Franchione says Tide will stick to the basics

Facing a solid opponent in Iowa State, the Alabama squad isn't taking anything for granted. The Cyclones held their own in the powerful Big 12 Conference, and Dennis Franchione believes the Tide must run the football and avoid turnovers to win. <br><br>"I think the first thing we have to do is avoid beating ourselves," Alabama's head coach said.

"With our football team, getting some form of a running game is important. Our success the entire year has been to have balance in our offense, and we have been fortunate in that we've had a good rushing attack.

"Our goal is for balance. If you can't run the ball, then you're generally going to have trouble throwing the football."

Coach Fran names Andrew Zow as a key figure in holding the Tide squad together this season.

Alabama (6-5, 4-4 in the SEC) faces Iowa State (7-4, 4-4 in the Big 12) in the Independence Bowl. The game will take place Thursday, December 27th at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana. Kickoff will occur at 6:30 pm with ESPN televising the game to a national audience.

The Tide squad arrived in town last Saturday afternoon, and Franchione had the players out this morning for what equates to a normal Wednesday practice. "We have tried to gear our schedule like a typical game week," Franchione said. "It's laid out well for us. We've been able to do a normal week of routine this week in Shreveport. We had plenty of time back in Tuscaloosa to put our game plan in, so this week has been a review of that."

Alabama's first two practices were open to the public, but the final two days will be closed.

"Practice was good; it was another good day," Franchione said. "The offense had a good day. We got a lot done. The guys moved around well, and I was very pleased.

"But I think they'll be ready for Santa Claus tonight."

The Crimson Tide team will have a Christmas Eve dinner together tonight and will exchange gifts with each other. On Christmas morning Alabama will practice at 10:45. The team and staff will attend a Christmas Day Feast sponsored by the Independence Bowl. After the luncheon, the players will have the remainder of the day to spend time with family and friends.

"I don't know that the players have really had any distractions this week," Franchione said. "The activities have been good. I know some of their families will be coming in tonight and tomorrow and the next day. I think they look forward to having some extra time to spend with them. But they've had a great time.

"The bowl people have been super. I think the kids have enjoyed every activity. They're having a great time. I checked with several of them to see how things were going."

Franchione's record in bowl games is 2-1.

Asked by a reporter about senior quarterback Andrew Zow's value to the team, Franchione was happy to answer. "Obviously Andrew has meant a lot on the field in the last three games. But Andrew's value to this team has been much deeper than his play. His value as a person, as a team member, as a leader. He's a person that went through adversity and handled it in the correct way.

"Our team had plenty of chances to unravel as the season went along. Because of people like Andrew and some other guys, we held together and continued to believe in each other. I think every player on this team has tremendous admiration for him. He got elected a permanent captain. That pretty well sums it up."

Thursday's game will mark the return of Santonio Beard to the Tide lineup. Prior to serving a one-game suspension for DUI, the sophomore tailback had become a star in the Bama running attack. "The element that Santonio brings to the table is the ability to hit a home run," Franchione said. "He's got great speed and elusiveness. He is a guy that if you don't hit on him just right, then he can take it the distance. He's hit some big plays a number of times for us, and that adds to our explosive potential."

When a team displays the same problem several times in a row, it's easy to become typecast, especially among media members that only know what they hear on ESPN. And so it was with Alabama and its earlier penchant for losing in the fourth quarter.

But according to Franchione, that label no longer applies. "Finishing strong has been a season long conversation piece. We had a few games where we had a tough time with that, but the last three games we did better. We finished strong against Mississippi State. The Auburn game was pretty well put away in the fourth quarter. And the Southern Miss game was similar. We've gotten better at those things and better at finishing the game and playing four good quarters.

"As much as anything, it just reflects that our football team has gotten better."

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