'BAMA Newsletter Number 8
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There Are Good Things Possible
It's all out there in front of us, Mike Shula tells his players. And the less there is of it in terms of games, the bigger it is, because the stakes get higher with each victory. And that is all Alabama has had in this surprising season. Seven games, seven wins. How many to go? This week's doesn't have a big bearing on that. Utah State is a prohibitive favorite to perform as homecoming opponents are supposed to perform, which is to say fifth-ranked Alabama is a prohibitive favorite to win this week. Alabama went to 7-0 last week with its 6-3 victory over Tennessee, and immediate calculations were that Bama was 9-0. Coaches and players, fortunately, will not be so cavalier concerning this week's game against Utah State in Tuscaloosa and Mississippi State the following week in Starkville.
Nevertheless, Alabama losses in either of those games would be almost as shocking as heart-breaking.
The odds are still long for Alabama to run the table. That would be a 13-0 season. But beating Tennessee was a major hurdle. The Vols may have only a 3-3 record, but Tennessee has a world class defense and very, very good athletes on offense. And, frankly, Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer has had Bama's number for a decade–on and off the field, so it seems.
Alabama partisans can be forgiven for believing in destiny. It is likely no game was more important to Crimson Tide faithful than that against Tennessee. It was a game Bama needed to win for a lot of reasons. And to win it with a little bit of luck, to win it by breaking Tennessee's heart, is good for Alabama.
The list of undefeated teams didn't shrink any last week. And Alabama didn't move up or down in the list of contenders. The calculations of Bama followers increased as the Tide looked at its own future (and certainly beyond the immediate future, to games against LSU in Tuscaloosa and Auburn in Auburn and Georgia in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game).
Bama fans also are looking at the futures of others.Can Dennis Franchione's Texas A&M Aggies beat the Texas Longhorns? How sweet would that be, Franchione making up for some of the hurt. If UCLA defeats Southern Cal, will the Bruins jump over Bama to the Bowl Championship Series title game? Can Virginia Tech possibly get through its murderous end-of-season schedule unscathed?
And if by some chance the Crimson Tide does all it can do–which is to say win 11 regular season games and the SEC Championship Game–and doesn't make it to the Rose Bowl, then what? Well, no Phony National Championship. Alabama will gratefully accept an invitation to the Sugar Bowl, most wishing it wasn't in Atlanta while New Orleans cleans up and rebuilds from Katrina. And wondering if there will be some orange-clad fans on Peachtree, cheering on their Vols or Gators or Tigers in the Peach Bowl prior to Alabama's arrival. That would make it a bit more palatable.
But that's looking too far ahead. Today is a day to savor last Saturday and look forward to a pleasant homecoming. The rest is all out there in front of us.
Tide Makes Late Plays And Vols Go Down, 6-3
Tennessee had two golden opportunities and came up with a goose egg. Jamie Christensen had his second opportunity in as many weeks and came through. The result was Alabama earning a 6-3 win over Tennessee to run the Crimson Tide record to 7-0 last Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Although it wasn't the last-play situation Alabama faced against Ole Miss in Oxford the previous week, the stakes were at least as high for Bama when Jamie Christensen lined up for a 34-yard field goal with 18 seconds to play. And just as he had done at Mississippi on a 31-yarder to beat the Rebels 13-10 the previous week, Christensen nailed the game-winner.
Because 13 seconds remained, there remained the matter of the kickoff (Tennessee shot itself in the foot with a personal foul) and one desperation play (Bama's DeMeco Ryans intercepted the pass to end the game).
Alabama, ranked fifth in the nation going into the game, improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games and remained fifth-ranked this week. Alabama is also fifth in the Bowl Championship Series compilation. The Vols, ranked 17th in the nation, dropped to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in SEC games.
Tennessee, which has dominated the series for the past decade, went almost exclusively with senior quarterback Rick Clausen. The Vols twice drove inside the Alabama 10-yard line and came out with zero points. The last opportunity for Tennessee came in the final six minutes of the game.
