'BAMA Newsletter: Week 7

'BAMA: Inside the Crimson Tide newsletter: Issue Number 7

Printable PDF Version

Inside this issue of the 'BAMA newsletter:
- Editorial: Must Win? It Would Be Better
- Alabama Escapes Oxford with Last-Second Score
- Tide Notes
- Alabama Depth Chart vs. Mississippi
- Scouting Report: UT Has Good Players All Over
- Coach Mike Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF Version Only)

Must Win? It Would Be Better

The question was whether a win over Tennessee would make this a special season for Alabama. In the contest of what are special Alabama seasons–national championship seasons–a win over the Vols would not be enough. But this much is sure. It cannot be a special season without a win over Tennessee.

Only because at 6-0 Alabama can still aspire to a championship, the Tennessee game might be labeled a "must win" game. But for many reasons it would be much better to win than to lose. No team has had Alabama's number like Tennessee has over the past decade. The Vols have won 10 of 11 games against Alabama. True, the playing field has not been level. Alabama had a huge advantage in the all-time series until a couple of curious NCAA Infractions Committee penalties knocked the scholarshipped pegs out from under Bama. And, as it turns out, Tennessee–or at least its head coach–was a primary mover in that nefarious activity.

A large percentage of Alabama followers loathe Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer, as much for his failure to admit his duplicity as for the duplicity itself. It is likely that one could buy a pair of tickets at scalper prices for Saturday's game if one had a dime for every time he heard the term "fat bastard" in Tuscaloosa this week. Unfortunately, that hatred of Fulmer has turned into hatred of Tennessee, turning a magnificent college football rivalry into potentially an ugly scene. And, sadly, many believe this will not change as long as Fulmer is head coach of the Vols, which could be a long, long time considering his great success.

Alabama, which celebrated mightily last year when defeating Mississippi State in the ninth game of the season to become bowl eligible, quietly became the first Southeastern Conference team–perhaps the first team in the nation–to become bowl eligible this year. When Jamie Christensen's 31-yard field goal gave Bama a win over Ole Miss early Saturday afternoon, the Tide had its sixth victory of the season. So Bama, the nation's most successful bowl team, will be bowling somewhere at the end of the season. Now the question becomes how high can the Tide go.

Alabama is currently ranked fifth in the nation in all polls and in the Bowl Championship Series compilation. A win over Tennessee would have most thinking "9-0," because the Vols are followed by Utah State for homecoming and Mississippi State in Starkville. Get to 9-0 and lit would be easy to imagine being good enough to beat pre-season SEC Western Division favorite LSU in Tuscaloosa. And if a team is 10-0–as Alabama has been more than any other team in college football, 27 times–it is good enough to be 11-0 and 12-0 and 13-0.

Things have gotten so heady in the Alabama camp that Crimson Tide partisans have returned to the practice of looking at games higher-ranked teams could lose, or how Alabama's strength of schedule might be parlayed into human votes and computer success against the likes of second-ranked Texas.

Crimson Tide players are being ballyhooed for all sorts of awards, even to a Brodie Croyle for Heisman campaign. A few more wins and Mike Shula wraps up SEC Coach of the Year and becomes a strong candidate for national coach of the year.

All things are possible. But for them to happen, Bama needs to end the skid against Tennessee Saturday.
–Kirk McNair

Tide Escapes With Last-Second Score At Ole Miss

Alabama may not have looked like the sixth best team in the Southeastern Conference, much less the number six team in the nation. But when Jamie Christensen's 31-yard field goal was true as time expired early Saturday afternoon, Bama had its sixth win of the season.

Alabama struggled through most of the day against Ole Miss, but in the final 2:39 did the things that had to be done. Jamie Christensen's 31-yard field goal as time expired gave Bama a 13-10 win over the Rebels in Oxford.

