Shula Talks about Taking on the Gamecocks

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula isn't nearly as seasoned as South Carolina's Lou Holtz, who will be his across-the-field counterpart Saturday afternoon when Bama (3-1, 1-1 SEC) hosts the Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at Bryant-Denny stadium, but Shula has deftly learned to withstand some criticism about his play-calling in Saturday's 27-10 loss on the road to Arkansas.

The most-questioned decision Shula made last week was to punt on fourth-and-one from the Arkansas 38-yard line. Although the Alabama defense went three-and-out, returning the ball to the offense less than a minute-and-a-half later, some "experts" still deemed it the wrong move.

Shula was asked at his weekly press conference Tuesday if he looks back at the tough decisions a head coach has to make and second-guesses himself.

"There are things you want to look at and learn from," Shula said in response. "You could second-guess everything you do. I don't want to second-guess myself because I know there are going to be plenty of people doing that for me. As long as there's football there will be that.

"Sometimes it's a gut-feel, how the game's going," he said of those types of decisions. "I think that's probably the biggest thing when you decide to go for it."

Shula said that the game plan against South Carolina on Saturday will be to "take what the defense gives us." Also, he said, "There are some things that we'd like to do regardless of how they're playing us. I think it's a balance of all those things."

Simeon Castille, who has become a crucial link in the defensive secondary only three games into his college career, will be limited in practice Tuesday, Shula said, but that all reports he's received from the training staff indicate that Castille "should be okay for the game."

Shula said that not having Castille available against Arkansas limited his defense somewhat, but not as much as it might playing against a spread-offense team which would consistenly use three or four wide receivers.

"We didn't play a lot of nickel defense," he said. "Even though we aren't in the nickel package we still rotate him in there and he missed that rotation last week."

Shula said that true freshman Marcus Carter is someone that could possibly be used in nickel situations if Castille were unavailable. Shula said that true freshman Travis Robinson, who looked like a candidate for playing time early before being slowed with a knee injury, is back to 100 per cent health, and is "trying to get a better feel for what we're doing."

Alabama's four starters in the defensive secondary, who played every defensive snap last week, will face a more difficult challenge in defending the pass than they've seen in any of the first four games.

"They have a quarterback that can beat you throwing the ball, and can beat you running with it," Shula said. They've got probably the fastest group of wide receivers that we'll see all year. South Carolina has a lot of seniors and experience, obviously because of it, and leadership."

On Ray Hudson, who missed some time in the Arkansas game, Shula said, "I think he was a little light-headed from being tired. Obviously it's scary after he had the mild concussion or whatever he had. He got pretty dinged up the week before. Sunday he was on our (weekly coach's TV) show and he looked a lot better."

Shula said his game plan on offense starts with doing the things that his players do well, and also taking advantages of South Carolina's defensive schemes and weaknesses. What the Tide players do well is run the ball, averaging 249 yards per game on the ground, but the Gamecocks are second in the SEC in rush defense, allowing just 92 yards per game.

"Their defensive line does a good job not getting knocked back," Shula said. You see when you watch them on tape, opposing teams' offensive linemen have a tough time trying to get up to the linebackers.

"They like to blitz but their blitzes aren't necessarily all-out blitzes. They do a real nice job attacking your scheme. If you're throwing the ball where your weakness would be in pass protection. They have a couple of run-blitzes where they'll bring guys in run situations that other guys may not."

"We've got our work cut out for us," he said. "We're back at home. Everyone's excited about that, and we've just got to have a real good week of preparation."

Shula said he expects quarterback Marc Guillon, who is 11-for-25 with one touchdown and one interception on the season, to correct a few of the mistakes made last week in missed reads in the passing game.

"Last week was a tough situation (for Marc)," he said. "He's going to feel a lot more comfortable at home. Practicing Sunday night was better. We're going to try to get as many reps as we can in with him and our wide receivers. "It's a matter of seeing it and trusting it. You go through it in practice and it might look a little different, but it's really not and you have to trust it."

"You can not substitute game experience – not at that position," he said. "We've got to make sure each week he's going to get better because of the experience."

One area the Tide stressed in Sunday film sessions was special teams. Shula said that the difference in all aspects of the kicking game didn't show up in the stats, but he felt his squad had chances to make game-changing plays on special teams.

"Overall we need to improve on special teams. We had opportunities in that game more that any other game to change field position," he said. "The 10 guys that don't have the ball in their hand need to be more consistent.

"I don't want to make excuses because that's not what we're about. I think our guys are going to get better with experience, especially the young guys. There are some young guys that made some mistakes that we think are going to be very correctable because they're inexperienced."

Shula said that Brandon Brooks will continue in his role returning punts.

"We feel like Brandon is our guy," Shula said. "We struggled last week and mainly, he never had an opportunity. We had our guys not doing a good enough job, especially on Arkansas' flyers or their gunners where he never had a chance to catch it and make somebody miss.

"I thought Brandon fielded the ball better. I think there are some of those things you're going to want him to fair-catch it a little bit so he doesn't get himself killed or the ball knocked out, but we've got to do a better job even before he catches it."

Shula said that the staff has looked at Tyrone Prothro, and DJ Hall as punt returners in practice.


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