'BAMA Newsletter 12

Inside the 'BAMA Newsletter: Number 12 November 23, 2005

- Editorial: It's Tough to Learn from Errors
- Tide Has Worst Game Of Year
- Depth Chart
- Recruiting Update
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF version only)

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It's Tough To Learn From Errors
Was it bad? You betcha. Awful. Horrible. The worst in memory. It is easy to find the culprits in Alabama's thumping at the hands of Auburn. The offensive line was horrible. Brodie didn't get rid of the ball. The play-calling was pathetic. Alabama shouldn't have had light practices leading up to the game. And on and on and on.

The litany of complaints has been never-ending since about halfway through the first quarter of Saturday's game, when Auburn went up 21-0 en route to a 28-18 win over Alabama. All of the starting line should have been yanked and the second team put in. And who might the second team center be? How about the second team right tackle? Oh, we don't have second teamers there?

It's time to fire some coaches. Start with Offensive Coordinator Dave Rader and make sure he takes Offensive Line Coach Bob Connelly with him. Yeah, yeah, I know. We said the same thing about Joe Kines a few years ago, and maybe we were wrong then, but we're not wrong about Rader and Connelly.

Time for a deep breath.

There is no way to put a good spin on what happened to Alabama's football team at Auburn. It's pretty tough to explain, too. But Auburn has a good team. Many thought it would be Auburn's very good offense against Alabama's very good defense. The problem was that Auburn's defense was much better than Alabama's offense. The Auburn pass rush, usually only four men, ripped Bama's offensive line and turned in 11 quarterback sacks. That is surely some kind of record.

Unlike the coaches and players, fans don't have to watch the videotape of the game. Coaches and players will have to study it, watching over and over, the worst kind of learning–learning from mistakes. And there is reason to believe that the coaches and players who have improved, who have over-achieved this year, will learn from the loss.

They won't feel better, but they will be better.

This is a team that has gone from a nine-loss season in 2003 to a nine-win season in 2005. And it could become just the 28th Alabama team to win 10 games in a season if the Tide can win its bowl game.

No one is happy with a loss to Auburn, but prior to the start of the season almost everyone would have been happy with a nine-win season including a win over Tennessee. And Alabama should be in a nice bowl game. That won't be finalized until a few more games are played, but it looks like it will be Bama against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas or the Tide against a Big Ten team in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. Again, almost everyone would have taken that prior to the start of the season.

A year ago one could point to a handful of plays in a handful of games keeping Alabama from perhaps a nine-win season. That team wasn't able to get over the hurdles. This year a handful of plays in a handful of games could have had Bama back at that 6-5 level that was the end of last season. But this team was able to get over the hurdles and win some close games. The losses came at the hands of teams that have had a tremendous recruiting advantage in recent years and have reached Top Ten status.

Alabama will get there. No one can say for sure when that will be, but the Tide is on the right track.
–Kirk McNair

Alabama Has Worst Outing Of Year At Auburn
An Alabama football team that over-achieved all year was unable to achieve Saturday as the Crimson Tide lost its second consecutive game and probably played its way into a lower tier bowl game. While a 9-2 regular season record is better than almost anyone predicted going into the season, it was disappointing that Bama was not very competitive in its final game. In fact, it was without doubt Alabama's poorest performance of the season.

Conventional wisdom was that Alabama needed to get off to a fast start against Auburn, or at least not let Auburn get off to a fast start. As it turned out, people were still getting into their seats while the Tigers took a three-touchdown lead en route to a 28-18 win over Bama in Auburn Saturday.

Alabama's performance was due in great part to Auburn being a very fine football team. Credit has to be given to a team that could lose so many fine players from last year and come back with such a powerful squad.

Alabama, which was ranked as high as third in the nation late in the season, lost its final two games and fell to 6-2 in Southeastern Conference play. Pre-game speculation was that an Alabama win would put Bama in either the Orange Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl as a BCS entry. Now the thought is that Alabama might be in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech or perhaps get into the Outback Bowl in Tampa against a Big Ten team.

Alabama could not have performed more poorly in the early going and the result was too big a hole to dig out of. Auburn had only one play on its side of the field in the first quarter and Alabama couldn't get out of the shadow of its goalline.

