Mood improved in Tuscaloosa

For several weeks "Obviously, it was a tough loss," had been Tide Head Coach Mike Shula's first words during his Sunday teleconferences. After dominating Mississippi State to the tune of a 38-0 shutout, his opening line had thankfully changed.

"It was obviously a big win for us, especially after two weeks of not having a chance to play after our tough loss to Tennessee," Mike Shula began.

"The guys came in with a lot of enthusiasm. We talked about playing well early (in the game) and being ready mentally and physically for an early start. We didn't look that way on the first play, but on third down we came up with a big play against the blitz."

On third and long during its first possession from their own 14 yardline, Alabama threw a screen pass to Zach Fletcher, who broke one tackle and turned up field to score. The Tide never looked back.

"It felt good to win," Shula acknowledged. "We had been in games where we fell short. But we're still continuing to grow and learn our system. We've got different guys playing because of injuries. It's a continual learning process."

For most of the game Saturday Alabama ran and passed with relative ease. And its stop unit pitched the Tide's first shutout of the season. Shula commented, "Defensively our guys did a nice job all day and got the offense the ball. The offense capitalized."

The win was nice, but Shula isn't ready to claim his team has turned the corner. "We made some plays Saturday that we hadn't made in weeks past," he said. "But we're going to have to step up again and do it this week. We're not there yet. We're going to keep correcting (our mistakes) and build on the good."

Antwan Odom (#98) and the rest of the Tide defensive line got consistent pressure on MSU's quarterbacks Saturday. (Kent Gidley photo)

When teams manage to dominate on the scoreboard, usually they're winning the line of scrimmage. Against State the Tide defensive line had an excellent game. "They were extremely active," was Shula's assessment. "Guys were getting penetration against the run, which really helped our linebackers use their speed coming off the edge to make the tackle."

A good passing team, Mississippi State only managed 128 yards throwing the football. "We also put pressure on their quarterback without blitzing, which really helped our defensive backs," Shula said. "It made their quarterback less effective. Whenever quarterbacks have time to throw the ball they have a chance to be accurate and make plays. When you're under duress it's more difficult. That's what happened Saturday."

Late in the fourth quarter up 31-0, Alabama had the football and was driving. By this time Shula had substituted liberally, and backup quarterback Spencer Pennington was under center. Time after time the Tide ran the football, trying to run out the clock. But faced with a fourth down just inside State territory, instead of punting Shula chose to go for it on fourth down.

He explained the call. "Fourth and four on the 37 yardline we didn't want to kick a field goal. It was too far, but we felt it was too close to punt. We wanted to get a first down. It was a three-step drop and pass into the flat. Plus we wanted to give Spencer a chance to throw a pass. That was one of only 16 passes we threw."

Next up for the Tide is an excellent LSU team ranked third in the nation.

"From watching them on TV and from game film when we've played common opponents, they're talented and well coached," Shula said. "LSU can put the ball in the endzone running or throwing. The defense creates field position for the offense. They make big plays to put points on the board and win games."

Last year Alabama embarrassed LSU on its own turf, winning 31-0. This year the Bengal Tigers are hoping to play well enough to get back into the national title picture. So motivation for LSU will obviously not be a problem.

Shula commented, "I just know that when LSU and Alabama play, it's a huge game. That's my experience. They're talented on both sides of the ball. They're very well coached by Nick Saban. It's a big challenge. It's SEC football. LSU will be coming to Bryant-Denny.

"For our seniors it's their last game. We've had a tough go of it early in the season. We caught our breath during the bye week and came back and won Saturday. You find out a lot about yourself when you play a good team, which is what we're going to do."

Reserve QB Spencer Pennington returned to action Saturday, his first time back since injuring his shoulder against Georgia. (Barry Fikes photo)

Alabama has played Top Five teams before, dropping a close game to Oklahoma (20-13) and later having less luck with Georgia (37-23).

"As we watch the tape of LSU we're all going to realize we're playing an extremely talented team," Shula said. "Size, speed and coaching... We're going to realize that we're all going to have to play and coach our best for 60 minutes."

But Shula isn't worried a bit about his players being intimidated.

"When you come to Alabama you look forward to playing in big games, especially in the SEC," he said. "This is one of them. It's late in the season. Winning games in November will be important for us now and in years to come. Our guys will be excited, and hopefully we'll get their best."

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