This Is Not An Ordinary Week

Ordinarily, Alabama Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione has his weekly news briefing on Tuesday. Ordinarily, Alabama's football team does not have practice on Monday. But this is not an ordinary week. Alabama will play a football game Thursday night, so the Crimson Tide is operating on an artificial calendar.

On Monday, Franchione met with the media to discuss his team and the Southern Miss squad the Crimson Tide will face on Thursday. Later on Monday, the Bama football team was on the practice field "for a typical Wednesday practice."

Franchione said it was good to be able to stay on a normal routine even with the early game.

For many college football teams, this is make-up week. A number of games originally scheduled for September 15 are being played this week after all college games and most other events were cancelled or postponed because of the terrorist attacks on America on September 11. Alabama and Southern Miss are playing the game Thursday in order that it might be televised. Kickoff from Legion Field in Birmingham will be shortly after 6 p.m. CST Thursday with television coverage by ESPN2.

Alabama is 5-5 after having thrashed Auburn, 31-7, in the Tide's last outing two Saturdays ago. Southern Miss is 6-3 after upsetting East Carolina last Friday.

Monday afternoon, Franchione said that he expects the Alabama-Southern Miss game to be different than it would have been on September 15. He said, "Back then, we were learning about the players and they were learning about us. We're going to be able to do a lot more offensively than we could have done on September 15. Southern Miss is very multiple on defense. We are throwing a lot of things at our offense and they are adjusting well. We've come a long way from where we were September 15. But," he added, "Southern Miss has come a long way, too. They were young on defense then. Now they are a veteran defense."

The Tide coach said the Golden Eagles are "a good team, well-coached, good athletes." Offensively he had praise for the offensive line, the tight end, the tailbacks, and, particularly, senior quarterback Jeff Kelly. "He's a good player," Franchione said. "Smart, poised, doesn't make mistakes." He said the Southern Miss defense is very good against the run. He said the defenders "have good speed and make plays. You earn everything you get. It will be a tough game for us."

Kelly is one of a number of Southern Miss players from Alabama. Franchione said, "I'm sure they have several players from Alabama on their roster, but I'm not sure why." Franchione explained that roster limits now have an effect on recruiting, that sometimes a good player is not recruited because there is not a need for the position he plays. While Franchione said it should not be taken as a slight for a player from Alabama not to have been offered by Bama, that he understands it as a motivating factor

On the other hand, Franchione said Alabama may get some motivation from the fact that Southern Miss defeated Bama, 21-0, last year. "Revenge is a small thing to play for, but our players want to make amends for how poorly they think they played last year."

Franchione reiterated the importance of defeating Southern Miss. "It would be good to close with three straight wins, which would double last year's total," he said. "and it would give us the opportunity to to to a post-season game. A bowl game would be a nice reward for the seniors and it would be good for the younger players. If you use the extra practice time wisely, it can be beneficial to the young players. And if we get our third straight win, it will give us a chance to get our fourth straight win."

In answer to a question, Franchione said he thinks if Alabama is bowl eligible by getting its sixth win of the year Thursday that a bowl will want a team with "the name and tradition of the Crimson Tide."

While the Alabama record is already better than last year's 3-8 mark, Franchione indicated he was more interested in long-range goals than this season's record. "When you take over a program that went through what we did, you have to put it on a sound foundation," Franchione said. "Now, Alabama football has had a foundation for a long time. But I think we had some cracks in it that had to be fixed; things like work ethic, preparation, discipline, weightroom, learning how to practice and prepare for games. Sometimes when you repair the foundation, you don't get the wins as fast as you hope, but you put yourself in position to to get better. The players are more of a team and believe in each other. We've built player-coach and player-player relationships of trust.

"You don't ever quit working on the foundation," he said. "But I think we've got the program going the right way and we'll begin to get more wins."

In answer to a question about the improvement of Alabama's defense in recent games, Franchione said, "We went into the season with a young secondary and that's a tough place to be young. We had some things happen early in the season that shook their confidence3. But they hung in there and battled and they have gotten better and played better. They have made some plays that have reversed that thought process. And we're getting better pressure on the quarterback. When you pressure the quarterback, the secondary usually plays better."

There were also a number of questions relating to the quarterback position, although after nearly three months of knowing the Franchione policy regarding discussion of injuries there were no questions so blunt as to seek the name of this week's starter. Franchione said that Southern Miss, as Auburn in the previous game, "will have to prepare for both, and there's just enough difference in the two they have to think about it." The two are Tyler Watts, who started the first nine games of the year before suffering a groin injury, and Andrew Zow, the starter for most of the previous three seasons who finished the Mississippi State game and started and went the distance against Auburn as Alabama turned in victories the past two weeks. Franchione said much of the offense is the same regardless of which quarterback is in the game, but that Zow and Watts have different styles that force teams to spend time working for both. If the opponent doesn't which one is going to start and which one is going to play most, Franchione said, "I think it's an advantage for us."

And, as he had done earlier, Franchione again asked Alabama fans who have tickets and who might not be able to go to Thursday night's game to get those tickets into the hands of those who will attend. In addition to wanting backing for his team, it's likely Franchione is thinking about the impression the crowd (or lack thereof) has on visiting bowl representatives.


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