It was the final Tuscaloosa practice for the 2004 Alabama football team. After a short Christmas break the Tide will reassemble in Nashville on Sunday to complete preparations for the Music City Bowl. Alabama will play Minnesota in the Music City Bowl December 31 at the Coliseum. Kickoff will be at 11 a.m. CST with television coverage by ESPN.
Alabama is taking approximately 120 players to the game, Bama's first bowl game since the Independence Bowl at the end of the 2001 season. Players will be expected for a 4 p.m. Sunday meeting in Nashville. The Tide will have a light practice Sunday evening at the Vanderbilt practice area, where Bama will have its Nashville workouts. (Practices are closed.)
Alabama Coach Mike Shula said, "We had a good practice. We have tried to get a majority of our stuff (Minnesota game plan) in so now when we get to Nashville we will have had reps on about 85 per cent of it. Then it will be a matter of refinining it, going over and over it."
Much of the attention in the pre-bowl practices has been on Alabama's continuing injury woes. On Thursday there was some good news. Freshman wide receiver Keith Brown, who has been out with a head injury; junior halfback Kenneth Darby, who has been slowed with a strained abdominal muscle since late in the season; and punter Bo Freelend, who strained his left knee on the first day of pre-bowl workouts, were all able to practice Thursday.
Shula said, "Kenneth Darby actually got 25 to 30 per cent of the reps today and we will see how he is on Sunday. He felt good, so we let him give it try. We knew he had a few days afterwards, plus we weren't in pads. Bo Frelend also punted today. Even though we were indoors, he punted and actually punted pretty well. So I think he will be ready, and that is surprising. We will see how he is after practice today and have a chance to kick some on Sunday."
Shula said he was pleased with the nine practices in the last seven days. "We got a lot of work in this week," he said. "I feel real good about the fact that we have practiced against ourselves, meaning the number one offense going against the number one defense, getting used to the speed of the game again. And then in the last few practices we got our Minnesota stuff in. We will put a premium on the early practices in Nashville getting ourselves comfortable with our responsibilities."
Shula said the cold weather work could pay dividends if it is cold in Nashville for the game. Alabama's only other appearance in the Music City Bowl in 1998 was played in very frigid conditions. "It's particularly important for the quarterbacks and the receivers to get some work handling the ball in this weather," Shula said.
He said that quarterback Spencer Pennington has had good practices, including Thursday's. "After the first practice, he's been in a good groove, throwing and making decisions," Shula said. Shula said that back-up quarterback Marc Guillon is close to 100 per cent healed from a back problem that kept him out of Bama's final six games.