Vols tailback Gerald Riggs had a nice run to the Alabama four-yard line with 6:45 to play, but then Tennessee began to unravel. (It was later learned that the senior Tennessee running back had suffered a season-ending broken ankle on the play.) There was a false start to change the goal-to-go from four yards to nine. Then back-up tailback Arian Foster had an uncharacteristic run for a loss as defensive tackle Jeremy Clark wrapped him up.
On second down, Clausen sprinted right and probably could have run for a few yards at least, but elected to just throw the ball away. Unfortunately for the Vols, Clausen was beyond the line of scrimmage. That's only a five-yard penalty, but it's also loss of down. On third down, the Vols ran a screen play and fullback Cory Anderson had a nice gain, down to about the Tide four. But Anderson was hit by Bama safety Roman Harper, and fumbled out of the end zone.
A fumble out of the end zone is a touchback with the ball going over to the defense at the 20. And so with 5:08 to play, Bama got the ball back with a chance to make an 80-yard, game-winning drive.
It didn't start well with a couple of short runs, but then quarterback Brodie Croyle made an excellent pass on what was otherwise a less than excellent day. And D.J. Hall, who had been injured against Ole Miss but came back to play, made an outstanding catch right in front of the Tennessee bench. The third-and-eight play gained 43 yards to the Tennessee 35.
Kenneth Darby had a couple of first down runs, including an 11-yard run to the Tennessee 11 with 1:53 to play. Bama used three runs to lose three yards (but center the ball in the middle of the field) and both teams used a time out and it was set up for Christensen's second-time-in-two-weeks-heroics.
The game was scoreless until the final play of the third quarter when Christensen was good on a 33-yard field goal. That score was set up by a Tennessee kicking game mistake. Bama had been backed up and Jeremy Schatz kept punting the Tide out. His punt to Lucas Taylor at midfield was fumbled, and DeMeco Ryans recovered for Alabama. A couple of rushes came up just short of a first down, but Tennessee's Jesse Mahelona was guilty of a personal foul, giving Bama a first down at the Tennessee 25. Again, Bama came up just short of a first down and as time ran out on the third quarter, Christensen kicked the first points of the game, a 33-yarder.
It didn't take Tennessee long to tie the game. After poor coverage of the ensuing kickoff enabled Tennessee to start near midfield, the Vols got a big play, Clausen completing a 35-yard pass to Jayson Swain to the 19, the Vols came up just short for a first down at the 10. After taking a delay of game penalty, James Wilhoit was good on a 32-yard field goal.
Christensen had missed on a 50-yard effort late in the first quarter, but that doesn't compare to Tennessee's squandered opportunities. In addition to fouling up the go-ahead chance late in the fourth quarter, the Vols had a first down at the Alabama nine-yard line late in the first quarter. On first down, Riggs was hit by Charlie Peprah and fumbled and Wallace Gilberry recovered for Bama.
On the day, Tennessee lost three of four fumbles (including the touchback), as well as the last play interception. Bama lost one of two fumbles and did not have an interception.
TIDE NOTES: Wide receiver Tyrone Prothro, lost for the season with a broken leg in the fourth quarter of Bama's 31-3 win over Florida on October 1, was released from the hospital this week. He is expected to be able to maintain his academic progress while rehabilitating. Although there are hopes he can participate in spring practice, it is believed he will be able to participate next season as a senior. The Alabama-Florida State game in 2007 is now reality. The game, with tickets evenly divided by the two teams, will be played September 29, 2007, at Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. The most noteworthy note from Alabama's 6-3 win over Tennessee in is that the Crimson Tide remains undefeated overall and in SEC play. Alabama is now 7-0 overall, 5-0 in SEC games, and 5-0 at Bryant-Denny Stadium after the Tide's victory over Tennessee. The win broke a two-game losing streak at the hands of the Vols, but was Bama's first win over Tennessee in the state of Alabama since 1991. In most years, the Alabama home game was played in Birmingham, so the win Saturday was the Tide's first over Tennessee in Tuscaloosa since an 18-6 homecoming win on October 18, 1930.