The winning drive included three successful third down conversions by a Crimson Tide that had been successful on only four of its first 13 third down situations. With the scored tied at 10-10, Alabama forced a punt and took over at its own 24 with 2:39 to play. On the first series, quarterback Brodie Croyle looked to pass on a third and nine. The middle opened up and Croyle scrambled for a 20-yard gain to the Bama 45. After an eight-yard pass to Tim Castille and an incomplete pass, Croyle hit Matt Miller for seven yards and a first down at the Mississippi 40 with 40 seconds to play. An incomplete pass was followed by a shovel pass to Kenneth Darby, who picked up nine yards to the Rebels' 31. After a time out, the Tide surprised Ole Miss with Darby going 17 yards on a draw play to the Mississippi 14.

Alabama called its final time out with three seconds to play. Mississippi then called a time out in hopes of icing Christensen, who had one previous successful field goal kick and one miss in the game. The Drew Lane snap and Matt Miller (who had been playing wide receiver and said the Mississippi time out helped him catch his breath) hold were good, and Christensen kicked it right down the middle of the uprights.

Before lthe official signaled Christensen's kick "Good," one could imagine the cancellation lines at Sports Illustrated being overloaded by calls from Alabama. Two weeks earlier Bama and Croyle were the toast of the nation, having crushed Florida, 31-3. Croyle was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which proclaimed "Bama Is Back!" And that brought up questions of the supposed "Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx." Alabama Coach Mike Shula discounted it, pointing out that the Tide had an open week to let some other team or individual inherit the jinx.

In the first half, Alabama started as if this was going to be the routine victory almost everyone expected. But after a promising first possession drive went to the Ole Miss six, with a third and one, the Tide could do no right. Two runs got nothing. And the defense was no better, allowing the Ole Miss nickle and dime passing game to drive into Alabama territory time and again.

There was no area of play in which Alabama looked good with the exception of a couple of big plays and the final drive to the win.

Ramzee Robinson, who would have one interception and a nice return in the second quarter, had a couple of opportunities where he couldn't catch the ball. He allowed a ball to bounce off his chest and into the grasp of Taye Biddle. Biddle took it to the Alabama 20 where DeMeco Ryans met him and caused a fumble that was recovered by Charlie Peprah for Alabama. The wacky play continued as that break was squandered when on first down Croyle completed a pass to D.J. Hall, who fumbled it back to the Rebels at the Alabama 26. On third and 11, Michael Spurlock made Bama pay as he completed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mario Hill. Robert Bass' extra point kick put the Rebels up 7-0.

The Tide offense seemed to respond, driving to the Ole Miss 21 where the drive ended. A pass to Hall was knocked loose, and on the play Hall–expected to be the main Bama receiver after Tyrone Prothro was lost for the season last year–suffered a lower back injury. Adding insult to injury, Christensen missed a 38-yard field goal attempt. (Hall returned to action in the second half.)

On the next play, Robinson intercepted a pass at the Alabama 45 and returned it to the Ole Miss 16. Three plays later, plus a delay of game penalty before the first play, Bama was facing fourth and 21. This time Christensen put Bama on the board with a 43-yard field goal.

The rest of the quarter was almost all Ole Miss, although the Rebels were unable to take advantage of a couple of scoring opportunities. A 31-yard field goal try was missed badly by Bass. Then with less than half a minute to play, the Rebels tried a different kicker, Will Moseley. His low kick was blocked by Justin Britt with 22 seconds to play, leaving Alabama down by only 7-3. Moments before that kick try, Robinson had missed a potential interception and wide open field.

Bama finally went ahead on a nifty four-play, 82-yard drive that took only 77 seconds on the Tide's first possession of the second half. Croyle completed passes of nine yards to Keith Brown and 21 yards to tight end Nick Walker around a four-yard run by LeRon McClain. Then from the Mississippi 48, Darby burst off right guard and out-ran the Rebels' to the end zone. Christensen's kick made it 10-7.

Alabama's defense giving ground and the Tide offense failing to gain ground enabled Mississippi to have excellent field position most of the day. But the Rebels weren't always able to take advantage of it.

