'BAMA Newsletter 9
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Nightmare Could Ruin Tide Dream
It's hard not to look at the big picture. But that picture could get awfully fuzzy if Alabama players and coaches don't focus on the task at hand. In the case of this week, that job is beating a Mississippi State team that has not had much success this year.
But Alabama can't expect Coach Sylvester Croom's Bulldogs to roll over. As Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator David Rader said, "I have yet to see a team bring its ‘B' game to play Alabama."
This week the Mississippi State faithful have been reliving 1980. That was the year that Alabama took the nation's longest winning streak to Jackson, Mississippi. Bama, aiming for a third consecutive national championship, was upset by the Bulldogs, 6-3. In 1996 Gene Stallings took a Bama team with an 8-1 record to Starkville a week after the Crimson Tide had defeated LSU 26-0. Mississippi State was a 17-16 winner.
It doesn't happen often that the underdog wins, but it happens. Alabama has played Mississippi State 86 times. The Bulldogs have won 15 and tied three, meaning Alabama has won 71 times.
Alabama is 8-0 and ranked fourth in the nation. It's a long shot that Bama could make it to the Rose Bowl and the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national championship game, but as long as the Crimson Tide wins the possibility is there. Lose to Mississippi State and the opportunity for a lot of things is gone.
If Alabama is successful in beating Mississippi State, then the stakes continue to be high. Following the Bulldogs come the two teams that were expected to be the top two teams in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, LSU and Auburn. Both of those Tigers have tripped this year, but both are mathematically still in the hunt for the Western Division title. Alabama controls its own destiny, but until at least next Saturday night there is no room for error. It is very likely that Alabama will have to be undefeated just to win the division.
Alabama is not a team that is going to buy rings for an SEC Western Division championship. And this team has a chance to be where the 1992 Crimson Tide was. Former Coach Gene Stallings remembers, "We had won 11 games and we hadn't won anything." Well, Bama had won that SEC West title, but that was nothing without at least one more win. That win came against Florida in the inaugural SEC Championship Game.
No one at Alabama is worried about who the opponent might be if the Tide makes it to the SEC title game in Atlanta on December 6. In five previous appearances the opponent has been Florida. And if Bama makes it, so might the Gators, who held off a quarterbackless Georgia last week. In 1999 Alabama played (and defeated) Florida twice in one season. And, of course, the Crimson Tide has already defeated the Gators in regular season play this year.
In 1992, after Alabama polished off Florida to get to 12-0, it earned the Crimson Tide a spot in the Sugar Bowl against number one-ranked Miami, considered to be invincible, much as Southern Cal is this year. Every Alabama fan old enough to read this knows what happened that wonderful night: Bama crushed the Hurricanes and Heisman Trophy quarterback Gino Torretta, 34-13, and bring another national championship to Tuscaloosa.
Mississippi State has its dream this week. Alabama needs to avoid a nightmare in order to keep its dream alive.
It Was Homecoming, And Looked Like It; Easy Win
It may be difficult to judge progress of a football team in a game like Alabama's 35-3 homecoming victory over Utah State Saturday, but there were good things. It looked like Utah State (2-5) would be the perfect homecoming opponent as Bama opened the game with back-to-back four-play touchdown drives. Brodie Croyle was three-for-three passing on both of those first two drives and his six completions were good for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Alabama had a 21-0 lead at halftime, saw Utah State cut it to 21-3 in the third quarter, then pulled away at the end.
Bama's game-opening drive went 65 yards in four plays with Kenneth Darby picking up 36 yards on a run and Croyle completing passes of six and 14 yards to D.J. Hall before passing to Ezekial Knight for a nine-yard touchdown.
Bama's second possession started at the Alabama 46. After Darby rushed for seven yards, Croyle hit passes of 19 yards to Hall and 27 yards to Knight to set up a first down at the Utah State one-yard line. Bama went to the Jumbo Package, and almost everyone expected Tim Castille to run behind LéRon McClain for the touchdown. Instead, McClain slipped out of the backfield and caught Croyle's short pass for the score.
When Jamie Christensen kicked the extra point it was 14-0 and barely five minutes had elapsed. The Tide had only 3:19 in time of possession on the two drives–the first taking 1:37, the second 1:44.
Utah State had an outside chance at scoring with a 43-yard field goal attempt midway through the second quarter, but the kick was wide right. Alabama responded with an eight-play, 74-yard drive with Croyle hitting Hall for the 13-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead. The march took 3:33.
