injured in the opening game. But, said the coach, "I think Waine (Bacon) has earned the starting position."
Reporters covering Arkansas were among those on the teleconference. In answer to a question from one of them about Tyler Watts winning the quarterback job, Franchione said, "The primary reason is Tyler's intelligence in picking up offense. He has been very solid in our first two games; not flashy, but solid. His knowledge of the offense is best of all the quarterbacks. He's given us some real gritty performances. He's careful with the football and he's made plays for us when the play has broken down. He's scrambled topick up yards and keep drives going."
Another asked about the apparent return to 1999 form of wide receiver Freddie Milons. Franchione said, "Freddie has had a great attitude, worked very hard, been one of our team leaders, and made a lot of plays for us. I think he's set the pace for our entire team."