All major college football games and sporting events were cancelled last week as a result of the terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. There is still no word on arrangements for Alabama to re-schedule its game with Southern Miss or play another opponent.
Franchione has noted that the only possible dates appear to be using or re-arranging Alabama's current October 27 off week or playing Southern Miss on December 1, which would involve the Golden Eagles re-arranging their schedule since they have a November 30 game. There have been reports that the SEC is considering the possibility of schools changing non-conference opponents. Franchione said Alabama needs to have its 11th game. It was pointed out that Troy State, new this year to Division 1A, has an open date December 1 and also needs a game. Franchione didn't comment on that other than to say that Athletics Director Mal Moore would do most of the work in re-scheduling. "I've spent far more time worrying about Arkansas," he said.
Bama is now preparing to host Arkansas in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff Saturday will be shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS. Both teams are 1-1 with Alabama 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play, Arkansas0-1 in the league.
Franchione said he supported the additional security measures that are being taken for Saturday's game. The University has also asked that with the exception of the Arkansas team airplane that other aircraft be kept out of Tuscaloosa air space for three hours before, during and for two hours after the game. There will be extra security at the gates (which are opening early, 11:30 a.m.) and fans will not be allowed to enter with backpacks, cameras, camera cases, or oversized purses.
Now, Franchione said, "We're ready to go forward. It's time to focus on those things we have control over." He noted that the past two weeks have included distractions, first in the form of the NCAA Letter of Inquiry laying out charges against the football program, then by the terrorism. "For us to be successful, we have to do our best to eliminate distractions."
The Crimson Tide has been away from the practice field all but one day in the previous four prior to Tuesday's practice. Franchione said that Sunday's practice was good and that he thought the additional rest had helped the players get some bounce back in their legs.
Franchione said he wouldn't know if the week off was good until he sees the team play Saturday. He said if Bama was going to have an open week he wished it could have come after one more game. He noted, "We're still learning about the players and they're still learning about us."
The coach did say he didn't know what the emotional state of everyone involved–players, coaches and fans–would have been if the game had been played last Saturday. But, he said, he thought the players practiced pretty well after learning of the cancellation before practice last Thursday and followed that up with a good Sunday workout. Franchione, who gave the players off Friday and Saturday, said, "I left the field Sunday thinking we are getting better."
Franchione said he believes that if Alabama players stay reasonably healthy that he expects the offense to improve as the season goes on. He said he has been pleased with the performance of a young offensive line. "I think we're getting more confident and learning our assignments and reacting well to different fronts and blitzes. The offensive line is doing a good job. It's not where it needs to be, but it's improving." Franchione gave much of the credit for the improvement in the offensive line to Assistant Coach Jim Bob Helduser.
The Tide coach had nothing but good to say about the Arkansas defense, which is headed up by John Thompson, who once coached at Alabama. Franchione is particularly impressed with the speed and quickness of the Razorbacks' defense, which, he said, runs to the ball well. He particularly noted the play of the secondary, which is led by safety Ken Hamlin.
Franchione said the Arkansas defense "has been trying to find itself," but said he thinks the Razorbacks may have settled on a quarterback (Ryan Sorahan) after having played four quarterbacks this season.
Alabama, too, has had its offensive troubles, although the Tide averages over 400 yards. "We've got to convert those yards into points," said Franchione. Alabama ranks 11th and Arkansas 12th in the SEC in scoring, so Franchione wasn't exactly out on a limb when he predicted a low-scoring game. "I think it will be hard-fought," he said. "I think both sides will have to fight for yards and points. I think that's the way it's going to be for us every week. I'd like to score more, but I think it will be low-scoring. Field position and the kicking game are heightened in importance in a game like that."
Arkansas's media relations office mistakenly said this week that the Hogs are 4-1 against Alabama in games played in Tuscaloosa. The official record is 3-1, and that includes a game "won" by Arkansas when the NCAA forced a forfeit. On the field Arkansas can take pleasure in having "won" that game by the score of Alabama 43, Arkansas 3. Franchione noted that "last year's loss to Arkansas included a couple of bad calls. And I think a couple of times in recent years Arkansas has had 12 men on the field. I'm glad the game is being played in our house, but they'll have some confidence because they've had some success here."
It was also announced this week that Alabama's game a week from Saturday at South Carolina will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot with kickoff in Columbia at just after 12:30 p.m. EDT, which is 11:30 a.m. CDT.