Bama's Jamie Christensen missed a 37-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
Alabama's season-long third quarter shutout came to an end against the Aggies. Utah State opened the second half with a drive to the Bama seven, from where Justin Hamblin kicked a 24-yard field goal. The three-pointer cut Alabama's lead to 21-3.
Additionally, an unusual play cost Alabama a chance to score on its first possession of the second half. Hall, who became the first player in Alabama history to have back-to-back double-digit receptions, had made his 11th reception, seemingly a 55-yard gain to the one or a 56-yard touchdown, early in the second half. But in reviewing the play, it was determined Hall had attempted to stretch the ball across the goalline and had fumbled. The ball went out of the end zone for a touchback, giving the ball to Utah State.
Alabama did score on its second possession of the third quarter. Darby went around right end, then cut back for 38 yards on a third-and-five play to make it Bama 28, Utah State 3. The eight-play drive covered 76 yards in four minutes.
Freshman quarterback John Parker Wilson had his first career touchdown pass with just under 10 minutes to play when he connected with Glen Coffee on a third-down play for nine yards. The two-minutes, six-play, 23-yard drive followed a nice punt return by Simeon Castille and wrapped up the scoring, Bama 35, Utah State 3.
TIDE NOTES: Alabama will be on CBS for the sixth time this year when the Crimson Tide hosts LSU next Saturday, November 12. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CST.
One of the biggest cheers of the day last Saturday was for Alabama wide receiver Tyrone Prothro, who watched the game from the sidelines. Prothro, who was in a wheelchair, was released from DCH Medical Center earlier in the week. He suffered a season-ending broken leg against Florida on October 1.
Brodie Croyle set the Alabama record for consecutive passes without an interception. After suffering one interception in each of the first two games this season, Croyle had thrown 154 passes without a pick. He completed his first two passes Saturday to surpass Jay Barker's previous record of 155 straight passes without an interception. He ran the record to 185 as he was 22 of 31 for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Croyle has now won 11 consecutive games as Alabama's starter.
Alabama Coach Mike Shula doesn't announce disciplinary specifics, but it was obvious that freshman quarterback John Parker Wilson was not suspended for Saturday's game. Wilson, who had been arrested for driving while intoxicated following the Ole Miss game, did not play against Tennessee, but probably would not have played in that 6-3 nail-biter regardless. In the fourth quarter, Wilson replaced Croyle at quarterback. It was later revealed that Wilson's court case had already been resolved. And since he was 19 at the time of his arrest (20 a day or so later), he applied for and received juvenile status, meaning the record was sealed.
Marc Guillon also saw quarterback action as 71 Alabama football players got into the homecoming game.
Five players made their college debuts against Utah State. They are wide receiver Jake Collins, tight end Will Denniston, defensive tackle Justin Johnson, snapper Luke Spaulding, and the one player on Bama's roster from Utah, fullback Ryan Morrow. Foress Rayford played for the first time this year.
One who did not play was wide receiver Keith Brown, who was held out with a bruised thigh.
D.J. Hall has now had back-to-back games with at least 10 receptions, the first time in Crimson Tide history a receiver has recorded consecutive double-digit receptions. Against Tennessee Hall had 10 catches for 139 yards. Hall got his 10th reception against Utah State on the first series of the second half. He finished with 11 receptions for 157 yards and one touchdown.
David Bailey had 12 receptions in games against Tennessee in both 1969 and 1970. Quincy Jackson against BYU in 1998 and Dennis Homan vs. Southern Miss in 1967 also had 11 receptions as Hall is tied for second most.
Alabama is now 8-0 for the first time since 1994. The Crimson Tide has now started 21 football seasons with eight straight victories. Bama won all 11 regular season games in 1994 before losing to Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and then defeating Ohio State, 24-17, in the Florida Citrus Bowl for a 12-1 record.
The Tide's current eight-game winning streak is fourth longest in the nation.
Alabama now has a record of 71-13-1 in homecoming games. The Tide has won four in a row. Mike Shula is only the second Alabama coach with a perfect record in homecoming games. He is 3-0. Paul Bryant was 25-0.
Against Tennessee the previous week, the Bryant-Denny Stadium press box was full of bowl representatives–Sugar, Capital One in Orlando, Peach in Atlanta, Outback in Tampa, and Fiesta among them. For the Utah State game the only bowl representative was from the Capital One Bowl.
