Shula: "It's Auburn"

A newly renovated and expanded training room at the Alabama football complex is filling up, with reports of 30-40 players receiving trainers' attention as the Tide's final and most important game of the regular season approaches.

Alabama (6-4 overall, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) hosts undefeated Auburn (10-0, 7-0 SEC) in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon. The game will be televised nationally by CBS.

The most recent hindrances to the triaged Alabama offense were injuries to Spencer Pennington and Le'Ron McClain suffered against LSU. McClain injured his ankle while Pennington is nursing a shoulder injury, compounded by sore ribs.

"They're both getting better," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said Tuesday during his weekly news gathering. "They'll both practice today and be limited but as of right now we expect them both to play."

Shula said that Marc Guillion would be available in an emergency, and that he has done more in practice as of late.

"It would be safe to say be there would be some rust," Shula said. "He should get little more work today. He's been feeling better the last few days. He has gotten more work each of past couple of weeks, and he gets himself ready to go, and has for the past few weeks on game day. We monitor and make sure in pre-game that he's throwing well, which he has. This week so far he's feeling better and hopefully he'll have a good practice today."

Shula said that he is relying on his group of older offensive linemen to give the offense a lift in responding to injuries that have devastated that side of the ball.

"I think the older guys, I guess I'm talking about the offensive line, realize that they have maybe a little more responsibility, and they have to play little better," he said. "They don't have to be going overboard and doing things that might hurt us, but just pick it up a little bit better. The main thing is to show leadership and confidence in the guys that are coming in there, that we are going win with those guys in there."

Others among the walking wounded on offense are Wesley Britt and JB Closner. Tight end Clint Johnston returned to action for LSU and played throughout the LSU game. Shula said that Johnston " made it through alright. We're just going to have to see how he is this week and go from there."

With senior David Cavan assumed to be out for the game with a back injury, backing up Johnston are true freshman Trent Davidson and junior Greg McLain, who has battled a string of injuries throughout his career.

For the second consecutive week the squad will practice without pads the entire week. Shula said that there is some negative to practicing without pads, and it's something he's discussed with his staff.

"It's not ideal, but we feel like the best thing to do right now for practice is take pads off," he said. "Practice is a little bit shorter now than it was earlier in the year - not much - but we spent probably a little more time with some early practice walk-throughs and going over assignments on the field.

"With younger guys, or guys that weren't our starters earlier, sometimes the best way that they learn is not necessarily by watching tape—which they'll learn from—but a better way would be just walking through it where they'll physically kind of get that (repetition) even though it's a walk-through rep."

Shula said he expects injury-survived offensive back Kenneth Darby, who has logged 35 and 36 carries in the last two games, respectively, to carry the offensive load for a third straight game if necessary.

"He's got a little more time to rest after this game," Shula said. "But if we can get Aaron (Johns) in there we need to get him in there more."

"Darby might not be the tallest guy, but he's thick and he's in great shape," Shula said. "Those are the things to me where the off-season conditioning program pays off."

Shula said that Greg McLain was a possibility to work in at fullback as well, since he has some experience at the position. He said an expanded quarterbacking role for Tyrone Prothro was also a possibility. Shula acknowledges several possibilities to spark his offense, but not everything.

"If you're talking about having bunch of trick plays that we don't normally run, that's not our personality we not going to do that," he said. "We just do things that tie in with our system, and try utilize our personnel the best way we can, and look at how to attack all three their phases, and try find some weaknesses if you can - which is pretty tough to find right now as we are looking at it."

Shula said that playing against Auburn this week has helped take his squad's attention on the loss, and the manner in which it lost to LSU.

"Last week was a tough one to swallow, especially the way the game went," he said. "But that's how it goes. You've got to move on. And I think it's easier to do that knowing you're going to play your in-state rival the next week."

Bobby Gaston, head of SEC officials, said the officials were wrong yesterday and said he planned to call Mike Shula personally.

"I got a phone call," he said.

Asked if the call made him feel better, Shula replied, "We lost the game, nothing makes me feel better."

As would be expected with the undefeated, second-ranked team in America, Shula said that Auburn is an impressive team to watch on film, and the best team his squad has seen.

"They haven't asked their guys to do too much, they've let them play," Shula said. "And they've also catered to the abilities of their players in (offense, defense and special teams). I know they have the ability to do more, whether or not it's blitzing or offensively probably even more—they threw the halfback pass a couple of times already this year and things like that.

"I'm sure they've got even more stuff than what people have seen, but they've been real, real good at the stuff that's really sound for them. They probably haven't had to use it."

Asked on separate occasions if the game was more special because winning would increase bowl opportunities, because Auburn is undefeated, because his team is the underdog, "It's Auburn" was his consistent answer.

Shula's aim this week is to keep his players focused on playing the game, and not the ramifications involved in winning and losing.

"It's going to be talked about more in the classrooms and when they call home to their families and to their friends," Shula said. "And there may be a little more time taken away from there normal routine…The ability to focus and to maybe spend a little time on their own with the extra preparation and take that preparation and utilize it on Saturday the best way they can is going to be our focus."

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