Shula talks about his team

With almost a third of the season now done, Alabama begins the meat of its conference schedule versus a strong Arkansas squad this Saturday. <br><br>Head Coach Mike Shula talked about his team on offense and defense.

After putting up 40 points in its season-opener against South Florida, Alabama's offense only scored 13, 27 and 16 points in its next three games. The Tide is averaging 24 points per game, ninth best in the SEC.

Shula acknowledged some growing pains on offense. "We're not going to use any excuses, but (the offense) is a work in progress. The biggest thing is just consistency. (Saturday) night, because of field position, that hurts us."

In a ball-possession game, the Tide out-gained NIU 394 yards to 267, but Bama's 16 points weren't good enough to win. If he has any concerns about Bama's play-calling, Shula knows where to look. The former NFL offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach handles that duty himself.

Shula talked about the job. "It's something you look at. When you lose, you're always going to think about how you could call the game better next week. Sometimes that's sticking with the run a little more or maybe the opposite."

Shula makes the play calls during Bama games. (Associated Press)

"You want to get into a rhythm and make sure you're putting guys in the best situation and not in difficult situations," he continued. "As a play-caller, that's the biggest thing. If you're asking guys to do things they can't do, then you need to look at other things. But I don't think that has been the case."

Shula believes the schemes are sound. It's up to the coaches and players to see that they're executed on the field. "We just need to keep coaching them up," he said. "Making first downs and staying on the field. If that happens, we're usually putting points on the board."

Alabama got outplayed on special teams in its most recent game. In the second half of last Saturday's 19-16 loss, Bama's average starting position was its own 19-yardline. "We played on a longer field (against NIU)," Shula said. "As a team we've got to create better field position. If not, we've got to sustain drives longer. Put the ball in the endzone and get touchdowns and not field goals."

Unlike many Tide opponents, Saturday's foe, Arkansas, actually played a game last week, rather than enjoying an open date to get ready for the Tide. Northern Illinois clearly put its extra time to good use, preparing well for Bama's schemes.

Shula talked about the scheduling advantage. "Maybe so, but (the Huskies) were doing things that we had seen before from other teams. Those are things you've got to get used to doing. If (Arkansas) looks at our tape and see things that were successful (against us), then they'll do some similar things. They'll add things they may not have shown the prior week.

"That's why I say we've got to get our own mistakes corrected first, so when we see them again we'll make the right blocks or make the tackle."

Shula acknowledged that he expects the Razorbacks to use run blitzes, which were effective in stopping Alabama last week. But he doesn't see that as anything out of the ordinary.

"I think (loaded fronts) are a trend," he said. "Actually, I think we've handled the blitz. There is much being made about Northern Illinois' run blitzes Saturday night, because we didn't execute; we didn't win the ball game. But we've done a nice job before. Kentucky blitzed us a lot on first and second down, using run blitzes. And we had 266 yards rushing (that game)."

Versus a dangerous team like Arkansas, turnovers will be key. The problem is that so far this season Alabama has forced precious few.

"We just keep preaching it," Shula said. "We don't want our (defensive) guys to lose our characteristics, being aggressive and swarming to the football. We feel like if we continue to get after it up front--put pressure on the passer and swarm the ball--then (turnovers) will work our way.

"We can talk about being conscious of stripping the football, but you don't want guys passing up a tackle to try to strip the football."

The potential return of All-America guard Justin Smiley (shown pancaking an Oklahoma defender as Shaud Williams carries the football) will be key for the Tide. (Barry Fikes photo)

Injuries have been a problem for the Tide, but Shula said his team came out of last week's game in decent shape.

"There wasn't anything major," he said. "We've got to take a good look at (left guard) Justin Smiley and (fullback) Le'Ron McClain. We'll wait and see if they practice on Tuesday. My impression now is it will be a game-time decision with both those guys."

The Huskies were tough, and the Razorbacks promise to be even tougher. But Bama's new head coach is still enjoying himself.

When asked about his state of mind, Shula's reply was revealing. "I think about the players and how much they've learned in a short period of time and how much we've asked them to do. Ideally we'd be 4-0 right now."

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