In the fourth quarter, Ole Miss drove to a first and goal at the Alabama eight-yard line. The Tide's goalline stand consisted of Bama being offsides for a five-yard penalty, but the Rebels more than off-setting that error with consecutive delay of game penalties. Finally, on fourth and goal from just inside the eight, Bass kicked a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10. The game had 11:42 to go, and it would use every moment before another score–Christensen's game-winner.


When Christensen drilled a 31-yard field goal to give Alabama a 13-10 win over Ole Miss Saturday, it marked the first time Alabama had won a non-overtime game on the final play since October 20, 1990, when Philip Doyle hit a 47-yard field goal as time expired to beat Tennessee in Knoxville, 9-6.

The last time Alabama orchestrated a game-winning drive in regulation was November 7, 1988, when the Crimson Tide beat the LSU Tigers, 22-16, in Baton Rouge. Alabama quarterback Andrew Zow completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Jackson to cap the comeback. Bama had been down by 16-7 with less than three minutes to play and scored two touchdowns in the final 2:24.

The last time Alabama won a game with a late field goal was October 1, 1994, when Michael Proctor nailed a late kick to edge Georgie, 29-28, in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama's Ryan Pflugner kicked an overtime field goal to beat Ole Miss during the 1998 season in Tuscaloosa.

Among those watching Saturday's game was one of Alabama's all-time finest placekickers, Peter Kim, who was visiting from his home in Honolulu.

Alabama improved to 6-0 for the 27th time in school history. The Crimson Tide is 6-0 for the first time since 1996 when Bama started the season 7-0.

Alabama now has a 43-8-2 lead in the series with Ole Miss (although one Bama win was forfeited in 1993). The win Saturday snapped a two-game Crimson Tide losing streak in Oxford.

Kenneth Darby's 48-yard touchdown run in the third quartrer was the longest of his career. The previous long was 45 yards against Mississippi State last year. He had a 41-yard run against Ole Miss in Oxford two years ago. His longest run this year had been 33 yards. Bama is 6-1 all-time when Darby rushes for 100 or more yards.

The Tide defense forced two turnovers, the 23rd straight game for Bama to get either an interception or a fumble recovery or both.

Bama continued its streak of not allowing a point in the third quarter this year.

For sixth straight came Alabama opened with a pass, an 18-yard gain from Brodie Croyle to tight end Nick Walker.

For the first time in the last 10 games he has started, Croyle did not throw a touchdown pass. He is now 13-9 as a starter with a nine-game winning streak.

Croyle went over the 5,000-yard mark in passing. He ranks third on the all-time Bama career list with 5,228 yards passing. He is also third in completions with 384.

This was Alabama's second road game of the season. It was Bama's first game to wear its traditional white road jerseys. In the earlier road contest at South Carolina, the Gamecocks elected to wear white to beat the heat. Bama wore crimson and beat the Gamecocks, 37-14.

Tyrone Prothro has an infection associated with the injury he suffered when he was lost for the season with a broken leg against Florida and he remains in DCH Regional Medical Center. At the request of his family, Dr. Les Fowler, who performed the surgery, issued a statement Tuesday updating Prothro's condition.

Dr. Fowler's statement said, "We expect Tyrone to remain hospitalized for several more days. The Sports Medicine staff at The University of Alabama is optimistic for a full recovery following this very severe injury." The doctor said Prothro "has undergone aggressive treatment and antibiotic for the infection. To date, the attempts to eradicate the infection appear to have been successful."

There was far more interest in the medical bulletin than in the letter Coach Mike Shula delivered to Tyrone Prothro at DCH Medical Center Tuesday morning. Shula apologized for being a bit late for his weekly press briefing, but said he had visited with Tyrone and delivered a letter from The President. Shula did not disclose the contents of the letter, but said that Prothro was surprised and pleased to receive the letter.

Shula said, "Pro's father came into the hospital room and Tyrone said, ‘Dad, I I got a letter from one of my buddies.' His father said, ‘Who.' Tyrone said, ‘W.'"
–Kirk McNair

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Mississippi

Brandon Brooks was the return man and Zeke Knight was one of three starting wide receivers with Tyrone Prothro sidelined for the season as Alabama used only 52 players in defeating Ole Miss, 13-10, in Oxford Saturday.

