Victory lifts team morale

With a road game at Ole Miss looming large, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula took a few moments Sunday to talk about Bama's victory over Southern Miss. <br><br>"It was obviously a good win after some difficult weeks in the past," Shula said, "but our guys remain focused."

"The players wanted to find a way to win the football game," Shula continued. "We obviously did it with some of our strengths."

Protecting first-time starting quarterback Brandon Avalos, Alabama was determined to run the football. At the final gun, 243 of Bama's 255 yards came on the ground.

Shula commented, "With a third-string quarterback coming in, Brandon did a nice job for us. But the game had to be a total team effort. We ran the ball effectively against nine-, ten-, eleven-man fronts. Our defense did a nice job of getting off the field and creating some field position for us. We were helped by some big plays on special teams. Overall it was a nice win.

Playing against a stacked defense, Shaud Williams still managed 170 yards rushing on 28 attempts. (Barry Fikes photo)

"It was good to get back on track at Homecoming. Now we've got to correct our mistakes and go on."

The win pushed Bama's record to only 3-4, so nobody's getting ahead of themselves. But team confidence is up. "It's a much better feeling," Shula said. "We've been through a lot the past few weeks. The main thing is our guys never stopped believing that they were going to win, not at any point during a game or at any point during practice. They've had a positive attitude, which is what it takes. That's a credit to them, and it's a credit to our assistant coaches. It's easy to go the other way and fall into a trap and not have total belief that you're going to get it done.

"This week was a great example, the way we won the game with a total team effort. It made me feel good as a head coach to win a game like this."

Asked if the win might prove a turning point for the season, Shula remained low-key. "I think it's going to build some confidence for all of us. We all feel better now than at any point the last three weeks. We grade the film, learn from it and go on and get ready for Ole Miss. They'll be an entirely different team, different schemes, different players, on the road. But it's much easier to go through the week having won a game, especially the way we won it with the whole team contributing."

Alabama's offensive strategy wasn't fooling anyone Saturday. All game long Southern Miss put eight-ten defenders in the box, but the Tide still managed to control the line of scrimmage.

"It's a credit to our offensive line," Shula said. "They've done a nice job. They've been the strength of our offense and one of the strengths of our team. Those guys take a lot of pride in running the football. They did that last year, and they also do a good job of pass protecting."

No doubt Bama's O-Line did yeoman work, but on many plays the Golden Eagle defense had more players up close than the five linemen could block. But the Tide running backs somehow made the play work.

Shula gave Bobby Connelly and his offensive linemen much of the credit for Saturday's win.

"Our backs did a nice job late in the game," Shula pointed out. "There were some plays--because we were outnumbered--that they either made (the tackler) miss or took a two-three yard gain and ran through the tackle to make it a four- or five-yard gain."

There is still room for improvement, but Bama's special teams had one of their best games of the year. On consecutive fourth-quarter USM punt attempts, the Tide blew up the play, leading to a game-clinching touchdown the second time.

"That second time set up a touchdown that pushed it to a two-score game, which let us finish the game off," Shula said. "We talked about making plays, doing something to create some momentum. You say that every week, but we stressed it a little bit more last week.

"But we don't want guys doing something out of their characteristics. You're trying to make a big play, and all of a sudden you make a mistake and then give up a big play. There's a fine line with that."

It was a remarkably penalty-free game for both teams. Alabama had only two flags thrown against it, and both were on the defensive side of the football.

Asked the difference in this game from previous ones, Shula laughed and said, "If I knew exactly what it was we'd have zero penalties every week. First, we had positive yards on first down. And we stayed out of long-yardage situations. Guys were a little more focused this week."

Even with a new quarterback calling the signals, not a single pre-snap penalty was called on the Tide O-Line. Shula commented, "I don't know if running the football eliminates penalties or not. Coach Bobby Connelly does a nice job with our offensive line with his techniques, coming off the football and hitting guys. That's the main thing up front. If you run the ball a lot you've got a chance to get some holding calls. But they did a nice job of blocking and keeping their feet moving. If you stop your feet, you have more chance to hold. Coach Connelly preaches that a lot.

"Defensively, it's just sound play. Don't make mental errors that can cause pass interference or an off-sides."

It's been a tough season for Alabama, so a win--any win--is welcome. But Shula is keeping his players focused on the job ahead. Playing Ole Miss in Oxford will be a challenge, especially with a Heisman-caliber quarterback calling the Rebel signals.

Coach Dave Ungerer's special teams units helped contribute to the win.

Shula commented, "When you think of Ole Miss you first think of their leadership with Coach (David) Cutcliffe and their quarterback, Eli Manning. He's been really good from the start, but now he's experienced.

"We're going into their territory. We've got to have the right game plan. Our defensive guys are going to have to play better than they played this week. We've got to get things going offensively and put some points on the board to go in there and beat Ole Miss."

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