Tough Assignment

Alabama Coach Mike Shula can tell by the "Wow" factor that his Alabama football team has a tough task ahead of it. LSU brings a variety of weapons to Tuscaloosa for a key national game Saturday.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula said, "They have a bunch of play-makers," as he assessed the LSU team that visits Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. "When I'm watching the tapes, I find myself saying ‘Wow!' more than against most teams. They have JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, receivers who go up and get the football, speed at the running back position to get to the edge. A lot of teams have a good quarterback or a good wide receiver or a good running back. LSU has all of that plus a good offensive line.

"And then the special teams coach comes in and says, ‘Watch this!'

"The guys we have on defense are fast–and they are going to need to be fast this week."

Alabama, 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Southeastern Conference play, is ranked third in the latest Bowl Championship Series compilation and third or fourth in the various polls. LSU is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in SEC play and is ranked fifth. The Tide and Tigers meet at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with national television coverage by CBS.

LSU naturally gets the attention of Bama's head coach, but he is more concerned with preparation by his Crimson Tide. In his regular Tuesday meeting with reporters, Shula said, "In a game like this with a lot riding on it, it is important for our players to focus on the job at hand. That job is goin g to be tougher this week than any other week because of LSU's talent. They have a tremendous number of play-makers on offense, defense and special teams.

"We have to be at our best in everything we do. We have to prepare knowing that we have to be at our best Saturday. That is not in a way where we would be nervous and go out and make mistakes. We have to go out Saturday with a lot of confidence in the way we have prepared."

Shula said this would be another game in which the team would "rely a lot on our upper classmen, especially on the defensive side because of their experience and leadership, to come up and show the younger guys what kind of opportunity we have."

Even though this is the type game where it is possible the team that makes mistakes will lose, Shula pointed out that a team can't prepare with the attitude of "We can't make a mistake." He said preparation has to be positive. "We have to prepare well and get confident," Shula said.

The Tide coach said, "You don't want to have mental mistakes in a game like this, and LSU makes it tough because they do so many things, blitzes and so forth. We have to give Brodie (quarterback Brodie Croyle) and Kenneth (halfback Kenneth Darby) a chance."

Shula said it is possible as the Tide gets closer to the end of the season that Darby could get more touches. Because of his recovery from last year's sports hernia injury and resulting surgery, Darby was used judiciously, particularly early in the season. But, Shula said, "We have to make sure Brodie gets enough, too. Hopefully we'll have enough plays for both."

One of the keys this week is expected to be the play of Taylor Britt at center. Last week senior and three-year starter J.B. Closner was lost with a broken leg. Britt replaced him and is listed as the starter at center this week.

Shula said, "Taylor has a great opportunity. The fact he has been around here helps. And he's a senior. And it may not have been as much as he would have liked, but he has played."

Shula also noted that Croyle and Britt will work together all week. "They have worked together before, but not like this week," the coach said.

Last spring there had been some thought given to putting Antoine Caldwell at center and moving Closner to tackle. Shula decided against having new men at two more offensive line positions to worry about, so Closner stayed at center and Caldwell became the starter at left guard this year.

Shula said no thought was given to moving Caldwell to center following the injury to Closner, in part because Caldwell also was injured against Mississippi State. He injured a foot and was to miss the early practice work this week, although he is expected to play Saturday.

Shula said the goal for Saturday is "to play more consistently. If we do that then the points will come and production will come. It's offensive football and we've got to have 11 guys doing their job. We lost a great player (wide receiver Tyrone Prothro) and now we've lost our center who was a three-year starter. You can't deny the fact we might not be as effective without them, but overall we are healthier than we have been at this time with Brodie Croyle and Ken Darby, receivers that are more experienced than they were this time last year, and other guys on the offensive line who are more experienced."

He noted that freshmen guards B.J. Stabler and Caldwell "have to realize that this is not like the beginning of the year. They have experience and they have to play like veterans now. The five guys up front have to play with a lot of confidence and communicate well."

Shula said Evan Cardwell, a freshman heretofore expected to be redshirted, "has been on the scout team most of the year, but he's spent a day or two working with the first offense, and now he's got to be ready to be the back-up center."

Shula was amused at the suggestion that Alabama wins have been ugly. "When you don't score a lot of points, I guess it's not pretty," Shula said. "There are a lot of ways you can win a football game. If you score a lot, it looks pretty, I guess, but if you give up a lot of points, it doesn't look good for your defense."

He said his players are taught to win and that "We preach that we have to play every play hard, because we never know when that play that wins the game is going to come."

Shula didn't dismiss the possibility of Alabama continuing with both Brandon Brooks and Simeon Castille deep on punt returns, but said he hoped there would be no more miscommunication like the one that allowed a Mississippi State punt to hit between the two and bound downfield last week. He also said that if Bama returned to single punt return it would probably be Brooks getting the call because of his experience.


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