'BAMA Newsletter 10

Inside this week's 'BAMA Newsletter: Editorial: Big Games Ahead For Crimson Tide - A Win Is A Win - Depth Chart vs. MSU - Scouting Report: Talent Everywhere for LSU - Coach Shula Says - Season Statistics (PDF Version Only)

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Big Games Ahead For Crimson Tide
When Alabama plays football, it is always a big game. Even if the game has no championship implications, playing the Crimson Tide is always big for the opponent…any opponent. When Alabama is winning, every game is big for Bama. And when both teams are ranked among the nation's top five, as is the case when Alabama hosts LSU Saturday, it frequently has been a game for the national championship.

Most games involving top five teams–Alabama is ranked third or fourth, depending on the poll, and LSU is fifth this week–in Crimson Tide history have been bowl games. The eyes of the college football world will be on Tuscaloosa Saturday, but it is quite possible the game will be for a smaller fish than the national title. Barring the most major of upsets, the pre-season favorites for the Bowl Championship Series national championship berths are going to skate into the Rose Bowl. And both the BCS and the Associated Press (which huffed out of BCS participation after last season) will crown the winner of the Rose Bowl.

That doesn't mean this isn't a big game. And if Alabama wins, the next week could be even bigger. Everyone has done the math. If LSU defeats Alabama Saturday, the Bengal Tigers have a relatively easy task to be Western Division representative in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. LSU would have only to defeat Ole Miss and Arkansas and it would not matter what Alabama or Auburn did because LSU would have the tie-breaker advantage on both.

If Alabama wins Saturday and Auburn wins at Georgia, the Alabama-Auburn game in Auburn would be for the SEC Western Division championship. If Alabama wins Saturday and Auburn loses to Georgia, Bama is the Western Division champion regardless of the outcome at Auburn the next week. But the game at Auburn would still be a big game for the Crimson Tide because technically the national championship game opportunity would still be in play for an undefeated Bama.

Obviously, part of this is looking ahead, something Alabama's players cannot afford to do. Or so goes conventional wisdom. But more and more, in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, players are fessing up. They do look ahead. And hopefully that explains some of Alabama's offensive malaise this year. Alabama's lackluster win over Ole Miss came between Florida and Tennessee. Last week's yawner over Mississippi State came with Tiders peeking ahead to the really big games against LSU and Auburn.

In pre-season polls, Alabama was lucky to be ranked among the nation's top 25 teams. In most pre-season SEC rankings, the Tide was third in the West, behind the upcoming foes, LSU and Auburn. The odds remain long–probably impossibly long–for Alabama to win the national championship, and there are still major hills to climb even to win the SEC title. Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom pointed out this week that his Bulldogs had played teams with more talent than Alabama. (They had played Auburn and LSU and Georgia and Florida, for instance.) But the former Crimson Tide All-America also pointed out that Alabama–as many Bama teams before–knew how to win.

Win again and there will be an opportunity for yet another big game.
–Kirk McNair

A Win Is A Win, But No One Would Say It Was Pretty
Those who think the kicking game and defense win football games and that offense is just for show got some verification in Starkville Saturday. In the first half Alabama had offense galore, but had only a field goal lead on Mississippi State. By the time the Bama offense got the ball in the second half, the special teams and defense had both scored a touchdown to key the Crimson Tide's 17-0 victory.

Matt Miller scored an Alabama touchdown on a Mississippi State kickoff return and Rudy Griffin scored a Crimson Tide touchdown on a Bulldogs' pass to key Alabama's ninth consecutive victory. The offense did not have a touchdown. It was the Tide's first shutout since last year's 52-0 win over Western Carolina, but it was the second consecutive shutout of the Bulldogs in Starkville. Alabama won 38-0 in 2003.

On the kickoff to start the second half, State's Derek Pegues took the kickoff at the five-yard line and returned it to the 15, where he was hit and stripped of the ball by Tide freshman Jimmy Johns. The ball was neatly scooped up by Matt Miller, who had a 15-yard fumble return touchdown.

Moments later, State's redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Henig, under pressure on a second-and-13 play from the Bulldogs' 20, made a panic shovel pass that was picked off by Bama senior defensive tackle Rudy Griffin at the 17-yard line and returned for a defensive lineman's dream touchdown. With just over two minutes gone and Alabama's offense yet to step on the field in the second half, the Bama lead had jumped to 17-0.