Alabama was ranked fifth in the nation and Tennessee 17th in the nation. The Vols fell to 3-3 overall, but have played a tough schedule. The game was their fourth against teams ranked in the top ten at the time and Tennessee has a 1-3 record in those (losses to Florida and Georgia and a win over LSU).
Alabama is 7-0 for the first time since the 1996 season. This is the 24th time in school history that Alabama has started the season with a 7-0 record. Alabama's current seven-game winning streak matches the third longest since 1990.
Alabama is 5-0 in SEC games for the first time since the 1994 season.. Alabama went 8-0 in league play that year before losing the SEC Championship Game to Florida (24-23).
Alabama's record when ranked in the Associated Press top ten is now 232-39-4, according to statistics supplied by Alabama's media relations office. Alabama has played an incredible 275 of a possible 779 games ranked in the AP top ten since the AP poll was begun in 1936. That's 35.3 per cent.
For the first time this season Alabama did not score on its first possession of the second half. But the Tide kept its streak of holding the opponent scoreless in the third quarter going. Bama scored a field goal on the final play of the third period and now leads its opponents, 50-0, in the third quarter.
D.J. Hall was able to play at wide receiver and also as punt and kickoff return man, although after he mishandled his first punt return and then fumbled another (fortunately for Alabama, recovered by Anthony Madison for the Tide at Bama's nine-yard line) he ws relieved of that duty. Brandon Brooks replaced Hall as punt return man (though Brooks didn't have a return) and Hall and Brooks were back on kickoff returns, although Tennessee kickoffs were both deep in the end zone and not returned.
In a notable series of pre-game events, all-time Alabama linebacker great Cornelius Bennett ran out the game ball. The thunderous applause for Bennett was nearly matched for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State and an Alabama native, who tossed the coin. (Alabama won the toss.) Secretary Rice was accompanied by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The two watched the game from the box of University President Dr. Robert E. Witt. Some 40 state department media reporters attended and were in the press box.
Jamie Christensen's 34-yard game-winning field goal is the third for the Tide in the Alabama-Tennessee series. Steve Davis hit the winner in 1966 (when Tennessee's Gary "Wide" Wright missed one that would have won for the Vols on the final play of the game) and Philip Doyle drilled a 47-yard field goal on the final play to win the 1990 game, 9-6.
With back-to-back game winning field goals against Ole Miss and Tennessee, Christensen is the first UA kicker to win two games in the same season since Haywood "Sandy" Sanford beat Tulane (November 6) and Vanderbilt (November 25) in 1937. In the modern era (since 1933) of Alabama football, Alabama has had 12-game winning field goals.
Alabama's 6-3 win over Tennessee last weekend marked the 10th time in the modern era (since 1933) of Crimson Tide football that Alabama had won a game without scoring a touchdowns. The last time came in a 12-9 win at Vanderbilt in 2001 as Neal Thomas booted four field goals in the win. The 10 wins without scoring a touchdown came against Tulane (1938), Houston (1959), Auburn (1960), Florida State (1974), LSU (1979), Penn State (1984), Penn State (1988), Tennessee (1990), Vanderbilt (2001) and Tennessee (2005).
Alabama has a 44-37-7 lead in the Alabama-Tennessee series, including a tie awarded to Tennessee by forfeit.
Alabama forced four turnovers against Tennessee. Alabama has now had a takeaway in 28 consecutive games.
D.J. Hall's 10 receptions (for 139 yards) was third most in Alabama history, and the most in an Alabama win. David Bailey had 12 receptions in losses to Tennessee in both 1969 and 1970.
DeMeco Ryans was named both the national defensive player of the week and the SEC Defensive Player of the Week, while Jamie Christensen was SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second consecutive time.
This week Ryans learned he is one of 16 finalists for the Draddy Award, known as "the Academic Heisman Trophy," given to the nation's top student-athlete. As a semifinalist he has an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship.
Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Tennessee
There wasn't much substitution on Alabama's side in the Crimson Tide's 6-3 win over Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. A number of players were credited with every snap, whether on offense or defense, and some of those also had special teams responsibility. As the home team in a Southeastern Conference game, Alabama could play 80 men in the game against Tennessee. (The home team can dress 95, although 80 are designated as eligible to play. The visiting team can dress and play no more than 70.) Although no back-up quarterback played, John Parker Wilson–who had been the back-up quarterback until his arrest for driving while intoxicated–was dressed for the game. That does not mean he was designated to play. He did what he has done most games this year, which is shield the signal being flashed to the huddle by Marc Guillon, who was presumed to have moved to back-up quarterback with Wilson being suspended. Alabama Coach Mike Shula does not announce suspensions, so it is possible that Wilson wasn't suspended last week, but that is highly improbable. Wilson worked with the scout team last week. He may or may not be suspended for future games. Tennessee was obviously not a place for back-ups to get much playing time as a number of starters went the distance or had only token breathers. Alabama started the game offensively with "standard personnel," meaning two wide receivers, a tight end, fullback and running back. Bama was also in what is considered its base defense of four down linemen, three linebackers, and three defensive backs, even though much of this season the Tide has used three down linemen, three linebackers, and five defensive backs. Alabama used 17 on offense, 19 on defense, and 18 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 (43), Zeke Knight (21)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (62-3)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (62-3)
Center–J.B. Closner (62)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (62)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (62-3)
Tight End–Nick Walker (42-3), Travis McCall (18-5)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (62)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (35-9), Tim Castille (24)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (48), Glen Coffee (2-8)
Flanker–D.J. Hall (53-6), Matt Caddell (21), Matt Miller (3-8)
Right End–Mark Anderson (48), Keith Saunders (8), Bobby Greenwood (3)
Tackle–Jeremy Clark (37), Justin Britt (9)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (36), Dominic Lee (5), J.P. Adams (9)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (49), Chris Harris (3)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (55-6)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (54)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (55-6)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (42-5), Simeon Castille (25-6)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (55)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (55-5), Jeffrey Dukes (2-10)
Safety–Roman Harper (55-6)
Punter–Jeremy Schatz (6)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (6, 3 FG, 3 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (3 FG, 3 split end, 5 other special teams)
Snapper–Drew Lane (9, 3 FG, 6 P)
Coverage and Returns–Marcel Stamps (8), Marcus Carter (2) , Juke King (6), Rashad Johnson (13), Theo Townsend (5), Justin Moon (3), Chris Keys (5), Eric Gray (11), Demarcus Waldrop (10), Brandon Brooks (3), Jimmy Johns (3), Kyle Bennett (2), Terrence Jones (16), Matt Collins (9)
Recruiting Update: Top Prospects Saw Bama Beat Tennessee
The Alabama coaching staff hosted several of the top athletes from across the South for the Tide's 6-3 win over the Tennessee, while many other top prospects in the South took the ACT Saturday morning.
Nease (Fla.) five-star quarterback Tim Tebow made the Alabama-Tennessee game his official visit to the Capstone, as did four-star Chatanooga (Baylor School) lineman Jacques McClendon, a UT commit.
Tebow plans to return for the Alabama-LSU game. He was hosted last week by current Tide receiver and former high school teammate Will Oakley.
"Obviously Alabama is in my top five," Tebow said. "I really like them a lot. I am going to take a few more visits, then make my decision. I am scheduled to take an official visit to USC in December. I haven't set up anything else. We are trying to decide on a few more schools like LSU, Michigan and Florida State."
Tebow said ESPN, who is following his recruitment closely, wants him to announce his decision on December 14. "I will try to have my decision reached by then," he said. There has been speculation that Tebow will enroll in whichever college he chooses for the spring semester. That's not a certainly, but a possibility.
"I know I can graduate (in December) academically, but I want to be loyal to my baseball team. We have a great opportunity to win the state championship this year, and I would definitely want to do that," he said.
McClendon is listed as an offensive lineman on the South Hot 100, which is what Alabama is recruiting him to play. McClendon rates Alabama among his favorites and considers himself a soft verbal to Tennessee. He is also interested in checking out Auburn and Florida in addition to an official visit Dec. 10 with commit school Tennessee. McClendon has also visited Notre Dame.
