"Our guys have been great," Mike Shula said after Thursday's practice session. "I keep saying that, but it's true. You don't see anybody hanging their heads. Of course you wouldn't expect that here at Alabama, but it needs to be said."
The University of Alabama football team finalized preparation for this week's game Thursday at Tuscaloosa's Thomas-Drew Fields. The Alabama-Georgia game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports with kickoff set for 3:34 p.m. (EST) from Athens. This will be Alabama's first road game of the 2003 season after playing its first five games at home, including four straight in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"It was another good practice," Shula told the few writers on hand. "You may have heard the crowd noise. We may need to work on that. To me it sounded more like an airport than a football stadium. We tried not to disturb the neighborhood. We turned (the speakers) off between plays."
Speakers and a sound system were set up beside the practice field and amplified noise piped in. Saturday's game will be Bama's first contest in front of a hostile crowd, and Shula wanted to prepare his team for what promises to be a noisy stadium. "It'll be new for our guys," he explained. "We've been at our own stadium when it was loud, but that won't be anything like we'll experience Saturday. It's good for the younger guys. Communication will be key. Communication from player to coach and from player to player. Getting the calls on defense and offense. We'll use hand signals and a silent count on offense if need be."
Georgia's record stands at 3-1 overall, while the Tide sits at 2-3. "We're 1-1 in the SEC and we're going to go try to get our second win against another good football team," Shula said. "I know if I was playing I would be (excited). This time we have to go make some plays and when the game is on the line and we have a chance to do it we have to have the guy that makes the play that helps win the game."
Shula said the team would bus over to Athens on Friday, after going through a walk-through session in Tuscaloosa. "We'll go over early. We'll keep things like normal. Our schedule will be like we were at home. We'll get everything done here just the same."
Tide fans are most worried about quarterback. Starter Brodie Croyle aggravated a previously separated left shoulder last week versus Arkansas, and he had missed all of Tuesday's and most of Wednesday's practice work.
"Brodie got about 40 percent of the reps today," Shula said. "He looked pretty good. We'll see how he responds this evening and tomorrow. He needed the reps today even though he's stayed sharp throughout the week. It's tough to play on Saturdays without practice reps. (Today) was important if he's going to have a chance to play (versus Georgia)."
If Croyle can't go, then backup Spencer Pennington would step in. At the end of the first half of Saturday's game Pennington came off the bench with virtually no warmups to lead the Tide to a game-tying field goal.
"Spencer had another good day," Shula said. "He's done a nice job this week in practice. Of course what he did last Saturday is really what makes you feel good, especially in running the two-minute drill."
Defensive starters Derrick Pope (linebacker) and Antwan Odom (defensive end) also sustained injuries last week, but Shula expects both to play. "Derrick and Antwan had another good day," he said. "In talking to (Tide Defensive Coordinator) Joe Kines yesterday, he thought Derrick looked even better than what I'd seen. I'm not sure Antwan is as far along as Derrick, but I think he'll be ready to go."
Alabama's defense started off the year solid against the run. But in the past two games Michael Turner of Northern Illinois and Arkansas' Cedric Cobbs gained 156 and 198 yards on the ground respectively.
Shula commented on Bama's rush defense. "After three games we were ranked something like seventh in the nation against the run. We haven't played as well the past few games. Joe Kines would tell you we have to get back to fundamentals. Back to the basics of tackling, of being in the right spot, knowing your assignment, and swarming to the football."
Alabama's defensive line has been hurt by injuries, but Shula hopes to have everyone back and healthy for Saturday. "Our defensive line needs to do a good job keeping the blockers off our linebackers," he said. "When it calls for it, we've got to get penetration and force the ball carrier off his route."
Shula announced game captains for Saturday:
- Offense: left guard Justin Smiley
- Defense: defensive tackle Anthony Bryant
- Special Teams: Leslie Williams
Punter Bo Freelend had a bad game versus Arkansas, but Shula and Special Teams Coordinator Dave Ungerer have expressed support this week. Senior Will Fountain has punted some this week in practice, but during today's workout Freelend took all the reps with the first-team punting unit.