Shula Expects Tough Game

While some may think this is going to be an easy Saturday for Alabama's football team, but don't count Crimson Tide Head Coach among that number. Alabama, 2-1 and 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked 21st in the nation, hosts non-conference opponent Northern Illinois at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference is 2-0.

Shula said, "It doesn't take long to find out about (Northern Illinois) when you watch them on tape against Maryland (Northern Illinois' overtime upset of the then-14th-ranked Terrapins), two weeks ago against Tennessee Tech, and against Wisconsin last year," Shula said. "They've got a bulldog mentality. They're going to come after you and hit you. They aren't going to try to trick you. You better strap it up when you play because you know they are."

Bama was out in shoulder pads and helmets for about two hours Wednesday. "It was a good day," Shula said. "We had a lot of stuff to go through. The guys have had two good practices this week. It's interesting for me to see their focus and compare it to what I've seen in the past. It's has actually been good; more consistent. I thought we had a good week of practice last week, and it paid off last Saturday. You never know, but having good practices gives you a chance."

In part because injuries have hit the team, Bama's depth has become an issue. There was some good news Wednesday. Shula said that fullback Tim Castille had practiced both Tuesday and Wednesday. "I don't know if he's 100 per cent yet, but he looked pretty good," the coach said. He said offensive guard Justin Smiley had also practiced. Both missed last week's games. Shula indicated fullback LéRon McClain might also be able to go.

Shula said there are still some young people he hopes to get playing time. While Terrence Jones has played on special teams, Shula would like to work him at linebacker. And defensive tackle Dominic Lee did well in early practices, but has not seen playing time. Both are true freshmen.

The Tide coach said adjustments are still being made in special teams personnel. "That's one area where coming in late hurt us. (As eveeryone knows, Shula and much of his staff did not coach the team in spring practice.) For one thing, we didn't know enough about how much some guys would play on offense and defense."

There has been some concern about Alabama's defense having so few take-aways, only two fumble recoveries and only one interception after three games. Shula said he wasn't worried, that he expects turnovers to come if the defense continues playing as it has. "We're getting after the quarterback and putting pressure on the quarterback and our coverage is tight," he said. "We don't want them worrying about turnovers instead of doing their jobs."

The game will be televised on a pay-per-view basis. Alabama and Illinois residents may call their local cable operator to order the game. The game will also be available on DISH Network (Channel 456) or by calling 1-800-TVSTARS (large C-band owners). The game is also available through ESPN GamePlan in the states other than Alabama and Illinois. Handling the announce duties for the Pay-Per-View telecast will be David Crane (play-by-play), former Bama quarterback Tyler Watts (analyst), and Chris Stewart (sideline).

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