When Shula had his regular Tuesday press briefing, it was just as obvious the Alabama coach has great respect for Auburn's team. "This is an exciting week for our football team," he said. "We know it's going to be an incredible atmosphere down there. We've gotten with our seniors; this is their last go round. They feel like they have a lot to prove. Our football team does, and to have to do it against a team like Auburn is going to be a great challenge for us. It was two years ago when we went down there; it was my first time; it was an awesome atmosphere. This game is great for the state of Alabama and great for college football. We are happy to be a part of it. We have to have a real good week of preparation and get ourselves ready to go."
Alabama, 9-1 overall and 6-1 in Southeastern Conference play and ranked eighth in the nation, takes on Auburn, 8-2 overall and 6-1 in SEC play and ranked 11th in the nation, at 2:30 p.m. CST Saturday at Auburn. The game will be nationally telecast by CBS.
Alabama was undefeated until last week's 16-13 overtime loss to LSU. Bama and Auburn both have overtime losses spoiling their league records. LSU has only to win against Ole Miss and Arkansas to win the SEC Western Division, but a slip by the Bengal Tigers would give the Western Division berth in the SEC Championship Game to the winner of the Alabama-Auburn game.
The Tide coach said that some have tried to compare the Alabama-Auburn game to the Super Bowl. "It's not like that," he said. "It's more intense. It's an electrifying atmosphere. Anyone who has ever played in it or coached in it knows that." He said that people in the state of Alabama love their football. "And they like to brag how much they love their football," he said.
Shula said that it is helpful for the Tide to be playing Auburn as it attempts to bounce back from last Saturday's loss to LSU. He said, "That was a tough loss, an emotional loss. We've got good leadership; we can rely on that. The main thing we talked about Sunday night after the kids left practice was, let's move on; don't let one game cost you two. Let's have the right mindset and preparation through the week and understand how big a win this could be for everybody."
He said that both teams being ranked "fairly high" makes it exciting for the teams, the fans, and for college football.
While Alabama is coming off a loss, Auburn is coming off an emotional win, a come-from-behind last second victory over Georgia in Athens. Shula said he didn't think momentum would play a big role in Saturday's game. "Maybe a little bit," he said. But he thinks the Alabama-Auburn game is so big that the previous week is quickly forgotten. "We would like to be coming off a big win," he said, "but I think our guys will get focused for this regardless of what happened last week. And we'd be saying the same thing if we had won. You have to move on–think about this week and forget about last week."
Alabama has had a couple of very serious injuries this year, losing wide receiver Tyrone Prothro in the fifth game of the year and losing center J.B. Closner in the Mississippi State game. Still, Shula said he has to feel good about going into the Auburn game with so many more weapons than has previously been the case. He will have starting quarterback Brodie Croyle for the first time. Last year the Tide was without Croyle, halfbacks Ray Hudson and Kenneth Darby, and fullback Tim Castille. Hudson has graduated, but Darby and Castille are back. Still, Shula said, "We have to go out and perform. The play-makers have to make plays."
Alabama's offense could have a difficult time against Auburn's defense. "They get to the football fast," Shula said. "They've got real good speed and quickness. They rush the pass real well. They do a good job blitzing, too. They bring a wide variety of blitzes. They understand their assignments and do a good job."
Shula wants to see improvement over last week on offense. He said, "At times we didn't play our best; we weren't quite consistent enough. You have one or two guys making a mistake on a play, although maybe they played a lot of other plays really well, and then all of a sudden it looks bad. Offensive football can look bad in a hurry that way. The first half we were pretty consistent. In the second half we weren't as far as having all 11 guys on the play doing their jobs."
Alabama's coach is also impressed with an Auburn offense that lost a quarterback and two tailbacks to the first round of the NFL draft last year. "They have been productive," he said. Shula said that he has been impressed with tailback Kenny Irons, quarterback Brandon Cox, and Auburn's receiving corps. He said Irons "is about as dangerous a runner as we have seen," and praised Cox for improving as the season has gone along, for being accurate, and for having poise and confidence.
He added, "We've played some good offensive lines. Tennessee, LSU and Auburn are similar. They are athletic and do a good job."
A football adage is that in a close game a handful of plays will decide the outcome. Shula said any one of "probably seven to ten" plays having a different outcome could have meant victory for Bama last week.