As the visiting team in a Southeastern Conference game, Alabama could dress only 70 men for the game against Ole Miss. (The home team can dress 95, although 80 are designated as eligible to play.)

With Tyrone Prothro out, there was a question as to whom would be used on kick returns and as a wide receiver. Brandon Brooks got the call as the second kickoff return man (first with D.J. Hall, then after Hall was injured with Matt Caddell). Hall, Ezekial Knight, and Keith Brown were the three starting wide receivers as Alabama opened the game without a fullback on offense.

Bama has been in a three-man defensive front much of this season, but reverted to the four-man front against the Rebels.

Alabama used 17 on offense, 19 on defense, and 16 just on special teams. Here are those who played with starters listed first and the number of plays in parenthesis. If there are two numbers, the second is the number of kicking game plays.

Split End–Keith Brown (58), Zeke Knight (25), Matt Caddell (44-1)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (66-4)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (66-4)
Center–J.B. Closner (66)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (66)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (66-4)
Tight End–Nick Walker (47-5), Travis McCall (6-7)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (66)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (35-10), Tim Castille (21)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (46), Glen Coffee (7-9)
Flanker–D.J. Hall (24-2), Matt Miller (17-10)

Right End–Mark Anderson (50-1), Keith Saunders (13), Bobby Greenwood (7)
Tackle–Jeremy Clark (25), Justin Britt (23)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (42), Dominic Lee (14)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (51), Chris Harris (12)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (66-6)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (63), Matt Collins (2-10)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (66-6)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (54-1), Simeon Castille (33-7)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (66-1)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (66-6), Jeffrey Dukes (7-13)
Safety–Roman Harper (66-6)

Punter–Jeremy Schatz (6)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (7, 3 FG, 1 PAT, 3 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (3 FG, 1 PAT, 17 split end, 6 other special teams)
Snapper–Drew Lane (10, 3 FG, 1 PAT, 6 P)
Coverage and Returns–Marcel Stamps (10), Marcus Carter (3) , Juke King (6), Rashad Johnson (16), Theo Townsend (7), Justin Moon (4), Chris Keys (6), Eric Gray (18), Demarcus Waldrop (13), Brandon Brooks (5), Jimmy Johns (3), Kyle Bennett (2), Terrence Jones (19)

Scouting Report: Vols Have Good Players At Every Position

Phil Fulmer is in his 14th season as head football coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. Fulmer has led the Vols to six SEC Eastern Division titles, two SEC titles and the 1998 National Championship. Prior to becoming head coach, Fulmer had been an assistant at UT since 1980. Fulmer is 10-2 (.833) including a tie changed to a forfeit win in his career against Alabama and has won nine of the last 10 meetings.

With two losses already in the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee enters Saturday's game desperate for a win. Fulmer is one of the more disliked men in Alabama, but he's also proven to be resilient.

Through the air, the combination of Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen has completed only 53.5 percent of their passes (105-of-195) with five touchdowns and six interceptions. The Vols rank fourth in the league pass offense with 237.4 yards per game.

There's been speculation about which quarterback will get the starting assignment this week. Fulmer has seesawed between Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen. Clausen has started three games and has a passing efficiency stands at 121.92 which ranks 8th in the SEC. He has 929 yards and three touchdowns.

Ainge, who has started two games, has the better arm and passing skills, but the true sophomore has made costly mistakes. The most high-profile one, the straw that broke the Camel's back, was against LSU when tried to sling a no-look pass out of the end zone to avoid a safety, only to toss it to an LSU defensive lineman who walked unmolested into the end zone for a touchdown. Ainge has not played since, but senior Clausen suffered an achilles injury against Ole Miss and rumors have it that Ainge will start.

Alabama's defense will blitz and stunt more to try to rattle Ainge when he is in the game. It was clear that Mississippi kept an eye on strongside linebacker DeMeco Ryans' alignment on Saturday, and avoided running anywhere near him. Ryans had just two tackles on the day-both solo stops–along with a forced fumble way downfield in the first quarter.

