Bama, unlike most Crimson Tide opponents, does not have much preparation time. Whereas six teams on Alabama's schedule have an open date and five other foes have a cupcake prior to playing the Tide, Bama does not get an open date until after its ninth game. With Alabama having to get ready for a game each week, the Tide has little time to "scout itself" in an effort to uncover tendancies. "And it's not that we aren't going to continue to run some of the things that we're running or we're also going to add things that we feel are good against whoever we're playing," Shula said Tuesday at his weekly press briefing. "But it's important that you start with the base stuff and be able to coach the guys well enough so they can make adjustments. The defenses are going to make adjustments, too, so things that we're seeing on tape this week all of a sudden might be a little bit different on Saturday. We've got to be able to adjust. We have to break tendancies and make adjustments in order to be more productive."
He said even he was surprised at how much Bama has been able to install in its offensive and defensive packages in the relatively short time for preparation. And, he said, the Tide will have to have very good preparation for Arkansas. "They have a little bit of everything," Shula said of the Razorbacks. Then he amended: "Maybe a lot of everything–size upfront especially on the offensive line. They've got speed on both sides of the ball with their wide receivers, with their back, with their quarterback. Defensively their corners are very fast, good cover corners. And they've got some experience, too. I think that's why they're playing as well as maybe anybody in the country right now." He said Arkansas is a lot like Oklahoma, but said "I think Arkansas gives you more looks."
Shula said his team was disappointed at least week's 19-16 upset loss at the hands of Northern Illinois. But, he said, "We're not discouraged." He said the mental attitude of the players has been "Great." And, he said, the "24-hour rule" is in effect. That rule is that the players watch the tape of Saturday's game on Sunday, then begin preparation for the next game. "It's about being positive," Shula said. "We go out to practice with the mindset that we are going to move forward."
He said, "We've got to get corrected what needs to be corrected," and added that the players will be looking to the coaches for leadership.
The Tide coach said his team "is getting better. We need to be more consistent and continue to learn more. The guys have done everything we've asked them to do, but it just didn't work out last week." He said that consistency is needed on both offense and defense. This week, he said, Alabama will have a difficult task in controlling the line of scrimmage. On defense, he said, "We've got to make sure we don't get pushed back and that we can get more than one guy to the football. We've got to make sure we don't give ground and that we know our gap responsibility and not leave those too soon. Offensively, it's a matter of focusing, on making little adjustments, and on executing better."
Shula said that he and the assistant coaches are aware of the need to use more players in games. "We want to get more guys in there," he said. "Maybe it's me being new to college football, but it seems we've just has so many situations where we decided to keep going. It might be the score or it might be field position, which is sometimes more important than the score. For whatever reason, we have been reluctant to do it, but we know we have to do it. For one thing it keeps your guys fresher. But we don't want to substitute at the cost of winning a game. And so many of the guys we are playing still need a lot of rep(itition]s."
Although it has not turned out to be a big advantage, Alabama had five home games (one in Birmingham, then four in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa) to open the season. This is the last of that season-opening stretch. Shula said, "It has been a luxury to have five straight home games. Now it's important that we finish no worse than 3-2."
Regarding specific questions:
On Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones (6-6, 237-pound junior), Sula said, "What a great athlete. He can do it all. He has a strong arm. He's made some throws–just in the games that we've watched–down the field and hit some receivers versus tight coverage, press coverage. His best asset is probably when he's got the ball in his hands and is just running. He's fast. He's big. He can make guys miss on his own just because of his quickness. And then when there is a guy who is trying to tackle him, he does a nice job of stiff-arming and keeping him away from his body so to speak, and he's athletic enough to do that. We've had some other quarterbacks that we've talked about as far as challenging and bringing them down with (Kentucky's Jared) Lorenzen, but this guy, as far as that goes, bringing him down is going to be as tough as we've faced. I can remember when he first started playing watching him on TV, and he just gets better and better. He's playing with a lot more confidence. He can do a lot of things. He can run the option, keep it himself and then create on his own if maybe it's a normal drop back pass where maybe something breaks down and he keeps his eyes down the field. He's always looking for that receiver. A little bit like Lorenzen, he's got a strong arm, too. If he's scrambling or if someone's hanging on him, he's not just going to be able to throw a five or ten yard pass. He can still get it down the field 20 or 25 yards or 40 yards, whatever the case is."
On Arkansas being 13 of 13 scoring when in the red zone, including 10 touchdowns, and asked what makes a good red zone team, Shula said, "Number one it's probably because of Matt and the ability to run the football. I think a lot of the teams over the years that have done well in the plus territory have been able to run the football. Now all the sudden you add the dimension of a quarterback being able to run it himself whether or not it's the option or bootlegs or things like that. That's one of the main reasons. And just staying out of long yardage situations-not losing yards probably. I haven't looked at that on them, but I think those are the things sometimes that if you get into a second or third and long in the plus territory, it's a lot harder to convert."
On Arkansas having gone into "hostile territory," such as Austin, Texas, and won, Shula said, "It says a lot about their leadership with (Arkansas Coach) Houston (Nutt). I think they've taken on some of his characteristics where he does a lot of things with positive mentality and keeps poise–all those words and all those things that it takes to go in and focus on the job at hand and keep out everything else. I think those are the things that you see on tape. And I think the other thing is because of their experience. Their offensive line is a little bit older. When you play in the SEC, you get some great experience after you play a while. So when you get on the road the second or third time, your chances of playing better and relaxing and understanding what you've got to focus on, your chances of winning go up."
On the problem of controlling the line of scrimmage against Arkansas and containing tailback Cedric Cobbs (6-1, 225, senior), Shula said, "As far as with Cedric, I think the whole thing with the line of scrimmage is that we've got to be able to control our gap, so to speak, not give him a lot of space to run through. And that's going to be tough because they've got some big guys, probably the biggest offensive line we'll face all year. They're going to try to knock us around. We're not as big. We're big inside. We're not quite as big on the edge–our linebackers aren't quite as big–so we're just going to have to be disciplined, control our gaps. And then when we have the chance to make a play then go make it and swarm the football. But he's explosive as we've seen on tape; at any moment all of a sudden he can go right through the line and next thing you know he's in the end zone."