Out, or Just Down?

While Alabama head coach Mike Shula sprinted to midfield for a quick handshake with Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, one wondered if the Alabama team would make it to the numbers marked on its own side of the field for post-game. A team damaged, perhaps broken, meandered into its locker room.

"It feels like an old lady just punched you in the stomach," Alabama senior Charlie Peprah said. "It hurts and it's embarrassing.

Peprah and his fellow seniors will have to live with the fact that they were not able to beat Auburn in four tries.

"To go 0-and-4 doesn't happen very often. I'm ashamed to say I was playing in them," quarterback Brodie Croyle said.

For Alabama seniors and underclassmen alike, Saturday's 28-7 loss left them with a bitter aftertaste that followed what had been a sweet 9-0 start.

"Two weeks ago we were 9-0 and we felt like we were knocking on the door. Right now you feel like you're trying to find the right address," Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said.

Whether there is permanent damage to the spirit of the 2005 squad remains to be seen. Shula said to expect changes in bowl preparation. Last year the Tide treated the bowl game as an opportunity to get young guys more practice time. They had intense two-a-day practices early before entering a more conventional game prep mode as the game approached. Bama wanted to win the Music City Bowl, but there was a longer term focus in place, too.

"Last year I might have said (there was a long-term focus)," Shula said, "not that we weren't trying to win the bowl game. This year our focus is going to be on winning the bowl game. The future will start the day after the bowl game. We're happy to go to a bowl game and we want to do better than we did last year. We're going to be really fired up to go get 10 wins."

Shula was expectedly disappointed with Bama's slow start on Saturday.

"Saying it was a difficult day is probably an understatement. The worst thing about the first half is we didn't play with a lot of poise," he said. "There's not much to say (about the pass protection). You saw it. They've got good guys and we were poor… We've got to make sure we understand we've got to regroup and we've got to get better, as bad as we feel right now."

Alabama's senior class will go out with no wins in four tries against Auburn. That will be a footnote to a class that probably faced as many obstacles as any other group of players in college football, personal tragedies aside.

" I think nine wins defines this senior class," Shula said. "The thing I said to just our seniors is that there are a lot of things you have done for this program that you ought to be very proud of. I might sound biased, but I don't think there's another group in the country that can do what they did."

Ten wins is a round figure that would define the class even better. The outcome of last year's bowl game was largely insignificant in a grand scheme. This year's game, whether it's in Dallas, or Atlanta or Orlando, will be important for Alabama's seniors' legacy as well as for Alabama's future.

"It's going to be extra important for us to come in and practice for whoever we're going to play and expect to win," Kenneth Darby said. "It's not a good feeling losing two games you felt like you could have won but you've got to suck it up and get ready for the next game."

At the end, freshman Jimmy Johns and sophomore Demarcus Waldrop were on the onside kick team, mixing it up with the Auburn players as they two squads untangled and unpiled after Auburn recovered the Tide desperation attempt to get another offensive play.

They represented the Tide's future, as did John Parker Wilson in leading a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, marked by a jump ball pass which DJ Hall battled to come down with at the 1-yard line before Wilson sneaked it in. The game is important for them, too.

"Personally, I hate it worse for the seniors because of what they've been through. We didn't finish for them as a team and that feels bad," Hall said. "It's over. We can't worry about it. Nothing's going to change, but guys are going to have a different attitude when they step on the field, I guarantee you that.


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