Junior tailback Gerald Riggs (6-0, 217) ranks third in rushing in the conference with 92.4 yards per game (109 carries, 462 yards, 4.2 yards per carry), the Vols haven't exactly struck fear into opponents with their ability to run the football. Riggs has also developed into a receiving threat this season. He has nine receptions for 64 yards.

Redshirt freshman Arian Foster has 84 yards on 22 carries.

Tennessee ranks 10th in the SEC, behind Ole Miss and South Carolina, in rushing offense with 98 yards per game. Riggs has carried the ball more than any other player in the SEC with one exception–Alabama's Kenneth Darby.

Bama's defense will see the biggest offensive line it has seen all year. The Vols' starting five averages a monstrous 334 pounds. The smallest is 6-4, 306-pound center/guard Rob Smith, who has started the Vols' last 18 games. UT's line has shuffled, however, and Smith has started at center and left guard. UT has started three different centers in its five games.

The return of senior center Richie Gandy to the starting lineup vs. Georgia marked the first time since the Florida game that the Vols fielded their preseason projected starters (and just the second time all season). Right tackle Albert Toeaina (6-6, 355) is the only O-line position at which the same player has started in all five games. Smith moves back to left guard and senior Cody Douglas (6-4, 330) is at right guard.

Junior Arron Sears is expected to start at left tackle. Sears (6-4, 338), is one of four players from the state of Alabama (Russellville) on Tennessee's roster, and one of two in the two-deep for Saturday's game. Sears will make his 18th start on Saturday.

Senior receiver C.J. Fayton leads the Vols this season with 16 catches for 190 yards and one TD, but he missed the Georgia game with an ankle injury.

Tennessee's top-five wide receivers this season are all within three catches and 34 yards of one another. Fayton (16 receptions, 190 yards) and Chris Hannon (15-156), juniors Bret Smith (15-171) and Jayson Swain (14-184) along with sophomore Robert Meachem (13-176), make up UT's top five. Fayton leads the group in both receptions and yards, but Meachem's 13.5-yard average per catch is best among the group.

Junior fullback Cory Anderson (6-3, 275) has caught at least one pass in four of five games this year after making catches in 10 games last year. He has not been a threat to run.

Sophomore tight end Chris Brown (6-3, 239) has six receptions on the year, and has never had more than 20 receiving yards in a game.

The Volunteers defense has not allowed an opposing player to reach the 100-yard rushing mark this season. Opponents' top rushers have averaged just 66.8 yards. Georgia's Thomas Brown is the leading ground-gainer against the Vols with 94 rushing yards. Tennessee ranks fourth in the SEC and 12th nationally in rushing defense, 93.4 yards per game.

Tennessee's defense was dealt a blow against Georgia when senior co-captain Jason Allen, from Muscle Shoals, suffered a season-ending hip injury while tackling Bulldogs tight end Leonard Pope. Allen was UT's active career leader with 220 stops. He also led all active Vols with 18 career pass break-ups. He had played in 44 games.

As a safety in 2004, Allen led the SEC with 123 tackles. He returned to cornerback position this season after garnering first-team All-SEC honors as a junior. Against Alabama the past two years Allen had game-changing performances. He totaled 26 tackles in the last two Alabama-Tennessee meetings.

Tennessee is allowing 205.2 passing yards per game and has given up just one passing TD on the year (vs. UAB).

Sophomore Inquoris Johnson (5-9, 167), a return specialist, is expected to make his first start in Allen's place.

Junior left cornerback Jonathan Wade (6-0, 185) has an interception in each of the last two games and returned both inside the opponents' 5-yard line. Wade had five tackles against Georgia and he is the team leader with four passes broken up.

Sophomore safety Jonathan Hefney (5-10, 174) set a career high with 14 tackles vs. Georgia and ranks fourth with 33. Junior strong safety Antwan Stewart (6-0, 193) recorded a career-high six tackles against the Bulldogs. Stewart has at least four tackles in each of last four games, and has broken up passes against Florida and Mississippi.

