Tide Needs To Improve

Alabama Head Football Coach Mike Shula may never say that he was not satisfied in his team's performance against number one-ranked Oklahoma last week, but the Crimson Tide head man indicates he was disappointed in more than the final score. While enthusiasm and effort were exceptional, execution was not. As a result, Alabama fell by a 20-13 margin.

"We talk to our players about staying on the same level emotionally while increasing effort," Shula said in his regular Tuesday press briefing. "Our effort went up last week. Now we need to improve our execution. We've got to continue to eliminate our mistakes, continue to build on the good things. Teams that continue to play at a high level are the teams that will be playing meaningful games at the end of the year."

While on the surface it would not appear that Alabama would need to show improvement this week, Shula said the three days of practice Bama has before hosting Kentucky Saturday will be very important. "We have to focus on Kentucky after an emotional loss and an emotional first game on campus," Shula said. "It's our first (Southeastern) conference game and we have to continue to have a high level of effort."

Alabama will host Kentucky at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Kickoff will be shortly after 6:45 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by ESPN–the third consecutive Tide game to be televised by the sports cable network.

Kentucky is also 1-1, having been beaten by Louisville, 40-24, before bouncing back last week with a 37-6 win over Murray State.

While Bama holds an overall 31-2-1 advantage in the occasional series, Kentucky won the last outing, a 40-34 overtime win in Lexinton in 1997.

Shula reiterated that he expects Kentucky to be well-coached and well-prepared. Shula has coached in the NFL against both Wildcats Head Coach Rich Brooks and Kentucky Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer.

Bama's head coach said he always considered conference games to be a focal point, and winning home conference games to be top priority. "Every time you play an SEC game, you are going to be playing a well-coached, well-prepared team," he said.

It is no surprise that much of Shula's conversation centered on Kentucky's 6-4, 260-pound senior quarterback Jared Lorenzen. Lorenzen has become the all-time passing leader, having surpassed Tim Couch. In his career, the left-handed Lorenzen has passed for 8,566 yards. In all, Lorenzen holds six NCAA records, two SEC records, and nine Kentucky records.

"He's unique," Shula said. "And he's very talented. He moves around in the pocket well. He never goes down. I've never seen a quarterback who breaks so many tackles. He has a strong arm. He has the ability to create. He has the poise to find receivers downfield and the talent to get the ball to them quickly and accurately. And now he runs the option. He either carries the ball or pitches it and becomes the lead blocker."

Shula said Lorenzen being left-handed requires some attention in preparation. "But more than that is his athletic ability," Shula said. "Our guys need to try to bring him down; and if they can't do it alone, hold on until help comes."

The Tide coach said that Lorenzen's back-up, junior Shane Boyd, "is also big (6-2, 220), and they use him in a lot of ways. He may line up as a wide receiver, run the option from quarterback, and he's the personal protector on punts."

Shula said Alabama will also have to be prepared for a new look when the Tide is on offense. Unlike the 4-3 defense seen in Bama's first two games, Kentucky will have three defensive linemen and four linebackers, a 3-4 defense. "We have to understand the blocking and protection responsibilities," Shula said. "The blitz is different from a 3-4, plus where Oklahoma blitzed primarily on third down, Kentucky blitzes on every down. And they are good at it."

Shula said, "We may do some things differently on offense." But, he said, Alabama has much in its "library" of offensive weapons and there will be new things each week because, he said, "Every defense is different."

One thing Shula hopes is not different is the Tide's starting fullback. True freshman Tim Castille, a high school tailback, has taken over at fullback and earned strong praise from Shula. However, Castille suffered a knee injury against Oklahoma and Shula said Castille is "day-to-day."

Shula said that Bama's defense played well against Oklahoma, but gave up big plays. He noted that cornerbacks may give up big plays, "but they have to have short memories. If they give up a big play, they have to get ready to play the next play. But we need to work so we don't give up those big plays."

Shula was impressed with Alabama's linebacker play last weekend. "Derrick Pope is one of the biggest reasons we have played so well," Shula said. Pope, who shared playing time at middle linebacker last year, has moved to strongside linebacker this season. Freddie Roach, who now mans the middle spot by himself, and newcomer DeMeco Ryans also drew praise. "All of them can move and they are getting more experience and playing better," Shula said. He also said there is a chance that Cornelius Wortham, last year's starter at strongside linebacker, could return this week. Shula said Wortham is scheduled to practice after having been out for a few weeks with a dislocated elbow.

Alabama's special teams improved dramatically in kick coverage last week. This week, Shula said, the Tide will face one of the nation's most dangerous kick return men in Derek Abney. He's Kentucky's all-time leader in all-purpose yards, including second all-time in receiving yards, punt returns, and kickoff returns.

Shula said, "I think I know how our guys will respond to a loss, but we'll find out Saturday. We all have to move on. We have to forget about it.

"But I want all our players to feel a little something inside and use that feeling as motivation. I want them to never again want to have that feeling.

"But you can't turn it on on Saturday. You have to do it in preparation."


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