Milons looking for an edge

Technology has affected everything these days, and one way college football has changed is the intense film study that is now an integral part of game prep. Both sides search for a tendency or an edge to exploit. And in scouring Arkansas film this week, Freddie Milons thinks he may have spotted something. "One of their leading tacklers is (free safety Kenny Hamlin). Just from common sense (you know) that if he's down in the block making tackles, then who's over the top helping the cornerbacks?"

"That's one thing we've seen. No. 6 is a pretty good player. Hopefully our quarterback can make the read, then check off and give our skill players--me and Antonio Carter--the chance to make plays. A big play--to get the crowd into it and get momentum on our side."

Under the direction of Coordinator John Thompson (a former assistant at Alabama), the Hawgs have developed a reputation for stifling defense. But in some ways football is like a chess match; every move has a countermove. Milons explained; "If their safeties are in the box making plays, then that means their coaching staff has a lot of confidence in their cornerbacks. We're going to have to study film. Find out their tendencies and then make plays on them."

In its first two games Bama's offense has gained good yardage--but scored few points. However, Milons agrees with Head Coach Dennis Franchione's prediction that the Tide offense will continue to grow and evolve as the season wears along. "That's what I like about the offense," Milons said. "Coach Fran's approach is to not try to put too much offense in (early). We've gone two weeks now putting up a bunch of yards of offense. He's taken his time and allowed us to adjust as a team. Me as a skill player, I'm looking forward to Coach Fran showing more of the playbook as circumstances and situations allow. Whatever the play, we try to run that play to the best of our ability."

After the first two games, Milons is averaging 26.4 yards per catch, including a 71-yard touchdown versus the Bruins.

Heading into its third game, the Tide remains a work in progress. A solid overall effort in the season-opener versus UCLA ended up a close loss. And then a ragged performance in week two yielded a much-too-close win, leaving Bama fans wondering just how good this year's team really is.

Milons understands the questions and views Saturday's game at Bryant-Denny as the perfect chance to lay those fears to rest. "We're coming home. We played UCLA in our first home game and didn't get a win. Our fans were pretty supportive of that, but we'd much rather have a win for our fans. We're looking forward to playing real hard in front of the home crowd. Get them motivated. Get them excited. It's been two weeks since they've seen us play. We want to play physical, play without mistakes and try to get a victory."

Since joining the SEC in 1992, the Razorbacks have made a habit of playing Alabama tough. And last year's close loss was especially hard on the Tide players. Milons explained; "I just remember the rain and a very hostile crowd. I remember the pass play when they had 12 guys on the field. That was part of their win.

"But the main thing is that it was a very disappointing loss for us. We really thought we played well enough to win the game. We played pretty physical, but we made a few mistakes."

Partisan Tide fans claim that playing with 12 men on the field has become something of an Arkansas tradition. But while it's certainly true that several crucial calls going against Alabama have played a part in recent losses to the Hawgs, Milons makes no excuses. "There were a lot of calls that you wouldn't want to have called against you last year at Arkansas," he agreed. "But the referees are human. They make mistakes. You can't leave the game up to them. You can't leave the game to the referees to decide. You play hard every down, because you never know what play is going to determine the game. Just make plays and don't allow the referee to decide it."

"After every loss (last season) I remember saying ‘We've got them again,'" Milons continued. "'We'll have another opportunity.' But now this is my last opportunity. This is the last chance to play Arkansas."

Last year's rain-soaked loss is frankly a memory Milons would like to forget, preferring to talk about the '99 victory that played a key role in the Tide's SEC championship run. Recalled Milons; "That was a nice game. I remember throwing a (touchdown) pass to Jason McAddley. I remember catching a ball and scoring. That was a big game for us. It led to us beating Florida. We had the whole defense and offense clicking on the same page. Scoring 35 points again this week would be very good."

Arkansas began 2001 with a close victory over UNLV. That contest featured a dismal offensive performance by both teams, which unfortunately for Hawg fans was repeated in a second-game loss to Tennessee.

So Alabama and Arkansas enter Saturday's showdown with identical 1-1 records. "We're looking forward to this game due to the fact that both teams have had the same amount of rest," Milons said. "Pretty much the same amount of time to prepare for each other. It's going to be a big test for both programs."

Milons believes Bama's problems in the redzone will be solved by Tide playmakers making plays.

In recent years especially, the Tide/Hawg showdown has been hard-fought--for obvious reasons. "I think just what's on the line (makes it close)," Milons explained. "It's an SEC game, but it's also a game to determine the West. Everyone wants to go to Atlanta, and this is one of those games that will determine who shows up at the Georgia Dome. That's why we play so hard against each other."

After failing to score a single touchdown in a 12-9 victory over Vanderbilt, the Tide enters Saturday's game with offensive concerns of its own. "If we had scored some touchdowns rather than kicking the field goals, then maybe the Vanderbilt game wouldn't have been so close," Milons said. "It came down to Vanderbilt missing that last field goal.

"That was a wake-up call for everyone that we need to concentrate more, making it a must that we put more balls into the endzone."

Experts can argue over whether or not it's time to panic. But Bama fans are starting to have a hard time remembering the last time their team drove down the field and stuck the ball in the endzone for a touchdown. Milons assessed the problem; "We've been trying. I can't say we haven't tried to score in the red zone. Obviously going back to the UCLA game, penalties have hurt. I got one. And then at Vanderbilt we had all those opportunities, but then we didn't stick it in."

Not surprisingly, the Tide coaches have practiced the squad hard the last week on situational work inside the 20-yardline. But Milons believes it's gut-check time for the Tide playmakers. "With enough opportunities, then guys will start capitalizing on them. Players making plays. I think we've got to continue to take what the defense shows. Just continue to allow players the opportunity to make plays.

"But there is no particular play a coach can put together to get the ball into the endzone. It's up to the players to make plays."


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