All three areas contributed to Alabama falling out of contention at the midway point of the first quarter.

On special teams, the kickoff return didn't make it back to the 20. On offense, Brodie Croyle was sacked twice in the first three plays. Back to special teams, the Tide got a delay of game penalty while trying to kick from its own end zone and Auburn started at the Tide 40. And on defense, Bama helped Auburn's short drive along with a personal foul penalty. The Tigers completed the 40yard drive in only six plays, the last a seven-yard pass from Brandon Cox to Ben Obomanu.

And it didn't get better. Trailing 7-0, Auburn kicked off into the end zone, but Alabama was called for a face mask penalty and started at its own eight-yard line. A 22-yard punt by Jeremy Schatz set the Tigers up at the Alabama 31 and led to Auburn's second touchdown. Kenny Irons got it on a three-yard run.

Although Alabama continued to do nothing on offense, the defense gets most of the blame for Auburn going up 21-0 as the Tide was completely fooled on an Obomanu end-around that went for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama showed a glimmer of life after Charlie Peprah caused and recovered a fumble, giving Alabama the ball at its own 37. Kenneth Darby had a 19-yard run and Croyle connected with tight end Travis McCall on a 19-yard gain (MCCall's first Bama reception) as the Tide drove to a first down inside the Auburn 10. Darby ran it to second and goal at the one and two plays later Tim Castille got it in for an Alabama touchdown. Castille has a team-leading seven touchdowns, but it was his first since the Florida game.

The Tide offense went back into hibernation for the rest of the quarter, and Auburn made a couple of big third down plays to drive to a final first half touchdown and a 28-7 lead. All year Auburn has been successful with Cox starting right, then rolling back to the left and throwing to the tight end. It worked easily against Alabama as Cox hit an unguarded Cole Bennett on the five-yard touchdown play.

Surprisingly, that was it for Auburn. Alabama's defense shut out the Tigers in the second half. And the kicking game gave Alabama some second half opportunities. But the Tide offense was never able to get much going, primarily because the offensive line could not protect Croyle.

Alabama came out with some fire in the second half. The defense held, Brandon Brooks (part of double deep) had a 33-yard punt return to the Auburn 34. Kenneth Darby got nine, then 13 to a first down at the Auburn 17, but then the offense stalled, ending with Croyle being sacked. That forced a long field goal try, and Jamie Christensen was good on the 43-yard attempt to close the score to 28-10.

Auburn fumbled the ensuing kickoff and ended up at its three yard-line. The Tigers avoided a safety, then got a good punt out and eventually got field position changed. Another opportunity was presented when Auburn fumbled a punt at about the 30, but the Tide couldn't fall on it.

Alabama had a late chance to get a score, but a drive inside the Auburn 15 ended with another sack of Croyle, the 11th of the game.

The reins were turned over to freshman quarterback John Parker Wilson for the last two minutes, and Wilson delivered. He connected with D.J. Hall on a Hail Mary for 37 yards to the Auburn one, then took it in himself for the touchdown. It was Wilson's first Alabama TD. A pass to Hall was good for a two-point conversion and the final points of the game.

That brief and successful appearance by Wilson could pay dividends when Alabama begins spring practice February 24. (And just for the record, the A-Day Game this year is scheduled for April 1.)

TIDE NOTES: Alabama and Auburn played for the 70th time Saturday. Alabama's lead in the series fell to 38-31-1. Auburn's win over Alabama in Auburn Saturday was the Tigers fourth in a row over Alabama. Tide Coach Mike Shula is now 0-3 against the Tigers. Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville is 5-6 against Alabama, but has a 5-2 mark against the Tide at Auburn.

Alabama was 2-1 against Auburn in Mike Shula's three years as an Alabama quarterback.

The game was nationally telecast by CBS, the seventh time this year Bama has been on the national network which is the Southeastern Conference's primary television partner. Those appearances include six of the past seven games. It was Auburn's first appearance on CBS this year.

For the ninth time in 11 games, Alabama lost the opening coin toss. (That does not include losing the toss in overtime against LSU.)