At intermission, Alabama had dominated statistically with 15 first downs to three for the Bulldogs; 44 offensive plays for 222 yards to 20 plays for 60 yards for State; and a time of possession advantage of 21:08 to 8:52. But the offense had not been able to sustain momentum to the end zone and had only a 38-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen to show for its work.

Most would judge that the game was poorly played by both teams, and even more poorly officiated…not in favor of one team over the other, just poor. The officiating may have hurt Alabama most tangibly when a fumble by Mississippi State was picked up by DeMeco Ryans and run in for a touchdown. The amazing call by the officiating crew (which threw a flag to begin with) was that the State quarterback "was down at the spot."

The referee made three errors on one play: he blew the whistle before the play was dead (and that effectively ended the play and any chance Alabama had for its rightful possession and score). He then threw a flag, although he later waved it off as "no penalty." And he then ruled "incomplete pass," although the pass was actually a backward pass and should have continued in play.

It was one of a series of officiating blunders by various SEC crews last Saturday. And it reminds that Alabama is playing LSU this week. Last year an SEC official single-handedly ruined any Alabama hopes of upsetting the Bengal Tigers in Baton Rouge with a couple of "missed" calls. (Actually, he didn't miss them. They happened right in front of him. He just chose to not call against the home team.)

Both State and Bama squandered first half scoring opportunities. Early in the second quarter State faced fourth and one at the Alabama 10. Instead of kicking a field goal for a 3-0 lead, the Bulldogs elected to go for it. Henig made a good pass, but it was dropped.

The Tide took over and with help from a personal foul penalty went to the Mississippi State 12 before the march foundered. Christensen kicked the first points of the game.

With time running out in the first half, Alabama again moved to the Mississippi State 12. This time on fourth and inches the Tide tried a quarterback sneak. Brodie Croyle fumbled and although the ball was recovered and advanced by Kenneth Darby, that is not allowed on a fourth down play and so the ball went over with only moments to play in the first half.

Despite the overall lackluster performance, some Bama individuals had good moments. Jimmy Johns, Bama's freshman running back from Brookhaven, Mississippi, was lustily booed the first time he touched the ball. But in addition to his game-changing caused fumble on the second half kickoff, Johns rushed 12 times for 65 yards yards. He had been Mr. Football in Mississippi a year earlier and the Bulldogs thought they had him.

Defensive back Simeon Castille had an excellent interception for the Tide, and also partially blocked a Mississippi State punt. He would be named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

In a match-up of two of the SEC's top rushers, Bama's Kenneth Darby had the better of it against Jerious Norwood of State. Darby, the SEC's leading rusher going into the game, had 21 carries for 122 yards. Norwood had 18 carries for 39 yards.

It was not Brodie Croyle's finest hour. The senior quarterback saw his school record streak of not throwing an interception end at 190 when Bama's opening drive ended with Croyle being picked off at the Mississippi State 21. He later suffered another interception in the end zone to kill a fourth quarter drive. He also lost two fumbles and had another one he recovered and was dropped for several losses. And he was responsible for no touchdowns.

It could be that the worst thing that happened to Bama Saturday was having three-year starting center J.B. Closner injured. Closner was taken from the contest in the first quarter and replaced by little-used Taylor Britt. Closner suffered a broken leg and has been lost for the season.

TIDE NOTES: Alabama moved up to third in the Bowl Championship Series compilation this week as previously undefeated Virginia Tech was defeated by Miami. Miami was ahead of Alabama in the Associated Press and Harris polls, but Bama was third and Miami fourth in the Coaches Poll.

Although it is only about 90 miles between Tuscaloosa and Starkville, the distance between the Alabama and Mississippi State football programs is gigantic. Alabama's 17-0 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville Saturday increased Bama's lead in the series. The Crimson Tide has now won 72 games, while Mississippi State has won 15 and three have been tied.

Alabama has started the season 9-0, the first time since 1994 Bama has opened with nine consecutive victories. This is the 17th time in Alabama history Bama has opened the season with nine consecutive wins.

Alabama has played 90 games against Mississippi State, more than against any other opponent.

Alabama has now posted five consecutive wins over Mississippi State.

