According to Mike Shula, the most important thing about Saturday is the chance for Bama's players to put last week's disappointing loss behind them. "We need to get that out of our system," he said. "We need to move forward in the right frame of mind. Put together three good practices this week to have a chance in the game."
Alabama and Georgia will face off Saturday at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:34 (EST), and the game will be televised by CBS. Alabama enters the game with a 2-3 record (1-1 in the SEC). The Tide is not ranked. The No. 11 ranked Bulldogs are 3-1 overall, 0-1 in conference.
For Bulldog fans at least, when Shula arrives in town he will be returning to the scene of his "crime." As a junior quarterback in 1985 a younger Shula led the Tide to a 20-16, fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory between the hedges. Alabama started that final drive with 51 seconds left on the game clock. "I've got some nice memories from my junior year," Shula said. "I remember the crowd and the electric atmosphere. I'm sure that this time it will be even bigger and louder than before."
Asked by a Georgia beat writer to elaborate on his memories of that game, Shula said, "Actually it was a pretty boring game until that fourth quarter. I remember Dave Rader (Bama's current offensive coordinator and then Shula's quarterbacks coach) kept calling ‘toss 28' all game. We were ahead 13-9 late in the game and all we needed was a first down. Then we got that punt blocked."
Benefiting from a couple of illegal bats of the football, the Bulldogs pushed the ball to the endzone where they fell on it for a touchdown to go up 16-13, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. "No one was discouraged on offense," Shula recalled. "We went right to our two-minute drill. Coach (Ray) Perkins had us well prepared for those situations.
"I do remember that we made four calls in a row that all seemed perfect for the defense that Georgia ran. Sometimes in football that just happens. Our guys made the plays, and the next thing we knew the ball was in the endzone."
Obviously Shula won't be playing Saturday, and neither will his then-favorite receiver Al Bell. But he said there are lessons from that game to be used on Saturday. "You've got to believe in yourself," Shula said. "Believing you can get things done, regardless of the circumstances. Believing you can keep your poise, regardless of the circumstances. Don't wait for someone to make a play, but step up yourself and make one. When the younger players see that, they'll fall in line."
"But I've already regaled this team with too many of those stories," Shula concluded.
Saturday's game will be Bama's first road trip of the season, which means that several Tide freshmen will be playing in front of their first hostile crowd. "The young guys just have to experience it," Shula said. "You can simulate crowd noise in practice and have the older guys talk to them, but they have to go through it themselves. You tell them to just focus on their job and not the crowd. Don't let the noise give them momentum. Make your own momentum." Shula added that the team would practice Tuesday normally, but he was considering piping in crowd noise for Wednesday's and Thursday's workouts.
The current Tide squad has experienced more adversity than probably any other group of players in Alabama history, and Saturday's overtime loss to Arkansas means Bama has lost two games in a row. But Shula isn't worried about his players' resiliency. "I'd like to think it's not a problem," he said. "We tell the players not to wait. Be the guy yourself and go ahead and make the play. But that's easier said than done.
"I remind them that we're just a few plays from being 4-1 or even 5-0. And that's not just lip service. I really believe that. It's perception versus reality. We're a pretty good football team. Our record just doesn't show it. But if we make a few plays, we can get this thing turned around."
Several key Tide players are battling injuries. Shula said he expects guard Justin Smiley (foot) will be fine, but quarterback Brodie Croyle's status (shoulder) remains uncertain. "He's getting treatment every day," Shula said. "We'll take it day to day." Shula added that he didn't expect a decision on linebacker Derrick Pope (foot) and defensive end Antwan Odom (knee) to be made until later in the week.
If Croyle cannot go, then Spencer Pennington will call the signals for Bama. Pennington came in at the end of the second half Saturday, leading the Tide to a tying field goal. "What he did gave me and the players a lot of confidence," Shula said. "He made good decisions and got rid of the ball quickly."
Shula made of point of saying that he still had confidence in both Brian Bostick and Bo Freelend. Neither placekicker nor punter played particularly well versus Arkansas. Bostick missed a potential game-winning field goal in overtime, while Freelend had two sub-30-yard punts. "They've got to have a short memory," Shula said. "Forget about that and move on."
Not surprisingly, Shula had high praise for Head Coach Mark Richt and his Georgia team. "The entire conference knows what Mark has done in a short period of time," Shula said. "He's respected in the SEC and across the country."
Regarding Bulldog quarterback David Greene, Shula said "He's Mark's kind of quarterback, smart and poised." On Georgia's All-America defensive end David Pollack, Shula said, "His motor runs fast. He's hard to block. They move him around a lot. You call a play away from his side, and all of a sudden you're running right into him. And he makes plays anywhere on the field."