Alabama had started the previous 10 games with a completed pass. Against Auburn a pass play was called, but Brodie Croyle was sacked. He would be sacked 11 times on the day. His first pass attempt was incomplete, ending a streak of 23 straight games in which Alabama's first pass attempt was a completion.

Auburn scored 21 points in the first quarter to equal the most points Alabama had allowed in a single-game this season. Southern Miss also scored 21 points in a 30-21 loss at Alabama on September 10. Southern Miss, Arkansas and Auburn are the only three teams to hold a first-half lead against Alabama this season.

If Alabama is going to become the 29th Alabama football team to have a 10-win season, the Crimson Tide will have to do it in a bowl game. It may be a couple of weeks before Alabama's bowl destination is finalized, but it is likely talk has begun. The most popular prediction is that Bama will go to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, but some believe the Outback Bowl in Tampa is a possibility.

The loss was Bama's first on the road this year. The Crimson Tide had wins at South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State.

In a battle of the two leading rushers in the SEC, Auburn's Kenny Irons had 28 carries for 103 yards, an average of 3.7 yards per rush. Irons is the only player to rush for 100 yards against Alabama this year. Bama's Kenneth Darby had 18 runs for 89 yards, an average of 4.9 yards per rush. Darby also had four pass receptions for 11 yards. Darby has 210 rushing attempts for 1,161 yards and three TDs. With 1,161 yards this season, Darby ranks seventh on the UA single-season rushing list. In his 33-game career, Darby has 463 rushing attempts for 2,408 yards and 11 TDs. Darby is eighth on the Crimson Tide's career rushing charts.

Alabama has a team had only 33 yards rushing because Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle was sacked 11 times for a net of minus 78 yards rushing.

D.J. Hall was Bama's leading receiver with four catches for 57 yards. He got his first reception on Bama's next-to-last possession of the game.

Auburn's Brandon Cox completed his first eight passes of the game and ended up completing 14 of 21 for 118 yards. Croyle completed 13 of 25 for 107 yards and John Parker Wilson, who quarterbacked the final series, hit three of four for 48 yards.

Freddie Roach was Bama's leading tackler with eight primary stops and one assist and two tackles for minus three yards in losses. Roman Harper had four primary and four assist and two tackles for two yards in losses, and DeMeco Ryans had six primary stops and one tackle for a one-yard loss.

The only turnover in the game was Bama's Charlie Peprah causing and recovering a fumble.

Alabama has been penalized relatively few times this year, but Bama was its own worst enemy on a number of occasions as the Crimson Tide was penalized 12 times for 65 yards. Auburn was flagged only twice for only 16 yards.

Croyle made his 27th career start for Alabama. Croyle is 16-11 in those 27 starts. Croyle became Alabama's all-time leader with his 460th career completion in the second quarter. Andrew Zow (1998-2001) held the previous record with 459 career completions. Croyle broke the record with his four-yard completion to Nick Walker with just over 11 minutes left in the first half. For the season, Croyle has completed 183 of 308 passes for 2,264 yards, with four interceptions and 13 TDs. In his last three games, Croyle has completed only 46 of 87 passes for 410 yards, with two interceptions and one TD. In his 37-game career, Croyle has completed 469 of 837 passes for 6,107 yards, with 22 interceptions and 40 TDs. Croyle is Alabama's all-time leader in completions, passing yards and TDs. He needs 16 pass attempts to break the all-time record of 852 attempts held by Zow.

Original plans called for Alabama to practice four times this week (Sunday-Wednesday) before taking a break for the Thanksgiving holidays. But on Monday, Coach Mike Shula announced that the Monday-Wednesday practices had been cancelled. The team will resume work next week.
–Kirk McNair

