Bama still not hitting on all cylinders

Dennis Franchione knows the drill. Having rebuilt teams from Kansas to the Dallas suburbs, the veteran head coach understood that returning Alabama football to championship form would be neither easy nor smooth. "We have not yet played an entire football game hitting on all cylinders," he explained Sunday, following Bama's one-point loss to the Gamecocks. "Where the offense, defense and kicking are all hitting."

"We haven't done that yet," he continued. "But if we do, I think we'll be tough to handle. If we continue to get better--and I think we can--then we've got a chance. But week in and week out we're going to have to fight for everything that we get. It's not going to be easy.

"We're making some steps in areas. Obviously we took some steps offensively (versus South Carolina)."

Heading into Saturday's SEC showdown, the homestanding Gamecocks were rated a favorite over the Tide. But no one--not even Franchione--was predicting the offensive showcase on that resulted. "I was surprised at the high score," Franchione admitted. "I thought it would have been a lower-scoring game."

Saleem Rasheed, Defensive Line Player of the Week

With highly regarded defenses on both sidelines, most expected a defensive slug-fest. But together the squads put up 73 points, while totaling almost 900 yards of offense. Throughout the entire game, the Tide used its punter only three times. "We had a lot of good things to build on and some things that we continue to have to work on," Franchione said. "On both sides of the ball. Offensively it was a balance. We had 285 yards rushing and about 235 throwing."

For much of the day Alabama used its offense to control the action. But as the game wore on South Carolina repeated exploited a Tide secondary, seemingly incapable of mounting an effective pass defense. Franchione explained; "We needed a play from one side of the ball or the other to get it done. For one (crucial play) a linebacker should have gotten underneath (in coverage) and helped, but the other plays were just situations where the secondary has got to get into better position and then make the play."

South Carolina totaled 291 yards of passing, but Franchione pointed out that more than two-thirds of that total came on only five key plays. "We have to respond in those situations, and we didn't--especially not in the fourth quarter when we needed a play."

With the rest of the Bama coaches, Franchione spent much of Saturday night reviewing game film. And Sunday during his regular teleconference he was asked to identify some Tide defenders that played well versus South Carolina. "There were obviously no secondary players that we would mention," Franchione replied. "Kenny King had a solid game as did Jarret Johnson. Kindal Moorehead wasn't too bad. Brooks Daniels was solid. Saleem Rasheed and Cornelius Wortham all had pretty solid football games."

Theo Sanders, Special Teams Player of the Week

Each week, the Tide coaches honor individual players at each position:

  • Offensive Back: Tyler Watts
  • Offensive Line: Wesley Britt
  • Special Teams: Theo Sanders (graded 88 percent)
  • Defensive Line: Saleem Rasheed
  • Defensive Back: none selected
  • Offensive Scout Team Player of the week: Spencer Pennington
  • Defensive Scout Team Players of the Week: JoLee Taylor, Raphael Tyreus and Carl McInnish

Franchione was obviously very pleased with Tyler Watts. Bama's starting quarterback had an outstanding game, managing almost 400 yards of total offense while accounting for three touchdowns. "Tyler played well," Franchione said. "He did have four plays I wish he could do over. He had one bad check during the game, and he knew that. That's when he fumbled. He ate it (took the sack) rather than make the play a bad play, but the defender came in and hit him. It must have been right on the football, because it squirted right out to their guy on defense. Fortunately Antonio Carter saved us a touchdown (by making the tackle). But Tyler accounted for 12 (outstanding offensive plays) himself."

Against a quality Gamecock defensive front, the Tide offensive line continued its steady progress. And Saturday the unit featured a new starter in strong tackle Evan Mathis. "Evan played well," Franchione said. "He graded a winning performance, playing 84 snaps. Evan had seven knockdown (blocks), and for a first game, that was good. The only lineman that graded higher than him was Wesley Britt. Justin (Smiley) had 17 knockdowns. Wesley had 17 and Marico (Portis) had 16. We were pleased with what Evan did."

There was one other new Tide starter in Saturday's game, as Cornelius Wortham got the nod ahead of Victor Ellis at strongside linebacker. "We made the decision to start Wortham over Ellis during the week of practice based on performance," Franchione related.

Wesley Britt, Offensive Line Player of the Week

Several times during the contest, Alabama appeared on the verge of salting the game away--only to come up short when most needed. "Normally it can take some time to build the (players') confidence to make (big) plays," Franchione explained. "When we came in, Alabama had a five-game losing streak. We lost our first one to make that six in a row--and 10 out of the previous 13. So (the team) had some fragileness about it. That takes time to mend."

"It would be difficult to just pick one key play (that spelled the difference) Saturday," Franchione continued. "On the kickoff early in the second half I thought we had recovered the fumble, but then we get up off the pile and we don't have it. On the two-point conversion (attempt) we missed a block on the edge that if we had gotten it would have given Tyler some more time. Jason McAddley was going to be open.

"As I tell our kids, we've played four games now. And we're two plays away from being 4-0--and a few plays away from being 0-4. That's how tight things have been. That's the way things have gone. We had a few more plays go our way in the Arkansas game, but it could have been close."

Of course the relentless pace of a college football season leaves little time to worry about what might have been. Sunday the squad worked on correcting mistakes, and Tuesday they return to the practice field to prepare for next week. Franchione explained. "We live in the last game until we watch the film. We'll talk about the negatives and accentuate the positives with the players. We've got to accentuate the things that we can correct, but then we've got to move forward.

Spencer Pennington, Offensive Scout Team Player of the Week

"We're 2-2. Everything is in front of us. We'll play three games in October. We've got to look up on November 1st and be a better football team than we are now. And we've got a chance to do that, if we keep improving and moving ahead."

Next up for the Tide is a game versus Texas El Paso. But even though the Miners are little-known to most Bama fans, Franchione understands the game will be a challenge. "They'll be a much tougher opponent than fans realize. People around here don't know as much about them, probably, but they know what it takes to win. This will be an exciting game for (UTEP). They have played in their stadium in front of 50-60,000 fans before, so I don't think a big crowd will bother them a bit."

UTEP is a member of the Western Athletic Conference, and Franchione is very familiar with them from his coaching days at TCU. "They have Bum Phillips' grandson at quarterback," Franchione related. "I know that (tight end) Joey Knapp is explosive. At tailback Sherman Austin played against us last year, and he's a pretty good back."

But easily the Miners' top offensive threat is All-America candidate Lee Mays at wide receiver. "Mays has good speed, good hands; he runs good routes," was Franchione's scouting report. "He's a tall, rangy receiver. I think he would be an early round draft choice. He's going to be one of the best receivers we've played. From last year they do a good job of throwing (down-the-field passes) with him. They throw screen (passes) to him, and he's really good at running those.

"(Head Coach) Gary Nord is a good offensive coach. They've been pretty productive on offense. UTEP was outstanding last year, and they have the ability to make some big plays with their offense."

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