Shula Says Tide Must Eliminate Mistakes

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula wants an offensive attack more evenly weighted in rushing and passing plays this coming Saturday. That formula is ideal to keep opposing defenses off-balance, but over the past two games his Alabama squad has won with a formula that called for a heavier dose of the run than the weeks before.

Alabama (5-2, 2-2 SEC) travels to Knoxville for a 2:30 kickoff against the 11th-ranked Vols (5-1, 3-1 SEC). The game will be televised nationally on CBS.

"We want to be balanced," Shula said Tuesday at his weekly media gathering. "Every week we say that and we haven't been as balanced as we'd like to be in the past two weeks, but we've been running the ball well."

"We've got to be able to do the things we're doing well and do the little things right and cut down on our mistakes and penalties, and then when you have an opportunity, when it's there, go make the play," he said

Shula also points out that his squad has been very close in the passing game, with Spencer Pennington showing much improvement since a poor showing in his debut against South Carolina.

"(Spencer) played the first time and didn't play well when he had the opportunity, and I know he was disappointed," Shula said. "He came back and is now playing better, and knows he needs to play even better than what he's played. A part of that means just running the offense and operating efficiently and making good decisions. Eventually, hopefully we'll get some of those passes we're close on, that we just missed, that we'll get."

When asked, Shula said that he has seen signs of his team making progress from week-to-week, taking into consideration the loss of Brodie Croyle and Ray Hudson.

"I do (think the team has made progress) in some things that maybe you can't measure with statistics," he said. "I think our team's coming together better. I think they've worked hard, especially after back-to-back losses. They've been real serious and focused on what they had to do to get a win, and then go get another win. That to me has been one of the most pleasing things. And I think we are making strides in all three areas."

Still, the Crimson Tide is expected to lean heavily on its SEC-leading running game once again. Alabama is averaging over 243 yards on the ground per game.

"I think our backs, Ray Hudson first, now Ken Darby, have done a great job," Shula said. "Our offensive line has come together each week and has gotten better, has made good adjustments. We've got three seniors up there - two of them are first time starters at their positions. Even though Evan Mathis is a three-year starter, it's a new position for him. Danny Martz is a first-time starter at the right guard position.

"It was important for us to come together quickly in the spring and then early in training camp. We've got two good backs now, even with Ray out, now with Ken Darby and Tim Castille to come in. It's been a nice fit."

Shula said he'll continue to rely on running backs coach Sparky Woods for most of the substitutions with the fullbacks and halfbacks.

"I just think it's a feel thing. I rely a lot on Coach Woods to do that. We've got to be flexible enough, if we've got certain we have certain things working and Tim's going, give him more carries. But (Darby) obviously one you want the ball in his hands a little bit, too, because we think he's one of the guys that's going to help us win," Shula said.

Shula said Tennessee is "the best team we've played so far this year" and said that his squad needs a good week of practice preparation. "We need to continue to do well and be even more focused and build on a lot of the detail things: finishing on plays in all three areas, offensively, defensively, special teams. Guys have taken advantage of opportunities at times that have helped us either create field position, turnovers, make big plays."

An area that has hampered the Tide in games this season has been penalties. Specifically, Alabama has had several inopportune holding and illegal block penalties throughout the year.

"We have not done a good enough job with the penalties. We need to do a much better job. We'll focus on that this week," Shula said.

"You've got to keep your hands inside and obviously you can't grab," he said. "Some of the penalties we've had have been down the field which doesn't make sense to me. If we're making yards then all of the sudden, to have your hand outside or grab or hold—to me that's aggression, too. You don't want to take away from that, but you have to be smart. You have to play within the rules."

Shula has been impressed with Erik Ainge, Tennessee's true freshman starting quarterback, as well as his supporting cast.

"This will be our biggest challenge defensively all year," he said. "They've got a good running game. They've got good speed at wide receiver. And, even though their quarterbacks are young, they've got guys that can throw it probably better than what we've seen all year."

Specifically, Shula said his cornerbacks, Ramzee Robinson and Anthony Madison would face a sizable and fast Tennessee receiving corps, as well as Ainge's ability.

"It's a monumental task to come in and play as a freshman and play at that position," Shula said. "You know he's got good size. He's got good throwing motion. He's showing to be very accurate at times. He moves around in the pocket and can scramble to make yards doing that way or he can move around the pocket and buy some time for guys to get down field and make plays.

Last week, Ainge led Tennessee to a fourth quarter come-from-behind victory against Ole Miss.

"Last week was a good example," Shula said. "They lost the lead. He just kind of watched them—you could see his demeanor it didn't faze him at all-- and did a nice job with that touchdown drive to get the lead again."

Shula said that sophomore quarterback Marc Guillion would be available on Saturday as he has been the past two weeks, but that the his back continues to limit him in practice. "We'll continue to evaluate him and see how he does," Shula said.

Shula also said that he would use crowd noise in practice on Wednesday and Thursday to prepare his offense for the noise inside Neyland Stadium, but he didn't reveal any plans for special motivation for the Tennessee game, such as orange jerseys or the blaring sounds of "Rocky Top" throughout the week.

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