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Auburn
Alabama was able to dress 70 men for the final game of the season in Auburn, but only 56 Crimson Tide players saw action in the loss. Because it was a Southeastern Conference game, there were squad limits in effect. Bama as the visiting team could dress 70, while the home team could dress 95, of which 80 were 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 to start the game. Throughout the game the personnel groupings changed on both offense and defense. Alabama used 21 on offense, 21 on defense, and 14 just on special teams. Several offensive players are listed with a special teams play because Bama went for (and made) a two-point conversion after the Tide's second touchdown. 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 (57-1), Zeke Knight (17-15), Matt Miller (1-18)
Left Tackle–Chris Capps (63-3), Cody Davis (3)
Left Guard–Antoine Caldwell (66-3)
Center–Taylor Britt (66-1)
Right Guard–B.J. Stabler (66-1)
Right Tackle–Kyle Tatum (66-3)
Tight End–Nick Walker (42-4), Travis McCall (17-6), Charles Hoke (2)
Quarterback–Brodie Croyle (59), John Parker Wilson (7-1)
Fullback–LéRon McClain (27-12), Tim Castille (31-1)
Halfback–Kenneth Darby (44-1), Glen Coffee (8-6)
Flanker–D.J. Hall (63-1), Matt Caddell (19), Marcus McKnight (2)

DEFENSE Right End–Mark Anderson (48), Keith Saunders (12)
Tackle–Jeremy Clark (30), Justin Britt (19)
Nose Tackle–Rudy Griffin (28), J.P. Adams (10), Dominic Lee (11)
Left End–Wallace Gilberry (49), Chris Harris (5), Bobby Greenwood (10)
Strongside Linebacker–DeMeco Ryans (57-10)
Middle Linebacker–Freddie Roach (59), Matt Collins (2-12)
Weakside Linebacker–Juwan Simpson (59-1), Terrence Jones (4-26)
Right Cornerback–Anthony Madison (47-7), Simeon Castille (39-10)
Left Cornerback–Ramzee Robinson (61)
Strong Safety–Charlie Peprah (59-8), Jeffrey Dukes (1-16)
Safety–Roman Harper (61-10)

Punter–Jeremy Schatz (10)
Placekicker–Jamie Christensen (6, 1 PAT, 1 FG, 4 KO)
Holder–Matt Miller (19, 1 PAT, 1 FG, 16 other special teams, 1 split end)
Snapper–Drew Lane (12, 1 PAT, 1 FG, 10 P)
Coverage and Returns–Brandon Brooks (12), Marcel Stamps (1), Jimmy Johns (4), Marcus Carter (9), Juke King (10), Chris Keys (16), Demarcus Waldrop (25), Kyle Bennett (5), Rashad Johnson (20), Theo Townsend (10), Justin Moon (2)

Recruiting Update: Alabama Stays In Contention For Top Prospects
Altough history says that the Alabama-Auburn game has little effect on prospects considering both schools (and, as usual, there are actually few prospects who are deciding between Alabama and Auburn), it ordinarily doesn't hurt to win that annual game. And a few prospects may have been swayed by Auburn's convincing victory.

Auburn did have a large number of prospects on hand for the game, and immediately following an emotional win, many of those prospects could be expected to be influenced towards the jubilant side, at least temporarily.

Jemarcus Ricks, a 6-4, 285-pound offensive lineman from Colbert County High School in Leighton, said that Auburn has now pulled even with Alabama for his signature. Alabama has been the constant leader. Ricks said he would now take an official visit to Auburn in January before making a final decision. He is scheduled to make his official visit to Bama in December.

Earl Alexander, the 6-4, 203-pound quarterback from Central High School in Phenix City, has had three teams in a virtual tie for his signature throughout the recruiting process. Now he says that Auburn holds a very slight lead over Alabama (he has always been a Bama fan), with Georgia likely to get an official visit, but also likely on the outside looking in. Alexander is a four-star prospect by Scout.com.

Of course, Alabama's recruiters may be able to make some headway with Alexander as soon as they can show him some statistics. Following the game, Alexander said, "Auburn throws a lot more than Alabama. That is a positive for me. If I end up playing receiver that is still good because they throw the ball a lot. Alabama basically just runs the ball and throws short passes." Well, actually Alabama throws the ball more, completes more, and has fewer interceptions.

Alexander also said that playing time was important and that he wanted to get on the field as soon as possible. Alabama coaches will probably point out that Alabama has a senior quarterback and Auburn a sophomore quarterback.