Alabama's season-long third quarter shutout came to a quick end against the Aggies. Utah State took only nine plays and 3:10 to go 65 plays to a 24-yard field goal by Justin Hamblin. The three-pointer cut Alabama's lead to 21-3.
With about seven minutes to play in the game, Roman Harper intercepted a pass and returned it 50 yards to the Utah State 44 yard line. It marked the 29th straight game for the Alabama defense to make a takeaway, either an interception or fumble recovery.
On Utah State punts, the Tide had two men deep–Brandon Brooks and Simeon Castille. That is a system that is likely to continue, even though both Brooks and Castille had a muff.
Mabry Poellnitz of Tuscaloosa was elected homecoming queen. Former Alabama football player John Croyle, best known as the father of Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle, was grand marshall of homecoming.
Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Utah State
Because it was a non-conference game, there were no Southeastern Conference limits on the number of players who could dress out for Alabama's 35-3 homecoming win over Utah State. Virtually every eligible player was dressed and 71 Crimson Tide players saw action in the game, although much of the substitution came late. One of the participants was freshman fullback Ryan Morrow, the only Bama player from the state of Utah. As the visiting SEC team at Starkville this weekend, Bama will be allowed to dress and play only 70 men. Mississippi State as the home team will be allowed to dress 95 and will designate no more than 80 as eligible to play in the game. John Parker Wilson had been presumed suspended for the Tennessee game the week before (presumed, but that's all since Coach Mike Shula doesn't announce the specifics of disciplinary action) and informed speculation had it he would also miss the Utah State and Mississippi State games, but Wilson was inserted into the game late and threw a touchdown pass. 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 four defensive backs. With Keith Brown sitting out the game with a bruised thigh, Ezekial Knight got the start at the wide receiver spot opposite D.J. Hall. Alabama used 33 on offense, 27 on defense, and 11 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–Zeke Knight (46), Matt Caddell (32), Marcus McKnight (9), Jake Collins (1)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (53-4), Cody Davis (13-1)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (53-4), Justin Moon (13-5)
Center–J.B. Closner (53), Taylor Britt (13) Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (53), Marlon Davis (13-1)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (53-4), Mark Sanders (13-1)
Tight End–Nick Walker (38-5), Travis McCall (16-6), Charles Hoke (1), Greg McLain (9), Will Denniston (2)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (53), John Parker Wilson (10), Marc Guillon (3)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (26-11), Tim Castille (22), Kyle Bennett (6-2), Vic Horn (1), Ryan Morrow (4)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (31), Glen Coffee (13-13), Jimmy Johns (11-4)
Flanker–D.J. Hall (52), Matt Miller (8-16), Will Oakley (2)
Right End–Mark Anderson (36), Keith Saunders (30), Justin Johnson (7)
Tackle–Jeremy Clark (18), Justin Britt (23) Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (24), Dominic Lee (20), J.P. Adams (14)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (36), Chris Harris (18), Bobby Greenwood (28)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (55-6), Terrence Jones (26)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (46), Juke King (10-16), Matt Collins (18-10)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (53-6), Demarcus Waldrop (21-14)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (52-2), Simeon Castille (54-9)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (55), Eric Gray (10-17)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (54-6), Jeffrey Dukes (25-15), Marcus Carter (10-3)
Safety–Roman Harper (64-6), Chris Keys (14-7)
Punter–Jeremy Schatz (6)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (11, 4 PAT, 1 FG, 6 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (24, 4 PAT, 1 FG, 8 split end, 11 other special teams)
Snapper–Drew Lane (10, 3 PAT, 1 FG, 6 P), Luke Spaulding (1 PAT)
Coverage and Returns–Brandon Brooks (8), Marcel Stamps (8), Bryan Kilpatrick (1), Justin Ballard (2), Rashad Johnson (13), Theo Townsend (8), Foress Rayford (2)
Scouting Report: New QB Looks to Revive MSU Offense
Familiar faces of both players and coahes will dot the Mississippi State sideline on Saturday. Mississippi State shows 17 players on its roster fromthe state of Alabama including: offensive tackles Brian Anderson (Butler) and Avery House (Springville), true freshman wide receiver Aubrey Bell (Prichard), redshirt freshmen running backs Brandon Thornton (Birmingham), Ellis Burns (Huntsville) and Dennis Little (Tuscaloosa), true freshman offensive linemen Johnny Carpenter (Citronelle) and Anthony Dunning (Thomasville), redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Henig and classmate wide receiver Keon Humphries (Montgomery), sophomore halfback Jonathan Lowe (Phenix City), and junior fullback Casey Rogers (Henagar), defensive end Titus Brown (Tuscaloosa), sophomore defensive back Jonathan Hill (Athens), true freshman linebacker Carvel Jones (Mobile), and sophomore linebacker Carlton Rice (Huntsville) , freshman deep snapper Eric Etheredge (Warrior).
