"It was a good day, a good day for preparation," Alabama head coach Mike Shula said afterwards. "We as coaches want everything to go exactly right all the time and today was a good for that. The guys are adjusting to practicing. The little things are important, the routines. We talked to them about focusing, not letting anything distract you."
Alabama and Oklahoma are set to kick off at 6:47 (CST) Saturday night. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Both teams won their season opener last week. Oklahoma enters the game ranked first in the nation; Alabama is unranked.
This will be the first time in Alabama football history that a visiting team ranked No. 1 will play at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Of course the home team has held that honor on numerous occasions.
The players may not be bothered by all the hype, but the rare intersectional battle between the Tide and Sooners certainly has fans distracted. Asked what a coach could do to prevent players from getting too excited too soon, Shula said, "You can talk about it, but it's tougher to do. Each guy is different. We rely on the seniors, the guys who have played and been through it before, to help the young guys out, especially the guys who are going to be playing.
"We ask them to think back to other big games they've been in. Playing in the SEC helps. You've pretty much got a big game every week. We've got Tennessee this year. We travel to Athens to play Georgia. Now we've got a big one at home."
Shula said the RVs arriving all day to claim their favorite tailgating spot brought back memories of his playing days. "I tried to drive in the back way this morning," he related, "and they had the road roped off. You see the fans arriving. You hear the band playing. It's exciting."
The Sooners are noted for their overall team speed, especially on defense. Unfortunately for Alabama, the actual impact of that speed doesn't show up fully on film. "They're going to be faster than on tape," Shula said. "And probably bigger, too."
The game has caught the attention of the national media, and several writers from out of town were on hand to talk to Shula. Asked if the atmosphere compared to big games during his playing days, Shula had equal examples to offer. "There were a lot of big games I remember," he said. "Auburn is always a big game. I remember the Notre Dame game as a senior and Penn State."
(Alabama defeated Notre Dame that year, 28-10, but lost to Penn State, the eventual national champions, 23-3.)
Bama and the Sooners met last year, with Oklahoma taking a 37-27 victory. But the final score was not indicative of the game itself. With two minutes to go in the contest, Alabama was driving for a go-ahead score when a fluke fumble recovery for a touchdown clinched it for the home team.
Most of the Tide players that made that trip to Norman are back this season, so Shula isn't worried about his team being intimidated by the Sooners. "That game last year helps a lot," he said. "To go on the road and play a team like Oklahoma close... Just the way the game played out, with Alabama taking the lead but falling just short. It was a difficult loss, but it breeds confidence that you can come back."
Shula added that last week's comeback win over South Florida was indicative of the point. "When we were down by 10 points, we just said ‘Hey, let's just stick with it.'"
It's common for coaches at different schools to call each other up, asking for advice in preparing for an out-of-conference opponent. But Shula said that wasn't necessary with Oklahoma. "(Offensive Coordinator) Dave Rader is from Tulsa, so he's familiar with them. We've got enough coaches on our staff that have played them before. Our staff has plenty of experience in big games."
Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines was on the Florida State staff when the Seminoles played Oklahoma for the national title at the end of the 2000 season, and Secondary Coach Chris Ball and Offensive Line Coach Bobby Connelly both helped prepare Washington State for last January's Rose Bowl match-up with the Sooners. (Oklahoma won both games.)