Tennessee's defensive front, in the opinions of some publications, entered the season as the best in the nation. The unit has 14 sacks.

Senior co-captain Parys Haralson (6-2, 248) has multiple tackles for loss in each of UT's last three games, and All-America defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona (6-2, 297) has two sacks and five TFLs this season. Senior end Jason Hall (6-3, 260) logged five stops and two TFLs against Georgia and has 4.5 TFLs on the year. Reserve junior tackle Tony McDaniel (6-7, 295 pound) has broken up a pass in each of the last three games while starting tackle Justin Harrell (6-4, 306) leads the team with six QB hurries this season.

Senior linebackers (middle) Kevin Simon (5-11, 234) and (strong) Omar Gaither (6-2, 230) rank fourth and tied for seventh on the 2005 SEC tackles leaderboard, respectively. The Vols seniors combine to average 17.6 tackles per game. Weakside linebacker Jason Mitchell has 22 career starts, and is seventh on team with 19 tackles. Freshman Jerod Mayo (6-2, 222), Mitchell's back-up, returned to action versus Georgia after missing the Mississippi game with an injury.

This year the Vols have allowed jut one TD pass in five outings, a 27-yarder by UAB. UT's defensive front has logged 14 sacks and 24 QB hurries so far this season.

Junior placekicker James Wilhoit ranks 10th on Tennessee's all-time career scoring charts with 189 points. Wilhoit is 31-for-49 on field-goal attempts during his career and 96-of-98 on extra-point tries. Wilhoit is 4-of-8 on FG attempts this season and has had two FG tries blocked. Five of Wilhoit's last eight kickoffs have gone for touchbacks.

There's another Colquitt punting at Tennessee-usually bad news for opponents. Redshirt freshman Britton Colquitt is averaging 39.8 yards per punt.

Tennessee's kick-return average stands at 16.6 yards, and the Vols are averaging 6.2 on punt returns. Elusive true freshman Lucas Taylor has earned a spot as one of UT's top returners and averages 19.3 yards on kick returns and 6.6 yards on punt returns.

Tennessee's opponents average 19.0 and 17.0 yards on kickoff and punt returns, respectively.
-Mitch Dobbs

Coach Mike Shula Says

Alabama Coach Mike Shula would talk about quarterback Brodie Croyle. He would talk about Marc Guillon, heretofore the third team quarterback. He would even talk about Tennessee's quarterbacks. But he didn't have much to say about John Parker Wilson, the Tide's 19-year-old back-up quarterback who was arrested and charged with driving under the influence early Sunday morning.

In his regular Tuesday press briefing, Alabama Coach Mike Shula was asked about Brodie Croyle, John Parker Wilson, Marc Guillon, and Tennessee quarterbacks Rick Clausen and Erik Ainge.

The only sure thing among those five is that Croyle will be the starting quarterback for Alabama. Clausen and Ainge have both started and had success for the Volunteers. Wilson has been the back-up to Croyle, though little-used, and Guillon, who is recovering from a back injury suffered a year ago, has been the third team quarterback.

The question of greatest curiosity concerns Wilson. The freshman from Hoover will be tried November 3, according to the Tuscaloosa News. Asked about his status, Shula said, he would not comment on what punishment would be administered by Shula. "We're going to handle his discipline like we do everybody else's: internally. We're not going to release publicly what his discipline will be. It will be consistent with what we do."

Later Shula was asked if when he was a quarterback he considered himself to be held to a higher standard for leadership and as coach if he expected that of his quarterbacks. He said, "Yes."

If Wilson's punishment includes suspension, which is almost certainly the case, that would elevate Guillon to back-up. Guillon was Croyle's back-up last year and took over in the Arkansas and South Carolina games after Croyle was lost for the year. Bama lost both those games, and Guillon was injured and missed the remainder of the season. He has only a couple of snaps this year.

Shula said, "Marc's health is fine. He's spent most of this year helping take care of the head coach (Guillon signals the plays called by Shula to the quarterback). But he's prepared well. If his number is called, he'll be ready."

Asked if Guillon would get more practice repetitions this week, Shula didn't bite. "We'll have to see," he said.

