It is Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula's style to have a Sunday team meeting to go over the previous game, then to go onto the practice field for stretching and a relatively brief walk-through of some situations from the previous game. The three real preparation days for a football game are Tuesday-Thursday. Players indicated that the Sunday work was strenuous, an exercise in doing things correctly.
"We talked specifically," Shula said. "We told them, ‘This is what's got to happen. This is what it's going to take to win ball games.' We tried to be specific. Everything we do has to be better, including the attitude. The urgency to get it done right every single down is the thing we need most."
Practice is not punishment. It's how a team prepares. But in addition to the physical, Shula said that attitude is important to success. "I think we have to go out there with the mindset that we want to get off to a good start," he said. But the Tide coach also understands that sometimes things don't start well. Attitude is important then, too. "If something happens and we don't get off to a good start, we can't have the attitude of ‘Here we go again,' and then fall behind and dig ourselves a hole that's too big to dig out of, like we did last week. We have to realize that if we're two touchdowns behind at the end of the first quarter, we've still got three quarters to play. We've also got to have that attitude is we're two touchdowns ahead. The game isn't over."
This week the game is Alabama vs. Tennessee, one of the nation's top rivalries. Although both teams have struggled this year, Shula said, "It's a big week for our players, especially our seniors. This is a huge rivalry and I'm excited to be back and to be a part of it. I know our players are looking forward to this game, getting back on track; putting in the past what's past, and moving forward."
He said, "This is one of the Big Two everyone talks about. Tennessee and Auburn. We¹ll take them one at a time in the order they come." Shula added that he thinks the game comes at a good time. "We need to have good focus and move forward," he said. "You have to forget the week before, and that's hard sometimes. It would be the same if we had won last week. You have to move forward." Having a big rivalry like Tennessee makes it easier to keep that focus, he said.
Bama has fallen to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in Southeastern Conference games. Tennessee, which had its second open Saturday of the year last week, is 4-2 overall, 2-2 in SEC games, and on a two-game losing streak. Kickoff Saturday will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.
Shula said he has challenged his team "to have the attitude that they are going to get it done. We don't want them to go out there unless they are going to go out and play to winplay each play like it¹s the one that's going to win the game."
The Tide coach said that historically there have been men who stepped up in the Alabama-Tennessee game and he's anxious to see who will do it this year. "Both teams have play-makers," he said.
Shula said, "We're not near where we need to be. We have played well in some games. But we didn¹t play well last week."
He said, "I think that it's a little bit of an attitude, it's a little bit of a mindset but the main thing is we've got to focus in on our things. Our players need to be feeling real good when the ball is kicked off Saturday and not worry about making mistakes, not worrying about anything else other than doing their job the best way they know how and going out and having fun."
Shula said that Bama's number one quarterback, Brodie Croyle, appears to be holding up well after having been injured earlier in the year. He indicated Croyle would get a full measure of work in practice this week. Alabama has not had good injury luck this year, and it appears redshirt freshman tailback Kenneth Darby is out for at least awhile. Although Shula said he didn't expect Darby to miss the rest of the season, he said the chances of him playing this week are "not good." He also said that fullback Tim Castille might get some work at tailback this week. Freshman fullback Le'Ron McClain practiced all last week, but played only on special teams. Shula said he hoped McClain would "have three good days" of practice this week and that he might move back into the offensive rotation.
Shula said that Alabama is continuing to evaluate personnel. "We're going to look at some guys this week in practice to see if we can¹t use them more," he said.
As for Clausen, Shula said, "Probably the number one thing is his experience. I think he's got a good feel for their offense even though I think at times he's struggled. He's accurate. He's usually going to the right place at the right time. He's got good receivers that can go up there, if he gets it in an area, they're going to go find a way to catch it. I think anytime you play a veteran quarterback so to speak, when he comes in on the road he's going to do a good job. You've got to make sure you're sound fundamentally on defense and the same thing fitting in the right gaps and things like that because if you're not, he's going to take advantage of that. And you'll see them on tape, they do some audibling and he'll change plays based on what he sees defensively."
He said in Colquitt, "We're going up against the punter who is probably the best in the nation in every aspect of puntingdistance, hang time, net average, and, probably most important is the way he hangs the ball up inside the 20 and can position the ball and pin the offense back up against their own goal line."
The comments regarding Tennessee's punter came after Shula was asked about Bama's Bo Freelend, who tied an Alabama record by averaging 52.4 yards on five punts last week. Shula said, "He's practiced well the last three weeks. We've seen the results on Saturday the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, we won't have to use him that much."
The Tide coach noted that Bama won't be able to be one-dimensional against Tennessee. "You can't throw it all day and you can't run it all day," he said. "You have to try to keep them off balance. And it will be important that we stay out of third and long on offense."