Alabama, coming off a 31-10 victory over Arkansas, will play on the road at Columbia, South Carolina this Saturday. The game will be regionally telecast by Jefferson Pilot with kickoff scheduled at 11:30 am (CT). Both teams are undefeated in conference play, but South Carolina defeated their out-of-conference opponent, Boise State, while the Tide dropped its opening game to UCLA.
Having visited Notre Dame several times while Lou Holtz was head coach, Franchione has great respect for what the veteran coach has accomplished. "South Carolina is efficient on offense with a senior quarterback (Phil Petty) that never hurts his team. They have two of the best running backs in the conference (Derek Watson and Andrew Pinnock), giving them a good one-two punch.
"On defense, they don't miss many tackles. They don't run a complicated scheme, but they're very sound. They don't make mistakes and make you earn what you get."
"They're playing with great confidence right now," Franchione continued. "Their defense has good chemistry. They don't miss tackles, and they don't give up many big plays. They make you earn whatever you get, which is the mark of a quality team."
Franchione also listed what Alabama must do in order to have a chance of winning the game. "We have to correct our mistakes. We must eliminate the turnovers and penalties. I think it will be a close ball game, but we'll have to play hard."
Though both teams are undefeated in the SEC, Alabama's two victories have come against questionable competition. But Franchione isn't downplaying either Arkansas or Vanderbilt. "Those wins are meaningful for us. Our defense is gaining confidence and those games were building blocks. Even when something bad happens, if you learn from it and correct the mistake, then it can be a positive. But as I've said before, our team is still a work in progress."
‘Trust' has been a watchword with Franchione since he first arrived, and strong tackle Dante Ellington's continued problems with penalties have not gone unnoticed. "One thing you can say about Dante's performance so far this year is that he seems to be good for one or two penalties a game," Franchione said. "He's still starting, because he's done other good things. But his penalties have stuck out. If anyone on our team has heard a sermon more than once, it's been Dante. And he'll continue to hear it. It comes down to discipline and focus."
But if Ellington continues to struggle, Franchione believes other options are available. "Both Evan Mathis and Atlas Herrion are playing well," he said. "We've played eight offensive linemen, and that has been a plus for our team. We'll continue to rest Dante at the right times, and hopefully that will help his focus."
On Monday, Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore announced that the Southern Miss game, originally scheduled for September 15, will be played November 29 at Birmingham's Legion Field. Postponed due to the terrorist attacks, the final decision on when to replay the game was delayed as officials worked to ensure television coverage. ESPN2 has agreed to televise the game, with kickoff scheduled for 6 pm (CT). "I'm glad to have the 11th game," Franchione said. "The slight break will give us time to recover emotionally from the Auburn game (scheduled 12 days before). It will be a good season-ender, and playing on Thursday will give us a chance to play on national TV."
Alabama played on the road earlier, taking a 12-9 victory over Vanderbilt. But Saturday's game will be Franchione's first foray into a completely hostile environment. "We'll probably work some this week indoors on crowd noise," Franchione said. "It will be an interesting game for us. We'll be heading into enemy territory against a highly motivated team that's nationally ranked. We'll have to focus on ourselves to be efficient on offense and not hurt ourselves with penalties and turnovers. It will be an intriguing test for us as a football team."
Against Arkansas last Saturday, starting fullback Marvin Brown fumbled twice and also dropped a sure touchdown pass, leading to questions about whether he remains the starter. But while he noted that things could change during practice, Franchione said Brown was still listed No. 1.
All season long, starting Rover Brooks Daniels has played well, and his batting down of an attempted lateral pass in the third quarter was a key play in Saturday's game. "Brooks is getting better every game," Franchione said. "He's making plays and tackles, playing with speed and quickness. And the best thing about Brooks is that his best games are still ahead."
Franchione also responded to questions about the number of passes Arkansas completed in front of the Tide cornerbacks. "It can be frustrating--even to me--to watch a team hit that many passes," he acknowledged. "But we made them earn it all. They got nothing cheap. Even on their one touchdown, they had to grind it out.
"Our cornerbacks were able to keep the ball in front of them. You're not going to be able to defend everything. It's hard for me to be too critical so far. The good thing about our defense is we've given up some yards, but not many points. If we keep the ball in front (of our corners) and keep (opposing offenses) out of the endzone, then we have a chance."