Of course, Mississippi State head football coach Sylvester Croom starred at center for the Alabama and later served as assistant coach as did myriad MSU assistant coaches.
Statistically, Mississippi State fields one of the worst offenses in the country, but State Head Coach Sylvester Croom has said he will sit junior quarterback Omar Conner in favor of redshirt freshman Michael Henig for this week's game in an attempt to spark some life into the offense. Despite scoring just once in the 13-7 loss at Kentucky, Mississippi State showed some signs of an existent passing game with Henig under center. The 6-1, 180 pound Montgomery native posted solid if not spectacular numbers in first extended play of his career, completing 16-of-31 passes for 200 yards with no interceptions coming off the bench at Kentucky this past Saturday. Henig played from the third offensive series of the first quarter for the remainder of the game against the Wildcats. He will make his first career start in Tuscaloosa Saturday.
The Bulldogs are 11th in the Southeastern and 107th in the nation averaging 293 yards per game. They rank 71st in rushing offense (135 ypg) and 101st in passing offense (158 ypg) among NCAA Division I teams. The Bulldogs have scored a paltry 13.5 points per game, last in the SEC and 114th in the Division I.
Conner, who has the ability to run or pass still stands a chance to see playing time on Saturday if Henig falters. Conner's has thrown for 904 yards this season on 85-of-165 passing with five interceptions and eight touchdowns. He has rushed for 117 yards, but taken losses of 136 mostly on the league-worst 27 sacks allowed by MSU.
Tough-to-tackle senior running Jerious Norwood has been the biggest offensive threat for Mississippi State all season. Norwood's tactic is to elude tacklers in tight spots and in the open field, and not try to bowl over them. He set Mississippi's all-time rushing record last with 121 yards on 20 carries against Kentucky.
Norwood, 6-0, 204 pounds, is one of only three SEC backs averaging over 100 yards per game (Alabama's Kenneth Darby and Auburn's Kenny Irons are the other two.) He has totaled 125 attempts for 802 yards this season, and stands at 2,888 yards for his career. Norwood is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns on the year.
In a 28-16 loss to Houston, Norwood ran 24 times for 257 yards, a 10.7-yard per carry average, with one touchdown. The rushing total exceeded the previous school single-game mark held by James Johnson, who had 237 yards against Alabama, in 1998).
In addition to carrying almost all of MSU's rushing load, Norwood has 15 catches on the year for 95 yards and one touchdown. His 6.3 yards per reception is slightly below his average per rush, however. Redshirt Brandon Thornton backs up Norwood and has 29 carries for 157 yards on the year.
Junior Will Prosser (603, 203 pounds) is State's leading receiver with 28 receptions for 286 yards (38.5 ypg), and he has yet to find the end zone. Prosser matched his season and career high with five pass receptions for a season-best 78 yards against Kentucky. Prosser has already surpassed his 2004 team-leading total of 24 receptions.
Senior Tee Milons is the second-leading receiver with 17 receptions for 215 yards. Milons (5-10, 173 pounds), the brother of former star Alabama receiver Freddie Milons, has played in all eight games, but has only started three games early in the season. Milons has one touchdown reception, against Murray State, and his best game was a four-catch 54-yard performance against Auburn.
Sophomore Joey Sanders has started the last four games at wideout for the Bulldogs. He has 137 yards on seven catches and one touchdown. Sanders scored MSU's only touchdown against Mississippi State on a 66-yard catch, the longest of the year.
Starting tight end Eric Butler (6-3, 254 pounds) is the fourth-best receiver statistically. Butler has 11 receptions for 152 yards and one touchdown.
Mississippi State's starting offensive line averages 311 pounds, but that number is skewed upward thanks to 6-5, 366-pound right tackle Calvin Wilson. Wilson, a true freshman from Hattiesburg, saw his first action against Georgia in week 4 and earned his first start last week in Lexington.
Only junior left tackle Brian Anderson, at 6-6, 305 pounds, exceeds 300 pounds among the other starting offensive linemen. Anderson has started every game this year after starting in seven games a year ago. Redshirt freshman Anthony Strauder (6-3, 300 pounds) starts at left guard while sophomore Royce Blackledge (6-3, 291 pounds) starts at right guard.
