Maintaining morale

Like a boxer reeling from one too many overhand rights to the head, Alabama is now a team on the ropes. Injuries are obviously a huge concern. But as much as anything else Tide Head Coach Mike Shula must deal with team morale. <br><br>"I'd be lying if I said the spirits weren't down," Shula said. "But we've got to make a difference."

Having lost its last three games, Alabama's season mark now stands at 2-4. The Tide needs to get things turned around--and turned around quickly.

Shula commented, "We'll talk about that with the staff, whether or not we need to try things like shortening practice or getting on guys hard in practice. We are beat up a little bit.

"Obviously everyone's spirits are down."

It's not that Alabama doesn't have talent, because despite injuries and probation the 2003 squad has its share of all-star caliber athletes. But game-day mistakes have combined with terrible injury luck to send the Tide reeling.

Senior safety Charles Jones did his part Saturday, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown.

After surrendering 37 points to Georgia in the first half (a modern-day record that Alabama fans could have done without), the Tide players sat stunned in the Bama locker room. "We were about as low as we've felt all year at halftime," Shula revealed.

It would have been easy--even predictable--for the squad to give up. Just run out the clock in the second half, and get out of Athens as quickly as possible.

But Shula and his players had more pride than that. He explained what happened. "Normally the coaches get together first. Then the offense and defense split up and get to the blackboard. But we called the players up early.

"We said ‘Let's get in here and talk about his for a second. Other than strap it up a little bit tighter, there's nothing we can do about what just happened (in the first half). Go out in the second half and make plays when you have a chance to make them, and don't make mistakes or turn the ball over.'

"They did."

Bama's offense was still struggling, but the Tide defense and special teams both came out and made big plays in the second half. And Bama's defense rose to the challenge as well, shutting out the potent Bulldogs the rest of the way.

Late in the third quarter Tide safety Charles Jones read the quarterback's eyes, stepping in front of a pass to make the interception. Jones immediately turned up field, returning the pick for a defensive score. On Georgia's next possession, the Bama defense forced a punt, which was fumbled by the Bulldog kicker. After a brief scramble, the Tide's Juwan Garth picked up the football and ran into the endzone.

Against all odds--and despite woeful offensive production--Alabama found itself back in the football game.

"We came out and gave ourselves a chance in the fourth quarter," Shula said. "We found a way to get points on the board, one defensively and one on special teams. We were down by just two scores early in the fourth quarter, but just fell short."

Shula says seniors like Atlas Herrion and Derrick Pope are providing leadership, but problems (especially injuries) continue to plague the Tide. For example, both Pope and Herrion are currently injured with their status problematic for next week's game.

Things have not gone well for the squad, so far Bama's team has kept the faith and continued to fight. A boxer behind on points during his fight will look to his corner for answers. With Alabama, it's up to Shula and his assistants to find a way to turn things around.

"We've got to make sure we correct our mistakes (in practice)," Shula said. "Then get (the loss) out of our system and get ready to get back on the winning track. We've got to have some good things happen. We've got to make things happen to turn into positive results to give us some confidence.

"The more confidence we get, the better chance we'll have to win football games."

From an outsider's perspective, Alabama must look like a beaten boxer, on the ropes and ready to fall. But Shula thinks differently.

"I sound like a broken record, but I promise you it's the truth," Shula said. "These guys have responded in a great way every time we've asked them. They've stepped up, responded and come out (to practice) with good focus without their heads down, which isn't easy to do, but they've done it. We've got some seniors that lead in different ways. It's not necessarily vocal, but I think each guy knows how important it is to prepare.

"Now, we've got to see the results more on Saturday."


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