After three straight home games, the Crimson Tide closes out its SEC schedule on the road Saturday when meeting the Auburn Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 pm, and a sellout crowd of 85,214 is expected. The game will be televised nationally by CBS with Craig Bolerjack and Andre Ware handling the announcing duties.
This will be Franchione's first chance to coach in the Alabama/Auburn rivalry. And reporters have flooded him with questions about his preparation. "I don't know of any rivalry in America that measures up," Franchione said. "Every rivalry game is big to those fans, but this one takes on a life of its own. It's important that we be well prepared.
"We'll concentrate on controlling the things we can control. The emotion part of the game will be exciting, but when the ball kicks off you become entrenched in the play and the game."
Following last week's 24-17 win over Mississippi State, the Tide brings a 4-5 overall record (3-4 SEC) into the game, while the Tigers are 7-2 (5-1 SEC). Auburn is No. 18 in the latest USA Today/ESPN rankings and 24th in the AP poll. A win by the Tigers will assure Auburn of its second straight Western Division championship. A Bama victory would put it within one win of becoming bowl eligible.
"Auburn has a solid football team," Franchione said today. "Potentially as good as anybody we've played. They've had a good year. They've got good players. Their offensive line is excellent.
"(Auburn tailback) Carnell Williams has come in and done a great job. He's carried the ball a number of times. Forty-one carries in the last game is hard to believe. It takes speed, vision and toughness to be able to do that. We have to stop Carnell to be able to win. They're running the ball, controlling the clock and passing well."
"Defensively, they have great speed," Franchione continued. "They run to the ball well, and their defensive line keeps blockers off their linebackers. They're solid on that side of the ball, and they're solid in the kicking game. Actually, better than solid. Damon Duval is a great kicker with great range. He's a weapon."
Following another very good performance last week versus Mississippi State, Santonio Beard appears poised to take over the starting job at tailback. "We consider that both Santonio and Ahmaad (Galloway) are starters," Franchione said. "We've been pleased with Santonio's improvement. Whoever runs out there for the first play, in our eyes both those guys are starters."
As has happened for most of the season, Alabama will start three redshirt freshman on its offense line Saturday. But Franchione isn't certain the label of ‘freshman' still applies. "Like all young players, they don't know what they don't know," he said. "But they're really sophomores now. This is their tenth game. They're as ready as they can get. Obviously, they'll be pivotal to our success."
Bama starting quarterback Tyler Watts was injured during the first quarter versus Mississippi State, and previous starter Andrew Zow came on in relief to lead the team to victory. Franchione made clear he had no intention of speaking directly about Watts' status, but he did say that "(Tyler) is pretty tough. He can play with pain. He's shown that."
With Watts directing the offense, Alabama is dangerous running the option. But Zow, known more as a passing QB, brings different strengths to the table. "We're confident in Andrew," Franchione said. "We'll tailor things to his strengths as we should. We'll try to put him in situations where he can be successful."
There is one significant change to this week's practice routine. Franchione announced that to shield his team from the media frenzy, practices would be closed all week. "We just want to eliminate all distractions, and focus on the game," he said. "This week I'll be spending less time at dinner with my family, attending to media requests. But I won't allow any of that to take away from the team."
There will also be one significant change in Franchione's normal game-day routine. That morning (November 17) is also The University's scheduled appearance before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. Alabama will be represented by President Sorenson, Athletics Director Mal Moore and its entire enforcement staff--with the exception of Faculty Representative Gene Marsh. But because of the Auburn game Franchione's involvement must be indirect.
"I've already recorded my taped message for the committee," Franchione said. "And I'll be available on the phone to answer any questions. I wanted to demonstrate the vision and commitment I have for running a clean program. Unfortunately, I can't be there in person. But this will be the next best thing. I won't let it interfere with the game."