Senior center Chris McNeil (Petal, Miss.) has played in 33 games for the Bulldogs with 22 starting calls and was on the initial watch list for the 2005 Rimington Award, given annually to the nation's top center. Mississippi State will use four down linemen against Alabama, the best of which will line up at left end opposite Bama right tackle Kyle Tatum. Senior Willie Evans will be more than a handful to deal with.
Evans tops the SEC in sacks, tackles for loss, and is second in tackles among linemen in the league. Evans was third on the team with five tackles this past Saturday at Kentucky, a total that included two tackles for loss (minus 5 yards), one of which was a quarterback sack.
Evans has 13.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage on the year on the year and the 6-2, 270-pounder also leads the SEC in sacks (9.5), and is second among linemen in total tackle average (5.1 per game). He has recorded a tackle for loss in 17 of his last 19 games and a sack in 12 of his last 14 contests, dating to last season.
Evans' sack against UK moved him to sixth on the school's career, while the senior also has 41.0 career tackles for loss.
Overall, Mississippi State is mediocre in SEC and NCAA defensive stats, coming in 9th in the league and 50th in the nation with 353 yards allowed per game, 137 rushing and 216 passing. The Bulldogs allow 23 points per game.
After Evans, the rest of State's starting defensive line is made up of three juniors. Nose tackle Andrew Powell (6-0, 298 pounds) has started every game this season and has 28 total tackles. Dejuan Robinson (6-4, 289 pounds) has also started every game this year at the other tackle position. Right-side end Michale Heard is the lightest of the linemen at 6-2, 262 pounds. Heard has 16 career starts and 30 tackles on the season.
Junior Quinton Culberson anchors the front seven from his middle linebacker position, a task for which he is well qualified. Culberson had a career-best dozen tackles at Kentucky Mississippi State junior linebacker Quinton Culberson turned in a career-best tackle. It was the second double-digit tackle game of his junior season (10 at Auburn), and the fourth of his career (11 vs. Arkansas 11/20/04 and 10 vs. Memphis 10/11/03). He has 59 tackles this season.
Strong side sophomore linebacker Gabe O'Neal (6-0, 213 pounds) and weak side backer Anthony Littlejohn (6-2, 225 pounds) have combined for 39 tackles on the year to fill out the Bulldogs' starting front seven. Key back-up Clarence McDougal (6-0, 221 pounds) is listed below O'Neal on the depth chart, but ranks third on the team with 42 tackles. After starting the first five games, McDougal was sent to back-up duty to make way for younger players to get some experience.
In the defensive backfield, junior free safety Jeramie Johnson (5-11, 209 pounds) gets most of the action. Johnson has six pass break ups to go along with 55 tackles.
Senior left cornerback Kevin Dockery (59, 187 pounds) leads the defense in passes broken up with seven, and has 35 tackles on the season, tops among defensive backs. Sophomore Demario Bobo (6-0, 180 pounds) has 26 tackles and two break ups from his strong safety position, while junior David Heard (6-0, 195 pounds) has four break ups and 30 tackles.
Redshirt freshman Adam Carlson has assumed placekicking duties from junior Keith Andrews, who injured his leg kicking off to start the second half of the Houston game. Carlson has made from 20 yards out and missed from 26 yards out in his only two attempts of the year. He made his only point after touchdown attempt.
Punter Blake McAdams averages 42.6 yards per punt on 53 kicks this year. His long is 60 yards and he has had one punt blocked.
Norwood, freshman Derek Pegues and sophomore Jonathan Lowe have all returned punts, but none have had much success. Lowe has seven returns for a 5.3 yard average and a 15 yard long, while Norwood has three returns for a total of 22 yards. Pegues picked up two yards on his only punt return. Pegues and Lowe are also slated as kickoff returners, with Pegues taking almost all of the returns. He has 21 on the year for a 20.5 yard per return average and 51-yard long. Lowe's two returns went for 19 and 17 yards respectively.
Coach Mike Shula Says
Everyone, it seems, is talking about the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings, including Alabama followers since the Crimson Tide is still undefeated and hoping to work its way into one of the top two spots and therefore into the Rose Bowl national championship game. But Mike Shula isn't thinking about it.
Even though the Crimson Tide is currently fourth in the BCS compilations and in all major polls, Bama's head coach said, "If I'm thinking about that, I'm not thinking about what I should be thinking about, which is getting our team ready, and then I'd be cheating our players."