The two teams have now played 57 consecutive seasons. Alabama had its first shutout of the season and second in a row in Starkville. The Tide was a 38-0 winner over the Dogs in 2003.

Mississippi State did not go over the 100-yard mark in total defense until the final minute of the game. For the game the Bulldogs had eight first downs, the fewest since 2002 when Southern Miss also had eight; State had 26 yards rushing, the least since Southern Miss had 17 in 2003; and the Dogs had 77 yards passing, the least since LSU had 65 passing yards in 2002.

Bama has not allowed a touchdown in over 15 quarters, dating back to the first quarter of the Ole Miss game on October 15. Bama came into the game ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, giving up 9.2 points per game. Virginia Tech, playing Miami later, led the nation with 9.1 points per game. The shutout improved Alabama to allowing only 8.2 points per game (74 points in nine games).

Kenneth Darby rushed 21 times for 122 yards, his fifth 100-yard game this year and ninth of his career. Last year he rushed for 1,061 yards. He needs 32 yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark again this season.

Alabama reverted to one deep on punt returns...Brandon Brooks. Later he was joined by Simeon Castille in a two-deep secondary.
–Kirk McNair

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Mississippi State
Alabama may have hoped and expected to play a lot of men against a Mississippi State team that has won only two games and has not won in six Southeastern Conference tries, but Bama was able to use only 58 players as the Crimson Tide struggled to a 17-0 win over the Bulldogs in Starkville Saturday. Because it was an SEC game, Alabama as the visiting team was limited to only 70 men. (The home team in SEC games can dress 95, of which 80 are designated as eligible to play.)

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.

Keith Brown, who had missed the previous week with a thigh bruise, returned to start at the wide receiver spot opposite D.J. Hall. On defense, Justin Britt, who had started early in the year, was back with the first team at tackle in front of Jeremy Clark.

Fullback Tim Castille was dressed out, but did not play. He had missed most practice the previous week. When starter LéRon McClain had to go out temporarily with a shoulder injury, he was replaced by walk-on Will Denniston, who had played at tight end in his first varsity action the week before.

J.B. Closner was the starter at center, as he has been for almost every game the past three years, but his Crimson Tide career was ended in the first quarter when he suffered a broken leg. He was replaced by Taylor Britt. Left guard Antoine Caldwell was injured in the first half and Justin Moon played in his spot the second half.

Alabama used 24 on offense, 23 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–Keith Brown (52-1), Zeke Knight (19), Matt Miller (3-16)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (51-3), Cody Davis (17-1)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (44-1), Justin Moon (24-4)
Center–J.B. Closner (15), Taylor Britt (53)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (55-3), Marlon Davis (13)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (62-4), Mark Sanders (6)
Tight End–Nick Walker (47-4), Travis McCall (24-5)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (68)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (47-9), Will Denniston (1) Kyle Bennett (5-3)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (41), Glen Coffee (9-1), Jimmy Johns (18-4)
Flanker–D.J. Hall (56), Matt Caddell (18)

Right End–Mark Anderson (36), Keith Saunders (10)
Tackle–Justin Britt (22), Jeremy Clark (18)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (25), Dominic Lee (9), J.P. Adams (20)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (36), Chris Harris (10), Bobby Greenwood (14)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (49-5), Terrence Jones (4-17)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (49), Matt Collins (4-7)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (49-5), Demarcus Waldrop (4-12)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (30-1), Simeon Castille (30-10)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (56)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (42-5), Jeffrey Dukes (12-10)
Safety–Roman Harper (53-5), Chris Keys (4-12)

Punter–Jeremy Schatz (5)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (8, 2 PAT, 2 FG, 4 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (19, 2 PAT, 2 FG, 3 split end, 12 other special teams)
Snapper–Drew Lane (9, 2 PAT, 2 FG, 5 P)
Coverage and Returns–Brandon Brooks (8), Marcel Stamps (2), Marcus Carter (5), Juke King (5), Eric Gray (13), Justin Ballard (2), Rashad Johnson (15), Theo Townsend (9)

Scouting Report: LSU has All-Around Talent
LSU could very well be the most talented team Alabama has had to date. From special teams to skill players on both sides of the ball, LSU has more players able to do more things than any team Alabama has faced.

