Backs Against Wall

Alabama is ranked 20th in the nation with a 3-0 record. Arkansas was embarrassed at home by Vanderbilt, then slaughtered last Saturday night by Southern Cal and is 1-2. And Alabama Coach Mike Shula thinks it's his Crimson Tide that has its back against the wall.

In his regular Tuesday press briefing, Alabama Coach Mike Shula was asked about the difficulty in preparing for Arkansas since the Razorbacks "have their backs against he wall" with the poor start by the Hogs. Should Bama "expect the unexpected?"

Shula gave an unexpected answer. "I kind of feel like our backs are always up against the wall," Bama's head coach said. "I think you have to have that approach each and ever week as a coach. And your team does. You have to stress the importance of each and every play, each and every drive, each and every quarter, each and every game. We've got to be prepared in all three phases."

As for the unexpected, Shula said, "I think you come to expect that when you face Arkansas and Coach (Houston) Nutt because they do a lot of different things and he's not afraid to go out on a limb and call things that maybe other coaches wouldn't."

In the same vein, Shula said, "There is no reason for us ever to be overconfident. We've got a bunch of young players. We have won a couple of games, but this week is our biggest game, the biggest game we've coached in and the biggest game our players have played in. As a coach you want to praise your players when they do well and help them in their confidence that we, but you also want to make sure you have your best week of practice to give yourself the best chance to win the game on Saturday. So as coaches we have to cover every detail. We can't let any mistake go unnoticed. We've got to be really, really focused."

The coach said, "It's good to have confidence. And the best way to have confidence is to win. We talk to our players about one week the questions being, ‘Why don't you play better?' and the next week the questions being ‘Why did you play so well?' But after the game is played, it's over. You have to get ready for the next game."

He said, "Each week the games get bigger. Everything you talk about in terms of goals comes down to winning games like this."

Shula said, "We have a huge week of preparation ahead of us as we get into the Arkansas game, our first SEC game at home. We know what kind of team Arkansas has. They are definitely the most talented team that we've faced. They have as big an offense as we've faced up front and probably as fast and quick a defense that we've faced."

Shula said, "Our players, hopefully we can build on some of the good things that we did last week, but this week is going to be about getting ourselves ready to improve ourselves all over again. It's going to be a difficult task obviously as we get into the game. It's an early start for us so we've got to make sure we get our players prepared. And as coaches we've got to make sure we get everything going so our players can get off to a good start for an early game."

With kickoff at 11:30 a.m., Shula said, "You're not used to getting up that early for a ball game. We usually have pre-game meal four hours before kickoff, which means at 7:30 in the morning. Then at a midday game, the sun's a little brighter and it's got a chance to be hotter. You hope to get the blood flowing quicker, which means things like having a little more contact in the warm-ups."

Both Alabama and Arkansas played USC last weekend, but on opposite coasts with distinctly opposite results. While Alabama was dismantling South Carolina, 37-14, the Razorbacks were shocked by Southern Cal, 70-17. While there is a thought that the USC-Arkansas game can be discarded as "one of those things," that doesn't mean the videotape isn't valuable to Alabama's coaching staff in preparation.

Shula said, "You look at their schemes in all three phases–how they did things, especially early in the game, compared to how they did them in their first two games. We look at personnel, how certain guys react, their quickness, their speed."

Even without looking at tape, Shula said, "We know what Arkansas has. We've played them the last two years. We know what kind of talent they are. We know what kind of coaching they have. They're great motivators, their staff. They've fallen short the last two weeks and they're going to be more motivated now than they ever have. But we have got to be motivated. We have got to have our best week of practice, be more focused than we've ever been just because that's what it's going to take to beat this football team."

Shula named three players as questionable for Saturday's game. Defensive tackle Justin Britt (shoulder) and nose tackle Dominic Lee (leg infection) missed the South Carolina game. Shula said Britt had practiced "a little," but that Lee had not and would not practice Tuesday. Shula said it would be important to have defensive linemen ready to play against Arkansas, which "has a big offensive line and likes to run the ball." He noted that freshmen Lorenzo Washington, who has yet to play this year, was taken to South Carolina as a precaution. Also questionable is linebacker Terrence Jones, recovering from a sprained ankle.

Bama's Kenneth Darby, who had off-season surgery to repair a sports hernia, was the SEC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina. Shula said, "He has been great. He has worked hard in his rehabilitation and he has a lot of energy. And he always has a smile on his face. He has become a leader for us through his productivity."

But, Shula said, "Like a lot of our players, he's got to prove himself again this week."

Speaking of improvement, Shula said left tackle "Chris Capps improved the most. He played well."

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