Tough loss resonates

Speaking at his Sunday teleconference, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula reflected on Saturday's incredibly tough loss. <br><br>"It was an emotional game, where our players fought and fought," Shula said. "We made some big plays, but we also gave up some plays that hurt us. Not just the players but our whole team."

From the opening kickoff Tennessee appeared to have the more talented team, but Alabama's players fought hard. Several times the Tide put itself in position to win the game only to fall short.

"We did some real good things but then we didn't do some things that could have helped us win the football game," Shula said.

Shula said afterwards that the Tide team grew up some Saturday, learning and maturing in ways that would pay off in the future. "It was a tough loss and something that we're going to have to live with," Shula explained. "But if there are ever some positives that you can take from a loss, there were some in Saturday's game. A lot of them were things that are hard to measure, things like character, mental toughness and hanging in there during difficult times."

No doubt the Bama players fought hard, refusing to pack it in when it might have been logical to do so. But once again the final scoreboard didn't reflect the effort.

Freddie Roach, (#8) Charles Jones (#20), and Anthony Madison (#9) in action against Oklahoma. Almost all season the Tide team has fought hard every game, but so far the efforts have not been rewarded.

Shula commented, "The difficult thing to swallow is we had the game won if we just do a couple of things here and there. Little things, and we didn't do them."

A loss is a loss, but Shula said Saturday's defeat was an entirely different animal from the previous week's embarrassment in Oxford. "Talking to the team afterwards was a totally different feeling by everybody," he related. "Unfortunately the results were still the same. We still lost, but I think this team will be better down the road because of this game.

"There were guys that showed a lot of mental toughness and showed poise. Those things are what you need as you continue to come together as a team."

"We were all really embarrassed about the way we played against Ole Miss," Shula continued. "They were a good team that took advantage of our mistakes and made big plays. Defensively we had a great look in our eye all (this past) week. We played well early Saturday, shutting Tennessee's offense down. Tennessee's players were actually bigger than I thought, when you saw them out there on the field for the first time. They were able to run the ball on us toward the end."

Shula talked about the mood in the Tide locker room following the game.

"First, everybody was just exhausted. Guys were frustrated, but there was a feeling that was different from the previous week. After Ole Miss everybody was upset about themselves, the way we coached and played. This week everybody recognized that we gave great effort. It was more a feeling of guys wishing they could have done more for each other to win the game."

One of the truisms of college football is that after six games or so, freshmen are no longer freshmen. The same is true of coaches. This is obviously Shula's first opportunity to serve as head coach. But after the emotional highs and lows that have characterized this season so far, Shula isn't the same man that trotted onto the field with his team last August to take on South Florida.

"It's been a roller coaster, that's for sure," Shula acknowledged. "But the thing I always come back to is the guys I'm working with. That keeps everything on an even keel for me. Believing in myself and believing that we're going to get the job done with good people and believing in the things that we're doing.

"Don't let yourself get too high or too low. It's never as bad as you think, and it's never as good as you think."

As one writer pointed out Sunday, a five-overtime game provides a season's worth of second-guessing opportunities. Shula said he'll do some of that, but for instructional purposes only.

"There is a fine line," he explained. "You can second-guess, but the productive thing to do is make sure you look at the game and think if you were in that situation again would you make the same decision or do something different? Use the game for future knowledge."

Asked where Saturday's game ranks for him, Shula admitted it won't be one he'll forget anytime soon. "It's probably in the top five, that's for sure. A couple would be games that I've played in at Alabama and a couple that I've coached in. I would say Top 5."

Mike Shula and the 2003 squad have endured more than their share of adversity, but he's convinced the team will be better for it in the future. (Barry Fikes photo)

After Saturday's game Shula told the media that whether anyone believed him or not, he was firmly convinced that the harsh lessons inflicted by the loss would end up being positives. That the current players would learn from the adversity and eventually find success.

Sunday his mindset hadn't changed.

"I believe fully that we will," Shula said. "I believe in good people, and that's the way it'll get done. That's what I've learned from the coaches I've been around in my career and that's the way I've been raised.

"You can't stop believing. That's the No. 1 thing."

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