Tide Works In Rain

Alabama's football team is not likely to overcome the loss of starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, but there are some promising signs about the position as the Crimson Tide prepares for Mississippi State.

Alabama will host Mississippi State at 5:30 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be telecast by ESPN2. The Crimson Tide is 5-3 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference games. Mississippi State is 3-5 overall and also 2-3 in SEC games.

The Bulldogs of Coach Sylvester Croom have won back-to-back games, over Florida and Kentucky, both in Starkville. Bama is coming off an open date after having lost to Tennessee, 17-13, in the Tide's last outing on October 23 in Knoxville.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula was not happy with Alabama's Wednesday practice, the last half of which was held in a steady rain. "Practice was a little bit of everything," said Shula. "It started slow, then it got better, then the rain came and we got sloppy offensively. I think defensively we had a decent practice; we got a little sloppy at the end. It wasn't good enough if we're going to win Saturday. We've got to come out and have a better practice tomorrow. We talk to the guys about being more focused. We have to be more consistent. One little thing can make a practice good and one little thing can make a practice bad."

The coach said the rain may have affected the players "mentally," but said, "We all need work in the rain. You have to use judgment. You don't practice in lightning or when a wet field might cause an injury."

Shula said that quarterback Spencer Pennington "had a good practice Tuesday and good until late today when we missed some passes. His concentration is better. He has a better feel and has it quicker. Each week we tweak the game plan a little and he has handled the adjustments better each week, and especially this week."

Pennington moved up to number one after Marc Guillon, who had replaced Brodie Croyle, suffered a back injury. Guillon has not played the last three games and Shula said he might not be quite ready to play this week. But, the coach said, "Marc has thrown more this week and the second quarterback gets more practice on Thursday. We'll have a plan for the things he does best. He's still feeling his way. But he'll be ready to go if he has to."

Shula said it was normal for a player who has been injured to be frustrated when he doesn't heal quickly, "but he has dealt with it well. It's unfortunate, but he has to fight through it. He has to continue to get himself healthy and he has to be prepared."

Shula said that a handful of offensive linemen who have been nursing injuries all seem to be improving, naming left tackle Wesley Britt, left guard Evan Mathis, right guard Danny Martz and right tackle Kyle Tatum.

The loss of halfback Ray Hudson against Kentucky and fullback and back-up halfback and starting fullback Tim Castille has thrown attention to freshman halfback Aaron Johns, who will spell new starter Kenneth Darby. Shula said Johns "has had a good week. This time last year he was in high school, thinking about graduation in May. Now these young guys have to practice with a sense of urgency to be ready to play a game."

Each Wednesday the SEC has a brief teleconference with each head football coach. Here are highlights from Shula on Wednesday:

"We had a real good practice yesterday - the guys are rested up. Our guys are really focused on getting themselves ready to play a good game. Mississippi State is a hot team right now, so we're going to have to be at our best. We'll just go out there and put our best foot forward."

(On rivalry) "Obviously this year has given more for people to talk about and write about and anytime that happens to schools that are so close and in the same conference there will be more attention. With the new coaches it's changed but it's still about the kids on the field playing. Seeing the look in their eyes after a win is something that you don't always see in the NFL - our guys are excited about playing and competing."

(On difference in State) "They are playing with lots of confidence and with a lot of momentum. The sideline is much more enthusiastic. They are much more fundamentally sound in playing and not making as many mistakes defensively. They aren't making the mental mistakes; they're getting use to the new system. I think Sly's done a great job getting them a roll right now - that's what you want as a coach is to get your team on a roll and that's what he's done."

Here are highlights from Croom:

"We're coming off the Kentucky win last week. Our defense played well but the offense didn't play well and we're concerned about that. We have some players that are beat up and that is a concern. We don't have as much depth as some. We won two SEC games in a row but we haven't won a road game. It will be a difficult task and a great challenge and we're looking forward to it."

(On rivalry with Alabama) "I think it's always been a rivalry. Even Coach Bryant was always concerned about the Mississippi State game. It was always one of the most physical games when we played each year. This year it's become a huge story because everyone is trying to make a big deal about my going back and the relationship between Mike and myself. Mike and I have been friends for a long time and this game isn't gong to change that. The game is played on the field by the players."

The Peach Bowl and the Music City Bowl will have representatives at Saturday's game. Alabama has never played in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Bama needs one victory to be bowl eligible, and most expect if Alabama wins only one more game that the Tide's bowl destination will be either the Music City Bowl in Nashville or the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana. Alabama has not been eligible for a bowl game the past two years because of NCAA sanctions. Although it's unlikely Mississippi State will have six wins this year, the Bulldogs are not eligible for bowl participation this year because of NCAA violations.

It has been announced that the Alabama-LSU game in Baton Rouge November 13 will be telecast by ESPN with kickoff at 6:45 p.m. CST.

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