"The Auburn visit is going to be for the Iron Bowl; Florida for the Florida State game, and Tennessee is December 10," McClendon said. "I am not going to rush into anything. I want to fully evaluate each program before I make my decision. I really don't know when I will decide."
McClendon is on track to qualify with a score of 22 on the ACT, which he made his sophomore year.
Tennessee verbal commitment Michael Goggins didn't visit for Bama-UT attended, but has set up an official visit with the Tide. Goggans (Benjamin Russell) has set his first official visit, to Alabama, for the second weekend of December. Scout.com's three-star athlete said he is "probably about 90 per cent committed (to Tennessee). I want to go on my visit to Alabama to make sure I didn't make the wrong decision."
Goggans grew up wanting to play at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, but the Alabama coaching staff may have waited too late to offer the 6-3, 245 pound athletic prospect. "Tennessee offered me about a month before Alabama. Alabama dropped pretty low on my list after I was receiving offers from other schools and not them," he said.
Several Alabama verbal commits attended the game to assist the Tide coaching staff in recruiting including Tremayne Coger, Andy Davis, Charlie Higgenbotham, LaBronski Hutchins, Charlie Kirschman, Bryan Motley, Taylor Pharr, David Ross and Nikita Stover.
Scout.com's No. 1 offensive lineman in the country Andre Smith did not travel to Tuscaloosa. The Huffman High (Birmingham) star is not tipping his hand as to any schools he is leaning and remains with 12 schools on his list. Smith said he's planning on attending the Alabama-Auburn game in Auburn on Nov. 19.
Four-star offensive lineman Jermarcus Ricks was in Tuscaloosa. Ricks has been high on the in-state powerhouse schools, and now lists Alabama as his favorite. "It's a pretty good chance that I will go to Alabama," he said. "I still want to take my trip to Auburn to compare everything. Alabama is my favorite right now." The Colbert County star said he was not sure when he will make a final decision.
Tampa five-star athlete Jarred Fayson is one of the most recruited players in the country, and he is being recruited by Alabama as a wide receiver "I'm taking my time. I'm still looking at Alabama, Florida, Miami, Georgia, USC and West Virginia pretty much," Fayson said.
Fayson and 5-star quarterback Tebow have developed a friendship over the last few months and, just like Tebow this past weekend, Fayson will take an official visit to Alabama this weekend.
"When I talked to Coach Shula on Saturday Tim was still there," Fayson said. "He told me he had Tim locked in a room so he wouldn't leave and that when I get there next week he's going to do the same to me. He's a good guy."
Four-star Homewood receiver Tim Hawthorne said he had a great unofficial visit to Tuscaloosa last weekend and he plans to make an official visit to Alabama. Hawthorne's final decision will come near signing day.
South Hot 100 linebacker Toryan Smith was in Tuscaloosa for his second unofficial visit for the season. His first was to South Bend, Ind. for the Notre Dame-USC game. Smith said of Notre Dame, Alabama and Florida are "all pretty equal."
Unofficial visitors to Alabama included Nease linebacker Hunter Haynes and American Christian (Tuscaloosa) quarterback Chris Smelley. Smelley said Alabama is close to making him an offer.
Earl Alexander of Phenix City Central is one of the more coveted recruits. The versatile athlete said Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Clemson are under consideration, but that "I think the first 3 are my top ones."
Alexander said he plans to wait until close to signing day to make a decision. He was among the prospects taking the ACT last Saturday. Alexander will take an unofficial visit to The Capstone this weekend for homecoming and was plans to go to the LSU game.
Velma Jackson linebacker Martez Smith is one of the top athletes in Mississippi. The three-star prospect was in Tuscaloosa for an unofficial visit. His only offer to this point is from Southern Miss, but Alabama is keeping close tabs on Smith. "Alabama calls me every week. They say they are very interested in me," Smith said.
Jackson, Miss. linebacker Derrick Odom was offered by Alabama, Tennessee, and Auburn, and is also interested in Iowa State. Odom, the nation's 25th-ranked linebacker by Scout.com, has been to one game this season. He saw Alabama beat Florida, and he is planning to check out the Tide again against LSU.
