Shula On Florida

There is a tendency to make it all about Florida. After all, it is the Gators who are ranked fifth in the nation. It is Florida that has the flashy new coach in Urban Meyer. The Gators have athletes galore.

But Alabama Coach Mike Shula is concentrating on his own team as the Crimson Tide, ranked 15th in the nation, prepares to host Florida Saturday. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with national television coverage by CBS. Both teams are 4-0 overall and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference games.

Shula can't make the game about Alabama in the pre-game hype. And, of course, he can't ignore the tremendous talent of the Gators. Alabama's preparation this week has to be better than it has been, and Shula acknowledges that. But, he said in his regular Tuesday press briefing, "We want our guys playing the way they have in the first four games. Now, we want to correct the mistakes. But we don't want to try to do something different."

He said, "The kids are more excited. Last week's game made this one bigger. We have to be focused. Each week in the SEC as you win, the games get bigger. There are a lot of things you can't control. But you can control your meetings, your practices, and how you play on Saturday."

Shula said upperclassmen must provide leadership for a big game. "That means attention to detail and intensity," he said. "When the game kicks off, our players' motors will be running."

Shula said Alabama's chance for success Saturday depends in great part on quarterback Brodie Croyle. He said, "I think the biggest thing mentally is that Brodie not feel like he has to win the game by himself. He has to make good decisions; continue to do the things he's been doing. Physically, we're going to have to adjust to a defense that's got more speed that we probably have ever seen. We saw a defense (Arkansas) with pretty good speed last week, but I think overall the way Florida blitzes with their linebackers and the way they cover in their secondary, Brodie has got to make sure that we're not trying to force things; we're not late with the football. And we need to continue to be accurate."

He also said Croyle is a good man to have in that place. "He's experienced," Shula said. "He's an accurate passer. And he's a leader, the ind of guy who keeps the younger guys going. And he's gotten better each week. He is definitely a key for us."

Shula also said that Alabama would not ask Croyle to run the option. "At least, we won't let Florida know about it." Croyle, despite a couple of nice scrambles against South Carolina two weeks ago, is not considered a runner, and because of past injuries is urged to not run.

Shula added, "His pulse kind of slows down during the course of the game when others' start racing."

Alabama has not had success against ranked teams in recent years. Last year the Tide played close games against some good teams. Did Shula expect this year's team to be a championship contender? Shula said, "Looking back at last year, we didn't do a good enough job. Maybe I don't think that we're that far away. But I don't think we've arrived, either."

Shula said Florida "is a very talented team: real good size, good speed. We're going to have our hands full in all three areas. Our coaches now are finishing up on our game plans. We're seeing a lot of different things from Florida. They're versatile in all three aspects, so we're going to have to really make sure our preparation is thorough."

On the injury front, Shula said, "We're probably as healthy as we've been in a while. We made it through the game in good shape. Hopefully we'll get some guys back like (linebacker) Terrence Jones this week and possibly (guard) Mark Sanders."

Shula said that Florida's defense includes a number of blitzes. He said, "They bring linebackers, nickel; defensive backs; they bring corners; they bring safeties. And they do it a lot. If they're not bringing it from one side, they're usually bringing it from the other. We've seen a lot of blitzing already this year in all types of situations. We've got to do a better job picking it up. Our receivers have a huge challenge this week against some very talented corners that like to play bump and run and aggressive style defense. But we just have to go out and play our game and do the things that we do well."

As good as the Florida defense is, it is the offense which draws the most interest. Shula said, "They give you a little bit of everything. Out of the shotgun they give you the running plays and then the misdirection off the running plays and then the option off a fake run and the misdirection with the option with the quarterback and a back coming out the back side. They've got misdirection passing game with their receivers they do a good job of getting certain guys open in all areas of the field. They'll throw it deep. They throw it short and underneath. They've got guys that when they catch it that they do a good job after the catch. So there are a lot of things for us to have to look at and cover. But again, defensively, we've got to make sure we play our game and don't try to do more than what our coaches are asking our players to do and yet be aggressive to the football and know that they're going to be some talented players carrying the ball."

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