Scout.com's recruiting rankings were updated this week. Homewood's David Ross, a 6-4, 285-pound offensive lineman who has committed to Bama, was elevated to a four-star prospect. Chattanooga Baylor's Jacques McClendon, a soft verbal commit to Tennessee who has visited Alabama, has been updated to a five-star recruit. He is a 6-3, 275-pound offensive lineman. McClendon made an unofficial visit to the Alabama-Auburn game.

Several of the Tide's prospects received a jump in their Scout.com rankings. Among those whose impressive senior seasons have elevated them are tight end Michael Goggans (6-3, 246 of Russell High in Alexander City), who has announced for Tennessee, but is looking at Bama; quarterback Chris Smelley (6-2, 203) of American Christian in Tuscaloosa, who is expected to get a Tide offer; and wide receiver Jarred Fayson, 6-0, 195 of Hillsborough High in Tampa, Florida. Goggans was on an unofficial visit to Auburn Saturday.

Marcus Tillman (6-4, 250), a defensive end LSU verbal commit, is receiving attention from the Tide staff. Tillman was in Tuscaloosa for the LSU game, and he will give the Alabama a hard look before making his final decision.

Army All-America Brandon Spikes (6-4, 230) of Shelby, North Carolina, left Tuscaloosa after the LSU game with Alabama as a clear leader for his signature. The emotion from his visit has now cooled somewhat in recent Scout interviews. He will take an official visit to Florida this weekend. He is set to announce his decision in January at the U.S. Army All-American game.

Another top Alabama linebacker prospect visiting the Gators this weekend will be A.J. Jones (6-2, 190) of Tampa Middleton.

Alabama's recruiting list still includes a number of the nation's top players. Andre Smith (6-4, 320, Birmingham Huffman), the second ranked overall prospect and the top-rated offensive line prospect by Scout.com, had been expected to make an unofficial visit for the Alabama-Auburn game.

Wide receiver Tim Hawthorne (6-2, 205) of Homewood had been expected to visit unofficially at Auburn last weekend, as had defensive end Deantwan Whitehead (6-6, 245) of Birmingham West End.

Tim Tebow (6-3, 225), the highly-regarded quarterback prospect from Nease High School in St. Augustine, Florida, will be at this week's Florida-Florida State game. Most recruiting experts now think Alabama has a slight lead over Florida for Tebow, but a number of teams are still hotly pursuing the quarterback.
–Andrew Bone

Coach Mike Shula Says

After nine wins, Alabama's two-game losing skid to end the regular season against its toughest to opponents was difficult to swallow, but Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula tried to keep the season in perspective and strike the right balance between the first nine games and the last two.

"When you lose, what do you say? Are you going forward when you lose? But as far as where we're going, our football team will get better from here," Shula said. "We're not going to get worse. Part of that has to do with some dang good defensive lines we've played – LSU, Auburn and I'd throw Tennessee in that."

"You've just got to keep working on the individual drills and fundamentals and working on schemes and how we can best do all that stuff right," he said. "We didn't play well against a good team that has the ability to rush the passer and get pressure. That doesn't mean like it's going to be like that all the time. We've just got to keep working hard to get better as individuals with the offensive line, and as coaches with our schemes and all those things."

Not to be overlooked, the past three seasons under Shula have seen steady improvement in the won-lost record. Alabama was 4-9 in 2003, 6-6 in 2004 and with a game to play in the 2005 season, 9-2.

"It makes you feel good when you win nine games, for sure, especially with losing some of our key players on offense and how we managed to win games toward the latter half of the season," Shula said. "If you break it down by quarters, we played 44 quarters this year and one overtime. Other than where we got beat in the overtime and the poor first quarter yesterday – you'll take the way we played in all the other quarters. But it's disappointing to feel like we're feeling now, after having such a good start. We've got to regenerate. Our goal is to go win 10 games now. That's something that a lot of teams would love to do, but only a few teams this year are going to have that opportunity. We want to be one of those teams."

Shula said quarterback Brodie Croyle was, "hit more and he was more sore after games," at the end of the year. "He's just so gritty and tough. A couple of times he got hurt (Saturday) kind of jarred him for sure. If he was not ready to play we weren't going to play him. Talking with the trainers and with him, he was fine. At the end there, we just decided to give John Parker a chance to see what he could do."