Odom has three official visits set up to Alabama (12-9), Ole Miss (12-2), and Tennessee (1-13).
Scout.com reported that four-star wide out London Crawford of Mobile Davidson committed to LSU.
Deantwan "Peanut" Whitehead from West-End Birmingham has received a scholarship offer from Oklahoma. Whitehead, who visited the Alabama-Florida game, said he will likely attend the Auburn-Georgia game the weekend the Tide hosts LSU. "I will definitely attend the Iron Bowl," he said.
South Hot 100 back Anthony Dixon has now rushed for over 1, 900 yards and 23 TDs. Dixon has visits set up to Ole Miss (Dec. 2), Alabama (Jan. 20) and Mississippi State (Jan. 27), and is working on lining up a visit date with LSU. Dixon said the Mississippi schools are pursuing him hardest.
Mississippi defensive end Milton Talbert has helped lead his Hattiesburg team to a 5-2 record, claims offers from Memphis, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Alabama, and Tennessee. Talbert attended the Alabama-Florida game. "I have visits set up to Ole Miss (12-2), Alabama (1-13), and Mississippi State (1-27). I also plan on setting up a visit to Tennessee."
Linebacker Akeem Dent of Douglass High School in Atlanta is one of South's fastest-rising prospects this year, and he currently claims offers from UConn, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Dent has set up two of his official visits: to Ole Miss on Nov. 18, and to UConn on Dec. 2. "I also plan on setting up visits with Alabama and Mississippi State for sure. Clemson and Vanderbilt are the other two teams I am looking at for my fifth visit," he said.
–Andrew Bone and Scout.com staff
Coach Mike Shula Says
Some people might say that Alabama is lucky to be 7-0 this football season. Specifically, the Crimson Tide may have been lucky to beat Tennessee. No one suggested that Alabama had been lucky the past couple of years, particularly regarding injuries to star players.
Last Saturday, Alabama slipped by Tennessee when Roman Harper made a heroic defensive play, forcing a Tennessee fumble inside the Bama five-yard line. And some would say it was lucky that the ball bounced out of the end zone–a touchback giving Alabama the ball with about five minutes to play in a 3-3 game–instead of bounding around for Tennessee to get it.
Alabama got a game-winning field goal from Jamie Christensen with seconds to play, the second straight week Christensen has kicked the winning points in the waning moments. During his regular Tuesday press briefing, Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula was asked about the luck factor, and whether perhaps Bama was making its own breaks. "How has that been different from the last two years when the breaks didn't seem to go your way as often?" he was asked.
It's not unusual for Shula to answer a question with a question. "Is that saying that we weren't a good team two years ago when field goals didn't go in or fumbles didn't go our way?," he said. "I'm not sure. All we talk to our players about are: just get to the football as fast as you can. And whether or not you're defense or you're special teams, teams, offensively, finish and do all the things that you're asked to do and not try to do more than you're asked to do as far as forcing things. And then whatever happens happens, but, just like when you coach, you try to cover all the scenarios. You're not going to be able to cover everything that you're going to see on the field on game day. But you have rules and you have guidelines for your players and you hope that they react in a positive way so that if something different happens then their rules will take over and they'll do the right thing. It's a game, so anytime in anything you're doing, any kind of game you're playing, there's fortune. There's misfortune and good fortune. We want to be there if it happens to be good."
He said there is a saying in coaching circles that if you are lucky enough to coach long enough that the breaks will even out. "Sometimes the ball bounces your way," he said. "Who knows if it evens out?
"You also hear that you make your own breaks. People work hard and make plays. If Roman Harper doesn't make that hit the way he does, that ball doesn't pop out. I'd say we're lucky to have Roman Harper.
"But the thing is, no matter how the ball bounces, you've got to be ready for the next play."