Jamarcus Russell is improving as a quarterback, with arm strength that is unquestioned and strength and speed to give him the threat of taking off on the run at any time. He ranks second in the SEC in passing efficiency with a 146.3 rating and he's fifth in the league in passing yards per game at 218.8 per contest.

In eight games, LSU has found 7 different ways to score touchdowns. Of LSU's 33 touchdowns this year, 14 have come by rushing, 14 by passing and 1 each by interception return, fumble return, blocked field goal return, blocked punt return and a Skyler Green 66-yard punt return against Auburn.

Sixth-year offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher continues to spread the ball around as offense as the Tigers have had 13 different players catch passes through the first 8 games. Of LSU's 145 pass completions, 104 have gone to wide receivers, 18 to running backs, 13 to tight ends and 7 to fullbacks.

LSU was on the road to Arizona State to open the season, but big SEC games against Tennessee, Florida and Auburn were all played in Baton Rouge.

Offensively, LSU is No. 2 in the SEC with a 31.8 average and No. 3 in the league in total offense with 401 yards per game. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell has connected on 33 of his last 43 passes, which have gone for 452 yards and 3 TDs in the Tigers' last two games. Russell completed 16 of 22 passes for 208 yards and 1 TD against Ap. State. Over his last 2 games, Russell has combined to complete 33 of 43 passes for 452 yards, 3 TDs and only 1 interception.

Running back Joseph Addai leads the Tigers with 644 yards rushing and 7 touchdowns, while receiver Dwayne Bowe has caught 24 passes for 450 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Sophomore running back Alley Broussard is out for the season back in August with a knee injury, making junior Justin Vincent, the MVP of the 2003 SEC championship game, Addai's backup. Vincent is second on the team with 298 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.

Sophomore guard Will Arnold is expected to be back in the lineup against Alabama after missing the Appalachian State game with the flu.

Through 8 games, LSU has made 27 trips inside the redzone and the Tigers have converted an SEC-best 88.9 percent. Of its 27 trips inside the redzone, LSU has scored 24 times with 19 of those being touchdowns (12 rushing, 9 passing).

Junior tight end and eight-game starter Keith Zinger recorded his first career touchdown against Appalachian State with a 9-yard reception. The score was the first for an LSU tight end this season.

LSU's has three veteran receivers who have over 3,000 receiving yards among them. Dwayne Bowe leads all active LSU receivers with 72 receptions for 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns, followed by Skyler Green with 105 receptions for 1,068 yards and Junior Buster Davis with 70 receptions for 1,041 yards.

Sophomore Early Doucent, who has four starts to his name, adds 21 catches for 336 yards this year. Davis has caught at least one pass in 18 straight games.

Skyler Green continues to be a head turner as he has game-breaking ability anytime he touches the football. In 8 games this season, Green has 59 touches and he accounted for 762 yards. Green is averaging 12.9 yards every time he gets his hands on the football. Green has rushed 6 times for 77 yards, caught 26 passes for 207 yards, returned 9 kickoffs for 198 yards and returned 18 punts for 280 yards. Green is averaging 95.2 all-purpose yards per contest, which ranks 10th in the SEC. Green ranks first in the SEC with a 15.6 average.

Senior tackle Andrew Whitworth has started 47 straight games on the offensive line for the Tigers. Whitworth's current streak of 47 consecutive starts ranks first in the SEC along with Florida center Mike Degory.

Whitworth leads all LSU offensive linemen with 47 career starts, followed by right guard Nate Livings (29), center Rudy Niswanger (26), left guard Will Arnold (12) and right tackle Brian Johnson (11).

LSU ranks No. 6 in scoring defense (13.9 ppg), No. 12 in total defense (295.8 ypg), No. 16 in rush defense (107.5 ypg) and No. 23 in pass defense (188.2 ypg). LSU has allowed only 50 points over its last 6 games (Alabama has allowed 35 in the last six games).

LSU has also been good at defending inside the redzone as the Tigers are allowing opponents a success rate of just 65 percent when reaching the 20-yard line. That ranks second in the SEC to Alabama, who leads the SEC with a 50 percent rate. In 20 trips inside the redzone this year, LSU has held its opponents to just 13 scores (8 touchdowns, 5 field goals). Of the 8 touchdowns scored against the Tigers in the redzone, 4 have come through the air and 4 on the ground.

