Tide Must Keep Going

Mike Shula has been involved in football for a long time, including 16 years as a coach. In his first year as Alabama's head coach he has run into a difficult situation. But he has a plan. "Losing three straight games is tough," he said. "But you keep going. You keep believing in yourself and in the things you are doing and in the people around you."

The opponent this week is Southern Mississippi, and Shula certainly respects the Golden Eagles. But in his Tuesday ;press briefing Shula indicated he is more interested in what Bama does in preparation than in what Southern Miss might do. Shula said, "One of the biggest things we talk to our players about, especially when you're at a time like this, when you are looking for a win, is we've got to go back and do things right fundamentally; be real detailed–every guy, every coach, every player at every position; just take a good look at what we are doing and get better, each guy, at just doing his job."

To the surprise of no one, much of Shula's discussion concerned Alabama's quarterback situation. Shula admitted, "I've never been around this many quarterback injuries."

He said that first team quarterback Brodie Croyle would be "day-to-day, very similar to last week." Croyle did not start last week's game, but was inserted into the contest with Bama trailing 30-3. Shula said he was not second-guessing that decision. He said there had been some thought to starting Croyle, but it was decided before the game that because he had gotten the majority of work in practice that Spencer Pennington would start at quarterback. But, he said, it was also pre-determined that Croyle would play. As it turned out, in Bama's 37-23 loss to Georgia, Croyle landed on his shoulder and had to leave the game with pain (although reportedly no more damage to his left shoulder) and Pennington was lost for "at least two weeks" with an injury to his right shoulder Shula said the injury to Pennington was "a little more serious, in part because it is his throwing shoulder."

Shula said it would be Bama's goal to get Croyle back as quickly as possible for this season. Meanwhile, the head coach expressed confidence in Brandon Avalos, the redshirt freshman who was thrown into the fray at Georgia and who was to get most of the practice time Tuesday–and perhaps for the remainder of the week. Alabama preparation will presume Avalos the starter.

Shula said the offense would be "tailored" to the things Avalos does well, just as it was for Croyle and Pennington. "We'll plan to do the things Brandon does best, Shula said, "And"we'll use the people around him–running backs, offensive linemen, wide receivers. They have to help him. I think we have enough flexibility each week to tailor our offense to the opposing defense. This week Brandon will have to prepare thoroughly and we've got to do our jobs as coaches."

The Tide coach described Avalos as "athletic" with "a good feel for the game. You can tell he thinks about it, which is difficult when he hasn't been getting that many reps (practice repetitions)."

Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Dave Rader said that Avalos "catches on quickly. He gives football a lot of thought, and he's got to do that right now. He needs a lot of reps and he'll get a lot of reps."

Rader said, "He has a very strong arm. He throws the deep ball higher and farther than any of our quarterbacks, even though he's the smallest (6-0, 187). He has a lot of velocity. He sees things well. he brings a lot of enthusiasm. And he's the fastest runner of the quarterbacks."

Shula agreed that the situation at quarterback may have slowed the process of getting a consistent offense. But, he said, that just means a greater emphasis must be placed on the fundamentals–blocking, tackling, the quarterback setting up properly, etc. He said, "That's our job as coaches, to understand who we've got in the game, put them on the field and when they are in the game give them the best chance to make some plays. That can be altering your game plan or doing things you've done differently with some other personnel groupings. But I think the thing that we've got to get back to is just fundamentals, making sure every little thing is covered and not taking anything for granted. That way we eliminate making some mistakes. If we can do that, now we feel like we're just playing against one football team."

Alabama is down to its third quarterback, but there are no guarantees that Bama won't have to go use another quarterback. If Avalos is unable to play, the next man in line is redshirt freshman Michael Machen, the 6-6, 230-pound former professional baseball pitcher. Although he went through spring practice, the expectation was that he would be redshirted this season as he reacquainted himself with football. He has not played football since his senior year, 1999, at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile. Shula noted that Machen had done a good job on the scout team and described him as a "hard worker." However, Machen has not taken one practice snap in the Alabama offense prior to this week.

If Alabama had to go deeper than Machen, it would possibly be to a former high school quarterback, such as special teams player Matt Miller, who has also been a Bama scout team quarterback. Other Tide players who were high school quarterbacks include strong safety Roman Harper, safety Chris James, safety Charles Jones, cornerback Anthony Madison, cornerback Ramzee Robinson, safety Thurman Ward, and freshmen D.J. Chambers and William Roach.

Shula agreed there has been inconsistency in special teams, "just like in our other two phases (offense and defense). Unfortunately, when that happens on special teams it can result in a play that costs a touchdown. We've also made some big plays on special teams. Last week was a great example. We had some big plays, did some good things coverage wise, had some nice returns kickoff return wise, put the ball in the end zone, had a couple of nice punts, and had a nice return and fumbled the ball. And then made one mistake on a punt protection and it cost us a touchdown. There's too much inconsistency. We like the good plays, the big plays. We've got to eliminate any mistakes. You only have one chance on special teams whereas offense and defense you usually have three downs before something's happening."

As for this week's opponent, Shula said, "Anytime you play a Southern Miss football team, it's going to be one of the hardest hitting games we're going to have all year. I think our players realize that, especially our older guys. It was that way when I was here as a player, and it continues to be the same way. Anytime you are playing Southern Miss, you know you are always going to get their best. And they are playing well. They are well-coached. They do a lot of things in all three phases to try to create some confusion, so we've got a lot of work ahead of us to do a good job focusing in on every little detail."

Shula said that with Alabama passing the mid-point of the season that the staff is "leaning" towards redshirting two seniors who have not played. Neither wide receiver Antonio Carter (leg) nor Cornelius Wortham (elbow) has played this year.


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