Tide improving as meat of schedule nears

Saturday's dominating win over UTEP pushed Alabama's record to 3-2. Next up is a conference road game at Ole Miss, followed by the Tennessee Vols. And Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione knows his team is just now entering the heart of its schedule. <br><br> "We're much more prepared for it today than we were a month ago," Franchione said yesterday during his weekly teleconference.

"The only thing that we're trying to do is focus on us and try to improve weekly. But I don't know if (the rest of the schedule) will be much tougher than going to South Carolina. We're learning how to compete hard--to play hard. We took some steps on finishing a team off Saturday, and obviously we finished early. But we couldn't finish the week before. There are still some frustrating points where we want to get better faster, but we are improving."

Franchione said quarterback Tyler Watts has been magnificent in the last two games.

Obviously the Bama team remains a work in progress, but eight touchdowns and 588 yards of total offense represent real progress. "I think the offensive production is a combination of things," Franchione explained. "The players are gaining confidence. Our young line has come together. And as the line gets more experienced, they are going to continue to improve. There are still some things that they're learning to do, but they are getting better."

A maturing line has been key to Bama's recent success, and quarterback Tyler Watts is developing into a genuine star. "He's just played very well the last few weeks," Franchione stated. "The offensive players believe in him right now. He plays so hard, so tough and so gritty. He makes good decisions. He just doesn't turn the ball over, hardly. Every game is in a quarterback's hands to a certain degree, and the players and coaches are gaining confidence with the game being in Tyler's hands. He had two or three drops Saturday, or his percentages would have been outstanding."

Franchione also pointed to a selfless wide receiver corps, learning to block with as much enthusiasm as they run routes. "They had to go in and crack on the linebackers Saturday, and not every receiver will do that. But they went in and did it. AC Carter had eight knockdown (blocks). I don't know if he caught a ball, maybe one. But he contributed by just going in and doing his job."

Franchione also revealed the athletes honored at their respective positions.

  • Offensive backs of the week: Tyler Watts and Ahmaad Galloway
  • Offensive linemen of the week: Alonzo Ephraim and Antonio Carter
  • Special Teams player of the week: AC Carter
  • Defensive backs of the week: Gerald Dixon and Saleem Rasheed
  • Defensive linemen of the week: Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King
  • Offensive scout team players of the week: Matt Miller, Josh Smith, Joel Babb, Stephen Moore, Bart Raulston and J.B. Closner
  • Defensive scout team players of the week: Brad Biehl and Marc Miller

It was apparent from the first series that the Miners of Texas El Paso were outmanned, but it has been a long time since Tide fans witnessed their team completely dominate an opponent. "The UTEP game was an offensive boost for us," Franchione agreed. "We have to be a little bit surprised that we have been able to do this well offensively this quickly. I knew that we took over an offense that was 100th in the nation, and we lost a lot from the offensive line. It has gelled a little quicker and done better sooner than I maybe was willing to think it would.

With two tackles, two pass deflections and an interception, Kindal Moorehead was a defensive lineman of the week.

"I thought it would take more time for this kind of success, based on what I knew and what I saw in spring practice. It's a boost for every player in our program, and the offense gets another shot of confidence and belief in what we're doing."

Alabama held the edge in every significant statistical category, but 10-of-15 in third down conversions, representing a 2/3s success rate, exemplified Bama's offensive success.

Franchione explained; "Each week on Wednesday we study our computer tapes. We have a third-and-long tape, a third-and-extra-long tape, a third-and-medium tape and a third-and-short tape. We go through them and evaluate what the opposing team does, and what their schemes are. Then we pick what plays we have in our game plan that week that are best suited for those down and distances. Sometimes you just get into a game and you get a feel for a couple of things and you go to them."

Several players turned in impressive performances, but senior Jason McAddley's stats (three receptions for 67 yards) were particularly satisfying. "We're more confident in Jason now," Franchione said. "He didn't have a good first game for us. Actually Triandos Luke started ahead of him some. But Jason just kept working and understanding the offense better and his role. He is certainly to be complimented for the way he has handled (the temporary demotion) and for the plays that he has made for us. We do recognize that.

Senior receiver Jason McAddley has improved in recent weeks.

"His production is better and our trusting him to make plays is better. It's not just catching the ball. It's blocking and doing the little things that are important for us. He's understanding that you don't just play when you think the ball is coming to you. Jason has certainly been a guy that has been a key figure in that attitude."

As Franchione explained, under the leadership of Wide Receivers Coach Kenith Pope, the receiving corps contributes in ways beyond just running routes and catching passes. "You've got to play just as hard when you don't think the ball is coming to you," Franchione said. "All of our receivers are understanding that the mark of a good player is not that he plays well when he has the ball--but that he plays well all the time. Even when he may not have the ball. Their attitude has been good in adjusting to that."

For each of the last several weeks, the Tide offense has featured different positions. And Saturday it was the fullbacks' turn to shine. Together, Donnie Lowe, Marvin Brown and Nick Signaigo combined for 68 yards on six carries (7.6 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Lowe also added a 12-yard reception.

"The play that Donnie Lowe ran down to the one-yard line was new," Franchione related. "It was one we put in this week. We did more things with motion, including a lot of tight-end motion Saturday. The offensive players are grasping the whys (of the new offense); they're understanding why we do this because we gain an advantage. That enables us to expand the offense each week. We're getting closer and closer to being where we want to be."

Antonio ‘AC' Carter returned four punts for 41 yards.

One minor change Saturday occurred on special teams, where Antonio Carter replaced Freddie Milons returning punts. "We have confidence in both those guys returning punts," Franchione said. "Freddie is doing so many things for us right now. We felt like it might be good to let AC have a shot back there. Freddie did have the one game where he had a couple hit the ground, but I don't think his confidence was hurt by it.

"Collectively as a staff we just felt like with all the things Freddie is doing sometimes we'd get him fatigued during the game. He wasn't able to do as much as he could, if he (didn't get) a little rest once in awhile. So we decided to try AC."

Saturday also marked the first time Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush didn't call the game from the press box. In an effort to improve communication between Torbush and a too-often inexperienced defense, the veteran coach decided to direct the defense from the sideline.

Franchione explained; "That is something that we discussed and talked about, but I left the decision up to Carl. I want to make sure that's clarified. Whatever decision that he made, I was behind 100 percent. That was my input. I though it might be something that we should consider, but it certainly was not anything that was mandated."

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