After recording only 1 sack in the season-opener against Arizona State, LSU has now recorded 25 sacks in its last 7 games. Through 8 games, the Tigers have 26 sacks to their credit. The Tigers had 6 sacks against Vanderbilt, a week after LSU recorded 7 in its win over Mississippi State. The 13 sacks over that 2-game span marks the most sacks in consecutive games in school history.

Defensive end Melvin Oliver leads the Tigers with 5 sacks. In all, the Tigers have had 10 different players record a sack this year. Junior Chase Pittman, with 15 tackles on the year, has started seven games opposite Oliver at right end.

Senior tackles Claude Wroten and Kyle Williams have made every start for LSU this season, with the exception of Wroten not starting against North Texas two weeks ago.

Senior Cameron Vaughn has started 20 straight games at linebacker for LSU. He has 46 tackles on the year including three for a loss. In addition to leading the team with 55 tackles, sophomore weakside linebacker Ali Highsmith has four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Strong side backer and senior Kenneth Hollis has 22 tackles and two for loss.

Senior backup linebacker E.J. Kuale is back after suffering an ankle injury in August that kept him out of LSU's first 6 games. Kuale has seen limited action in wins over North Texas and Appalachian State.

Multi-year starting juniors Jessie Daniels (junior) and LaRon Landry hold the safety positions for LSU. Landry has 44 tackles and Daniels has 29. Starting left cornerback Ronnie Prude has already graduated from LSU, but is in his first year as a starter. Chevis Jacskson has started every game at right cornerback for LSU. LSU's secondary has 31 out of 32 combined starts this season in the four positions.

With his 66-yard punt return for a touchdown against Auburn, Skyler Green set the school record for punts returned for a touchdown at 4. Green has returned at least 1 punt for a touchdown in three consecutive seasons. In addition, Green's 4 career punts returned for a touchdown ties for third in SEC history. Green ranks second in school history in career punt return yards with 985 on 68 returns. This year, Green has returned 18 punts for 272 yards and 1 score.

Chris Jackson continues to be critical to LSU's success this year as the junior has played a key role in the Tigers' holding the edge in field position. As LSU's punter, Jackson has been responsible for the Tigers leading the league and ranking third in the nation in net punting with a 39.8 net average. Jackson also handles LSU's kickoff chores and the Tigers are first in the SEC with a net average of 46.2 yards on kickoff coverage.

With a 46.2 net kickoff average, LSU's are limiting its opponents to an average starting position of the 18-yard line every time the Tigers kickoff.

Kyle Williams' second quarter block of a North Texas field goal attempt marked the third time this year that LSU has blocked a kick. The Tigers blocked a field goal and a punt in its season-opening win over Arizona State. The 3 blocked kicks are the most by an LSU team since the 2003 blocked three kicks.

Jackson has a good short game, too, as the junior has nearly half of his punts this year downed inside the opponents' 20-yard line. In 37 punts this year, Jackson has had 17 of those downed inside the 20. Jackson ranks second in the SEC with 45.9 percent of his punts being downed inside the 20. Georgia's Ely-Kelso leads the league with 50.0 percent of his punts being downed inside the 20.

--Mitch Dobbs

Coach Mike Shula Says
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. 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 going 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 upperclassmen, 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.

Shula was amused at discussion of rankings, although he was serious when he said that as a player there would be some motivation in an undefeated Southeastern Conference team being ranked lower than some other teams. But, he said, the primary motivation is in playing LSU.

He said when he became head coach at Alabama, "Probably the last thing on my mind was whether I would vote in the coaches' poll. I'm not sure I want to do that. If I did, I'd want to talk to some other coaches to see what method they use. But don't they make the votes public? So I'd just have something else to be criticized about?"

He also said, "I know how I'd vote. I'm a little biased. If you win in this conference you deserve some consideration."

On the injury front, Shula said: "J.B. is having surgery today. As for his status for being ready for the bowl game, they haven't ruled it out just yet, but it would have to be a speedy recovery. As of right now, it doesn't look great."

He said wide receiver Tyrone Prothro "is doing well. He is out of the hospital and was in our team meeting the other day. He is in good spirits and continuing his rehab." Shula said any details regarding Prothro's treatment would come from him and his family, at their request.
–Kirk McNair

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