Bama-Tennesse Rivalry Always Big

As has been the case in each of Alabama's five wins in 2004, the Crimson Tide was physically dominant in a 27-3 win over Southern Miss on Saturday. The question now is whether Alabama (5-2, 2-2 SEC) can rise to the occasion against Tennessee (5-1, 3-1 SEC).

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said that Saturday's 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Knoxville, nationally televised by CBS, will be the Tide's biggest challenge of the season.

"It's always a big game," Shula said during his Sunday teleconference. "Anybody who's played here knows that. The memories up there are great. You play in front of an unbelievable crowd. You've got to keep your poise and focus on the job at hand."

Like many Alabama fans, Shula sat and watched Ole Miss give a test in Oxford, Miss. before eventually losing 21-17 Saturday night.

"It was a gritty performance," Shula said of that game. "They had a lead, lost it and stuck with it. They came from behind and made plays when they had to."

Shula said that true freshman Vol quarterback Erik Ainge is talented and well-poised. "Our defense is going to get challenged this week, we're going to see the best offense that we've seen all year," he said.

Shula said he couldn't tell a difference in the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry caused by any off-the-field commotion over the past year or so.

"I know that there's a lot of focus on this game, but it seems like there has always been," he said. "It's definitely one of two that there's more focus on. It's Alabama-Tennessee. It'll be new to our freshmen because they don't really understand what it's about, but It's about the game really."

Shula said his team is beginning to establish an identity it likes, as a hard-nosed physical team that can run the football despite being outnumbered.

"They've really worked hard," Shula said of his offensive linemen. "They take lot pride in doing things right and coming off football and being a physical offensive line. You combine that with our running backs, Ray and KD and the others, it's been a good situation. The best thing we've done is make adjustments week-in and week-out during the course of the game."

Shula said he'll pipe crowd noise into his practices this week in an attempt to get Spencer Pennington accustomed to the harsh environment he will experience Saturday. But it's not something that will be totally foreign to the junior from Fayette.

"Spencer started at Georgia last year, so that's loud," Shula said. "Tennessee is probably one loudest places I ever been. Spencer has to get in his mind right now it's going to be loud and keep that in mind as far as preparation all week."

Alabama has relied on its defense and running game to win games since the loss of Brodie Croyle, and that will likely be the game plan this week, but, Shula said, the Tide needs to improve in passing the football.

"We had some opportunities to have big plays and we just missed it," he said about the passing against USM. "That would have made me feel more comfortable. We have to get better in that area."

"When you run ball and have some success a lot times gives the quarterback easier reads and gives the quarterback an opportunity to make some plays," he said. "You want to take advantage of that. We tried to, but the couple of times we threw it we had chance to make some plays and didn't quite do it."

Shula said the biggest change he's noticed in the defense this year is their swarming to the ball. Shula said developing depth over the past year has been a key to having fresh-legged players in the fourth quarter this year.

"We're playing a bunch of guys up front, the front 7 really, not just the down linemen," he said. "I think coach Kines has done an outstanding job, and all those guys on our defensive staff have in making adjustments.

"(Last year) we went probably the first four, five or six games before we got into a rotation, and even that rotation was nowhere near where we are now," Shula said of the front seven on defense. "We put our number two guys in there and they understand that if they don't produce they're not going to be in there."

One thing weighing heavily on the mind of Shula and staff are penalties, the Tide has flagged for 409 yards in penalties on the year, including 65 against Southern Miss.

The penalties are something that we've got to get corrected," Shula said. "When we weren't doing that we looked like we were doing good things out there."

"Each one is a little bit different," he said. "A couple times guys were blocked well, then at the end trying to come off you can't grab. The thing that was frustrating is a lot of them didn't need to occur. None of them do, but we had one called on a screen pass when the guy was rushing passer, we've got to use more common sense."

As for injury updates, Shula said he hadn't received updated reports, but he expects Juwan Garth (shoulder) and Justin Britt (ankle), who missed Saturday's game, to be questionable this week.

Shula said that Roman Harper "had his bell rung" in the USM game, but he expects Harper to be fine in the coming week. Shula also said that Marc Guillion continued to get limited reps in practice due to a strained back.


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