Shula said it helps to have an experienced quarterback like Brodie Croyle to be consistent on offense. "You can't say enough about that," Shula said. "Teams with experienced quarterbacks, and for that matter players at other positions with experience, are fortunate."

Asked specifically about Croyle's improvement this year, Shula said, "I think he's playing better because he's out there more and we hope we keep him out there. He's gotten better each week. I think he's just more comfortable seeing the field, more comfortable in the pocket, moving around in the pocket. Knock on wood, his accuracy's been very good. Mechanically I think you probably can't say enough about what he does and how he gets his feet set and follows through on all those things. Those are things that he has worked on a lot in his career, and I think you see them paying off because those are things that come real natural to him. He's out there not having to worry about those things and just worry about reacting to what he sees. And I think he's got more confidence with our receivers because of their experience now."

There's an adage that if a team has two quarterbacks, it probably really doesn't have one. As expected, Shula does not see Tennessee's quarterback situation that way. He was asked how Alabama would prepare for both Clausen and Ainge.

Shula said in watching tapes, among the things the Bama staff would try to see are "how each guy reacts to pressure, if he's looking at certain receivers, if they do different things when one guy is in there compared to the other guy. You look at our tape from last year. We feel like they've got two quality quarterbacks. Obviously (Rick) Clausen's got more experience and they've won as of late with him in there and have been productive other than the last week that they played. We have to look at really, the games we've seen this season as well as last year when (Erik) Ainge played. They can do a lot of things because they've got a lot of talent on offense. They can run the football. They're big up front. They can spread you out and throw it. They've done a lot. They've used more personnel groupings this year probably than any other year."

In most years for the past decade or so, the SEC arranged schedules so that Tennessee gets an off week prior to its two biggest games, Florida and Alabama. The Vols lost to Florida after their first open date. Shula noted, "Any time a team is coming off a bye week, they have an opportunity to go back and correct some things."

Shula said he thinks he may be "more aware of the magnitude of the game as a coach than I was as a player."

Still, he knows his players are aware that this is a big game. "Our kids are looking forward and are excited about playing this game," the coach said. "They realize the tradition of this game, the magnitude of it. The younger guys who don't know quite a whole lot about it will find out in a hurry. The older guys have done a good job all year in regard to teaching these young guys a lot about what it's like being here and playing in games like that, and I would anticipate the same thing as far as the older guys getting the younger guys as well as themselves prepared for this weekend."

Shula said, "Obviously this is a huge week for us. Our football team knows we've got to play a lot better than we did last week. Specifically, we've got to tackle better defensively; we've got to hold on to the ball offensively. We've got to be better in the plus territory and eliminate some penalties where we didn't do some of those things last week. We know we're going to have to execute much better this week to give ourselves a chance going up a very talented football team, especially up front on both sides of the football. Their offensive and defensive lines are big. They're athletic. They've got a lot of speed. So I think by far this is the biggest challenge of the year."

Shula is more concerned about Alabama than he is about Tennessee. While the Tide has had an excellent year, Shula sees room for improvement.

"I think the biggest thing you look for as a coach is the consistency week in and week out," he said. "We're not there. I think that was evident last week. We felt like we played a pretty good ball game two weeks ago. But our execution has to be at a high level, especially this week. We've done some good things. We've had some young guys that we feel good about who have played pretty well and have gotten some experience, but, as you know, you've got to go week to week and you've got to prove yourselves week to week. Consistency, improving special teams with our return game, and eliminating the penalties."

He said, "The biggest thing is to win our seventh game and keep all those goals in front of us. Our focus has to be on ourselves."

Shula said the Tide would prepare "the same as always. The guys have done a good job of that. When they watch the tape, they know they are going to be going against good players."

For many years, Alabama hyped the Tennessee game in practices with the scout team in orange and the country song, "Rocky Top," that is the Vols' theme song blaring from speakers. Shula eliminated that. "We don't want to waste time and energy on things that might not be productive," he said.
-Kirk McNair

BamaMag Top Stories