Squad returns to practice field

After giving the players some time off and taking one day for himself, Tide Head Coach Mike Shula and the Alabama football squad were back at work Sunday night preparing for next Saturday's game.

"We gave the players a lot of time off," Mike Shula said after the late-night workout. "I think they appreciated that. They came out ready to work Sunday night."

Alabama was off last week, but the previous week the squad had dropped a tough, five-overtime loss to Tennessee. Shula was asked if the several days away from football had helped team morale.

"It's hard to say," he replied. "I'm hoping that guys have moved on and now we're focused on Mississippi State. We're focused on the last four games, but State is this week."

Alabama enters the homestretch of its 2003 schedule, playing its next three games against conference teams before concluding the season against Hawaii. This Saturday's game will be played in Starkville. Jefferson-Pilot will broadcast the contest, with kickoff slated for 11:30 am (CST).

"We had a good workout," Shula said after Sunday's practice. "We started work on Mississippi State. We don't have our full game plan in. We'll do that Tuesday. We worked against ourselves a little bit, and had some nice conditioning inside (the Crisp Indoor Facility)."

The Bulldogs enter the game at 2-6. Their most recent loss was on the road against Kentucky, 42-17. But Shula said they played well early against the Wildcats.

He commented, "If you watched their earlier game against Kentucky, they were all over the Wildcats. It was just a couple of things right before the half. (MSU) was still up 17-0, then Kentucky got a score before the half."

Both Alabama and Mississippi State are struggling this season. Saturday's game will drop one squad to the bottom of the SEC Western Division standings. "Like we've been saying, a few plays here and there and all of a sudden it's a different ball game," Shula said. "Who would have thought (the MSU/Kentucky) game would have ended like that?"

After watching some film of Mississippi State, Shula had praise for its defense. "I see more of their defense. Their two defensive ends are good players. They have a nice defensive package. They'll play some zone, some combination zones and they'll blitz you a little bit."

Of course Starkville is only a 90-minute drive across the Mississippi state line from Tuscaloosa, so the two schools are geographical rivals if nothing else. "Just from my recollection (as a player), every time we played them it was always different from what we saw on tape," Shula said. "We always got more from Mississippi State."

Besides losing the game, Alabama also lost its All-America left tackle, Wesley Britt, for the season against Tennessee. Britt broke his left leg and surgery means he won't be back until next year.

Shula said Atlas Herrion would move into Britt's starting slot, but the loss would have impact on the squad. "I would think (the adjustment) would be more in play calling," Shula said. "We ran a lot of plays (off the left side) behind Wes and Justin Smiley. The question we'll have tomorrow (in offensive meetings) is ‘Do we want to continue to do that?'"

A fifth-year senior, Herrion has the confidence of his head coach. "They won't be questions like ‘Do we need to help Atlas a little more with protection?' We feel pretty good about Atlas, protection-wise. (Concerns) like that won't enter in.

"Obviously it makes sense that (Britt's loss) will impact. All of a sudden he's gone."

After working with the squad Sunday night, Shula isn't worried about the players. He commented, "You guys were asking me about Saturday's football games. When you can catch your breath and see some other teams that are going through ups and downs, all of a sudden you realize it's not just you. It's important for all of us to realize that. You don't push a panic button and think it's just us.

"(The Tennessee loss) is over now. Let's move on."

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