Before answering questions, Shula said, "We're excited about this week. We're excited about this game coming up, giving ourselves a chance to be 8-0 somehow, if we can find a way to practice well. And we realize how tough it is to maintain the ability to win week in and week out. That's going to be our focal point this week. This is a team we don't know a lot about even though we played them last year. They've got a different coaching staff. They're doing different things. We're in the process now of learning as much as we can. We need to make sure we realize the importance of preparing like we have so far this year. We're going to rely heavily on our seniors again as well as our staff to make sure this football team is ready to play."
Alabama is 7-0 and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference play. The Tide is ranked fifth in the nation and is fifth in the BCS compilation. On Saturday Bama will have its final non-conference game of the year. The Crimson Tide will have homecoming, hosting Utah State at 2 p.m. CDT at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Utah State, a member of the Western Athletic Conference, is 2-4. The only telecast of the game will be on a Pay-Per-View basis.
(Speaking of television, Alabama's game at Mississippi State on November 5, was announced as a CBS telecast with kickoff in Starkville at 2:30 p.m. CST.)
After back-to-back home games against nationally-ranked Florida and Tennessee, some would see the Utah State game as a breather. Shula was asked how he convinces his team to prepare hard for the Aggies.
Shula said, "We start by recruiting the right kind of guys, guys who understand what it means to come here and what it's going to take week in and week out to maintain a high level of play to give us the best chance to win. Our approach isn't going to be any different this week. As coaches and as players we're going to work as hard as we can on the field. We're not going to let any mistake go unnoticed without getting it corrected. The biggest thing, too, and we haven't been here in the last two years at this point in the season: everything is right there in front of us. The ability to stay undefeated is a difficult thing to do. As you've seen, there are not many undefeated teams right now. Don't let all the hard work that started from day one of the offseason go down the drain by not preparing to give yourself the best chance to win. That goes from the offseason, spring practice, fall training camp and then all the hard work this fall."
Shula said Bama is "a little bit beat up, without getting specific talking about players, just overall this time of year with bumps and bruises and things like that, so we've got to make sure we've got guys getting treatment and getting them ready to play. We have to have three solid days of preparation and getting ourselves ready to play."
With Alabama's success has come renewed interest in polls and bowls. Shula was asked if he thought his players were following the BCS rankings. He said, "The guys may do that, but I think guys that are going to do that do it anyways. Guys that are big college football fans and watch games week in and week out are going to do that. For us, we've never talked about it as a team. We've never talked about it in front of our players because those are things we can't control. Our guys like watching football for sure, but the things we can control, again, are what's in front of us, and that's Utah State this week."
He was also asked if he had ever thought an SEC team could go undefeated and not win the national championship. "No," he said. Later he said, "I'm sure I don't understand the BCS formula…and I'm not sure I want to."
Shula is more than aware that Alabama's offensive production has fallen off in the last few weeks. He said, "It's definitely a concern. We've got to get better in a lot of areas. We've got to get better, as you said, offensively. With our running game we've got to be able to stay on blocks longer, make sure we communicate a little bit better. We had too many missed assignments last week offensively. We've got to throw and catch better; can't turn the ball over. You look at certain categories, plus territory and third downs, and those things we've got to improve on. The overall execution of each and every play and look at how we can do it better, that, for sure has got to get better if we're going to have any chance to win."
Shula was asked about the need for wide receivers Matt Caddell and Zeke Knight to step up as the Tide's offense has continued to struggle since the injury to Tyrone Prothro. "They need to step up, but Keith Brown and D.J. Hall need to continue to improve, too," Shula said.
Meanwhile, the defense helped Bama defeat Florida and Tennessee by not allowing a touchdown to either. Shula said, "These guys have grown together. They've played a lot of football together, DeMeco (Ryans), Freddie (Roach), Roman (Harper), Anthony Madison, Ramzee Robinson, Charlie Peprah. So they know a lot more about how they're going to react. They can look each other in the eye when they're in the huddle and on the sidelines knowing they can count on each other. And I think because of that there's more of a calmness in situations maybe where a couple of years ago where guys were a little more inexperienced, didn't know that much about each other, there was a little more discouragement when something bad happened. And the fact that they're bigger, stronger, faster than they were two years ago. I think all those things are reasons why our defense has played well."
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