And Shula does think about his players. He was asked what the most pleasant surprise of the season had been. After answering, "Winning," he said, "The offensive line was the biggest question mark coming into the season. They have gotten better and they are going to continue to get better."
The Tide head coach noted that offensive linemen sometimes don't get enough credit. "They gave up a sack and the head coach was yelling at them," Shula squealed on himself regarding Alabama's 35-3 homecoming win over Utah State. "He should have been over them congratulating them after those two touchdown drives."
He said he had expected the defense to be good, "and it has been," and that he has also been pleased to have two game-winning field goals from Jamie Christensen and the special teams.
Regarding the defense, Shula gives much credit to Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines. "He is all about helping the kids become the best they can be," Shula said. "The players love to play for him because he is smart and works hard and is funny. He has great stories. He tries to stay one step ahead of the offenses."
Shula said that regardless of what schemes Bama might use defensively, "We are having success because we have experience and speed on defense, and the players take a lot of pride. We have been very good in the Red Zone. We've been good, but we haven't been perfect. We want to tackle better and get off the field quickly with better field position."
This week Mississippi State will be starting a redshirt freshman quarterback, Mike Henig, who will be making his first stop. Shula was asked if that would mean that Bama might blitz more.
He said, "We want to get better pressure without the blitz, but we might blitz more this week. We'll mix it up and try to keep him from being in a comfort zone."
Shula said, "We have watched Mike on tape in the Kentucky game. He came in early in the ballgame and did a great job. He's got a strong arm and he is very unafraid to just go out there and play. He is not afraid to make mistakes. Because of that he threw for around 200 yards last week and had a chance at the end to take the lead. He did a lot of good things for a redshirt freshman. He is a little different than Omarr (regular starter Omarr Conner), maybe not quite as mobile."
Shula added, "There will be a couple little things that we need to make sure we cover, but basically their offense is the same. They do a really good job running the football. They tie in the play-action passes with it, whether it be in or out of the pocket or some misdirection things. They do a really good job with formations and personnel to try to create more running lanes in the running game."
Although Mississippi State has a poor record, Shula said that he doesn't expect his team to overlook the Bulldogs. "We have to expect their best game," Shula said. He said that because Alabama is winning and ranked high, "We have a bullseye on our chest. We need to get better, because if we don't, it's going to cost us. We're the same team we were on the first day of fall camp, except we don't have one key player [wide receiver Tyrone Prothro]."
The Tide coach said, "You can throw the records out. A lot of our kids know theirs and vice versa and so do the coaches. Being so close to each other, you just have to focus in on this game.
"When you are in preparation, you are not really so much watching the score, you are watching the guy that each of our players will have to face for 60 minutes and how they can beat that guy and help our football team win.
"They have a good pass rush, I think (Willie) Evans is leading the SEC in sacks. They will blitz a little bit defensively with linebackers that are playing pretty well for them. Offensively, they have got a good back. They will run the football and they will try to pound it at us and mix in the pass offense."
Shula said, "We are back at it this week, back on the road in the SEC against a team that in our game last year played us close until about midway through the fourth quarter. Our focus this week is going to be on working to get better in all three phases. We know we have to do that, we know we can do that, because we feel like we still haven't played our best game. It's going to be difficult this week, we are going up against one of the premier running backs in the SEC in (Jerious) Norwood. Mississippi State has got some top players on defense as well.
"Playing on the road in the SEC, especially when you are a young football team, means you have got to have three good days of practice to get ourselves prepared to be at our best."
Shula has been very pleased with the return to full speed of halfback Kenneth Darby, who was injured late last year and had off-season surgery for a sports hernia. The Tide coach admitted he held his breath a few times in fall camp as Darby got back into the flow. He said that Darby, who is averaging about 20 carries per game, might get a few more per game as the Tide hits the home stretch. And Shula noted that he thinks Darby "has more confidence in his speed" this year.
Shula has been pleased with the work of wide receiver D.J. Hall, who has become the "go to guy" since the season-ending injury to Prothro. "He works to do things right," Shula said. "He has been productive. When his number has been called, he has made the plays."
Shula said that fullback Tim Castille might be questionable for this week's game after spraining an ankle against Utah State. But, Shula noted, "He's a quick healer, and we need him to be ready." He said he expected wide receiver Keith Brown, who was held out of last week's game with a thigh bruise, to be ready to play against Mississippi State.
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