Alabama's offensive line did not play well, but Shula credited Auburn's defensive players for having something to do with that.

"They have good speed on defense and got us into some long-yardage situations where we weren't sharp or good off the snap count against good speed," he said. "It's hard to simulate all that during the course of practice – you can the crowd noise, but it's hard with the full speed stuff with our scout team. Defensively, we just missed on a couple of gaps on a couple of plays and they can make you look bad when you do that."

With the sting of Alabama's 28-18 loss to Auburn, the Crimson Tide has some six weeks before a chance at redemption and the opportunity to end its season on a high note returns. Alabama broke from practice early for Thanksgiving break, although they stayed around for team workouts. Shula talked about the plan for the coming weeks during his regular teleconference on Sunday.

"We're still finalizing this week," Shula said. "It being Thanksgiving week, we're going to try to give these kids a well-deserved rest to get home and spend time with their families. When we get back next week, the coaches will be on the road, but we'll probably hit the weights and conditioning part and then maybe mix in some things outside – throwing and catching. Exams are coming up. We'll have to make sure we really look at our schedule there to make sure our kids really do well on their exams and finish strong in the classroom."

Shula said the staff will approach this year's bowl game, whether it's the Cotton Bowl in Dallas or the Outback Bowl in Tampa, with a different outlook.

"We for sure want to address the problems from yesterday. Our No. 1 goal is to go and win the game. Having 10 wins sounds pretty good for the season," he said. "Last year, we did a lot of things for the younger guys the first part of the first week of practice and then we got into Minnesota.

"I think, from day 1, we're going to get into our opponent and then, if we need to keep the younger guys out there a little bit later – kind of like we do on Sunday nights – that will be our approach. Once you get to the bowl site – everything that I've heard and I found it true last year – you want to have all your stuff done, because there are a lot of things that happen during the course of that week that really can kind of, if you don't have everything lined up, can make it tough to do that."

Alabama's slow start on both sides of the ball last Saturday gave Auburn an insurmountable first quarter lead. Shula had, of course, anticipated it differently.

"We knew we were going to have start fast, and we'd done that quite a few times this year," Shula said. "We did the exact opposite. They were the ones that started fast and we played catch-up the rest of the game and weren't good enough to catch up."

Alabama went without pads in practice last Tuesday and Wednesday, which are usually heavy contact days. It was noted, however, that the linemen donned pads for certain drills during the week.

"We talked about that after, too. Our guys were fresh – I think our defense definitely benefited from it. Our offensive line actually went out in pads for the first part of practice and that made me feel a little bit better," Shula said. "But who knows? Obviously, we didn't play very well, so that's something we'll look at for next year. A lot of teams take pads off six weeks into the season. That's something I haven't done as much as some teams."

With Croyle getting sacked 11 times in the game and Kenneth Darby having the only offensive movement for Alabama, Shula was asked about not running the ball more.

"We've had good mix all year," Shula said. "There were a couple of runs that we ran early in the game that we weren't successful in and got us in long-yardage situations. The things that hurt us were negative yards. We had some penalties – we had the sack on the first play of the game. But we also had some other things that got us into long-yardage situations. You look at the stats and KD's running for four yards, but if it's second-and-15 and he gets four yards, it's still third-and-10. There was one series in the third quarter where we were going to run the ball and try to get it down with three runs and we didn't come close to making a first down."

With many assistants hitting the road for recruiting beginning this week until a quiet period on Dec. 18 and a dead period on contact Dec. 19-Jan. 1, practice and game planning for the bowl opponent will be handled by staff not on the road.

"We're going to rely on the guys that aren't going to be on the road, and usually that's our coordinators and our graduate assistants, to once we find out where we're going and who we're playing, to get all that homework done on those guys and formulate a plan," Shula said. "Obviously, I'll be available and the coaches on the road will stay in tune. As soon as we get off the road, we'll have a plan in place."

What would a 10-win season mean for the third-year head coach? "For our program it would be good, for our seniors it would be great. It's disappointing now, for sure, and that's the other reason. We want to go out on a strong note and win the bowl game, as opposed to going out after nine wins and not finishing with a win. Those are things that are important to us," Shula said.
--Mitch Dobbs

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