Shula On Defense

Most observers probably haven't thought much about Mike Shula's defensive philosophy. The former quarterback has always been an offensive coach and as a head coach continues to be particularly involved with the offense in general and the quarterback in particular. But in his regular Tuesday teleconference with sportswriters, Shula was asked about his defensive philosophy.

Mike Shula laughed at the question. "My defensive philosophy is to listen to Joe Kines," he said. Kines is defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for Alabama.

But in a serious vein, Shula revealed that he is a full service head coach. "I know what we are going to do going into each game," he said. "During the game I know every defensive call. While I'm on the headphones talking offense, I'm a cheerleader for the defense."

It should be remembered that Bama coaches who had been known primarily for defense–Paul Bryant, Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose–were very hands-on with the offense.

Shula doesn't take credit for the Crimson Tide defense, and he gives them much credit for Alabama's success, including the 6-3 win over Tennessee Saturday and the 7-0 record for the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide this season.

"You can't say enough about them," Shula said of his defensive troops. "Not just keeping Tennessee out of the end zone, but with the field position they had for a large part of the game to keep the scoring to just three points. . You talk about breaks going for you, and we've had some big breaks. But that is guys making big plays. The two turnovers in plus territory were huge for us."

The first time Tennessee moved inside the Alabama 10-yard line, Charlie Peprah caused a fumble and Wallace Gilberry recovered it. In the fourth quarter, with the game tied at 3-3, Roman Harper caused a fumble that went out of the end zone, giving the ball to Alabama on a touchback. The Tide went from there on a march to the winning field goal.

Shula said, "What a great win to win a game. Our guys fought hard. They believe in each other. They found a way to win. Our defense played great game against a physical Tennessee team that came out determined to run the ball. The offense struggled, but made a play at end with game on line to get us in position to win the game."

The play was Brodie Croyle's 43-yard pass to D.J. Hall, which led to Jamie Christensen's game-winning 34-yard field goal.

Of Croyle's long pass to Hall, Shula said, "We wanted to make a first down. They had been blitzing–not necessarily all out, but one more than you might could block if you wanted to run a draw. They had tight coverage. We hadn't thrown it deep and thought we'd get one-on-one coverage. And protection was great on that play."

As for the Christensen kick, Shula said, "The first year we redshirted him. Last year he was the kickoff guy. This year he added field goals. He had a little slow start this year, but he stuck with it and worked hard and made the two biggest kicks since we've been around here. When you play a team sport you have to rely on individuals around you. And you don't know until you put them into that situation. We got the ball down to where the field goal was makeable, and he made them. He's got a lot of confidence now, which is important for a kicker."

Shula added, "We've seen some games lost on missed kicks."

Alabama is now 7-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games. This week the fifth-ranked Tide steps out of conference play to take on Utah State. The homecoming game will be at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday with the only television coverage Pay-Per-View.

Shula acknowledged that Utah State presents a different challenge. "I know we've got to get better," he said. "Obviously, the Tennessee was big with people talking about it before the game. We don't know a lot ab out Utah State and what they do. We've got to become familiar with them in a hurry."

Shula added that he would emphasize to the players that it is homecoming. "It may not mean much to them when they are playing, but it will mean a lot to them in later years," he said.

"But the main thing," Shula said, "is that we still have everything in front of us. There's a reason we're here, and that's hard work. And we've got to keep working hard."

Shula did not give any hints about the quarterback situation. It is believed that back-up quarterback John Parker Wilson is serving a suspension, perhaps three games worth, after having been arrested a week ago and charged while driving while intoxicated. Wilson, who celebrated his 20th birthday last Monday, ran the scout team last week, but was dressed out Saturday. He did not play, but neither did Marc Guillon, who is believed to be the current back-up quarterback.

Shula said, "The back-up quarterback situation is the same as it is every week. We have to have them ready to go. Hopefully we don't have to use them for injury reasons." He said not to read anything into Guillon signalling in plays Saturday, pointing out that Alabama changes the man sending in signals and uses several for that task.

Shula said he is aware of offensive breakdowns, but noted that a big reason for that Saturday was "we played a real good Tennessee defense. We had one turnover early and a couple of things in the running game where we didn't get to where we needed. We had some opportunities for big plays and just missed on them."

Something has been made of Alabama having scored only one touchdown since Tyrone Prothro was lost for the season with a broken leg in the final quarter of Bama's 31-3 win over Florida. Shula said that the loss of Prothro is important, but that Alabama has a young team and that young players have to improve, while older players have to step up.

"We've got to concern ourselves with us and figure out ways to get better," Shula said. "We have to attack problems and continue to work hard on fundamentals."


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