Although it could be said that he has not previously participated in a game that has the national attention of the Alabama-Tennessee game, he knows that it means as much to the fans and players of the New Mexico-New Mexico State or TCU-SMU or Kansas-Kansas State games as it does to the Alabama-Tennessee fans. He also lived in Tennessee for two years (1983-84) as offensive coordinator at Tennessee Tech and got a close-up view of the Tide-Vols rivalry.
And, he said, he knows how important the game is for Alabama fans and players, as well as coaches, particularly since Tennessee has a current six-game winning streak in the series. He said he knows that his players want to get a win over Tennessee, particularly the seniors who have never experienced that and have only one more opportunity. He noted that he does not "sense a downside psychologically" from his players regarding the losing streak, and pointed out that "the other games don't have a large bearing on what happens Saturday."
"I'm excited about the game," he said in his normal press briefing prior to a full-gear Tuesday afternoon practice. "I think everyone is optimistic and enthusiastic and working hard this week." However, Alabama will not be making a production of the game in practice this week. There will be no orange jerseys on the scout team, no constant bombardment of the Tennessee country tune, "Rocky Top." It will be a week in which Alabama will be trying to correct mistakes that have led to a 3-3 record, 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play. Tennessee, which is 3-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC games and ranked 11th in the nation and coming off an open week, will meet Alabama at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The game will be telecast by CBS.
"We're glad to be back in Bryant-Denny," said Franchione. "Our fans and the atmosphere there give us a boost. We've played six games and only two of them have been on our campus, and we're happy to be home."
Franchione said, "Anytime you play a nationally-ranked team and a traditional rival and win, it gives your team a boost. You enjoy it if you win."
Franchione called Tennessee a team of good players who are well-coached and play hard. He said he expects the Vols to be at near full strength with some of their players (notably wide receivers Donté Stallworth and Eric Parker) having healed from injuries in the open week. He said Tennessee is very good on both the offensive and defensive lines, has a productive tailback, and has been excellent on defense, particularly against the rush.
Franchione said that one area of emphasis continues to be encouraging "the players to focus on the next play. We have to play it one play at a time, because that's what we can control. And one play can make a difference in a game." He said the coaches "continue to evaluate what we can do best." For instance, he said, Wednesday mornings are spent in film study determining the best third down calls to make in various situations.
He said, "We work every week with a sense of urgency. Every game is important." He said it is too early to characterize the Tennessee game as a potential turning point for Bama. "You usually look back to find those," he said.
The Tide coach said his offense has a great deal of respect for the Tennessee defense. "They have good players, good schemes, they are well-coached, and they mix things up well," he said. "We know it will not be easy. But our guys are confident they can move the football."
He pointed out that Alabama's offense, averaging over 420 yards per game and ranked 26th in the nation, is much improved over last year. The problem for Bama is that Tennessee allows only 259.5 yards per game, ranking first in the SEC and eighth in the nation. And Alabama's rushing game, first in the SEC at 229.3 yards per game, will be going up against the top rushing defense, the Vols allowing just 47.8 yards per game on the ground. "They are a great defense," said Franchione. "But we can't change our (offensive) personality."
Part of that personality is the running of quarterback Tyler Watts. Franchione said Watts has run "more than expected. And," the coach added, "he doesn't run out of bounds or take the easy way. I've told him he doesn't have to do it that way, but that's not the way Tyler plays." That situation will be watched in part because Tennessee has a reputation, deserved or not, as taking the cheap shot to knock out an opposing player.
The Tennessee attack is two-pronged, Franchione said. While tailback Travis Stephens is one of the best on the ground, quarterback Casey Clausen has been very effective, particularly when throwing to 22-year-old freshman Kelley Washington, who washed out in professional baseball and walked on with Tennessee's football team last spring.
In other statistics, Tennessee ranks seventh in scoring (24 points per game), going against Alaama's fifth-ranked scoring defense (18.3 points per game), while the Tide is third in scoring (29.3), the Vols second in scoring defense (14.0). Tennessee's offense puts up 398 yards per game, seventh in the league, while the Tide's defensive gives up 337.2 yards per game, also seventh in the conference. Tennessee is the second-leading rushing team behind Alabama in the SEC, averaging 179.0 yards per game, while Bama gives up 120.5 yards per game on the ground, sixth in the league. Tennessee is sixth in the SEC in passing, 219.0 yards per game, while Alabama is seventh in passing, 192.5 yards per game. The Tide ranks sixth in pass efficiency defense, while Tennessee is eighth in that category.
Individually, the Vols' Travis Stephens is the league's top runner, 147 yards per game. Bama's Ahmaad Galloway ranks fifth (83.7 yards per game) and Watts sixth (78.5). Tennessee's Clausen ranks sixth in passing yards (219.0 per game), Watts ninth (163.2). Washington ranks first in receptions per game (7.3) and third in receiving yards (118.2 yards per game). No Alabama receivers made the top ten in the SEC in either category.
Alabama will be short one assistant coach this week. The father of Running Backs Coach Lee Fobbs died Sunday morning and the funeral in Louisiana will be Saturday morning.