Shula Knows Hogs

Although much of the talk was about quarterback John Parker Wilson in Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula's regular Tuesday meeting with the media, there was also other conversation rearding this week's Bama game at Arkansas. Shula heard the message in several forms as the Crimson Tide prepared for its first Southeastern Conference road game this week. "

"Arkansas will be physical" was a part of many questions regarding Bama's upcoming game in Fayetteville. And Shula doesn't disagree with that depiction of the Razorbacks.

"Arkansas is going to try to line up and knock you off the ball," Alabama's coach said. "Vanderbilt is tough, but they don't play the same way Arkansas does. The other two teams we played, Hawaii and Louisiana Monroe, are pass-oriented."

Shula said that on defense the Hogs have quick ends and inside players who are moving. The Bama coach pointed out that sometimes a defensive tackle will stunt himself out of position, but that Arkansas' defensive tackles are good enough to get back in the play even if they've stunted the wrong way.

Shula is certainly aware that Arkansas has a true freshman quarterback in Mitch Mustain. "We liked him a lot," Shula said. "We had him high (on the recruiting board). Then he committed to Arkansas and we dropped him down and went in another direction. They there was a time when he was available again and he went back up. But he signed with Arkansas."

Shula was asked, "Was he worth signing his high school coach?" Arkansas hired Mustain's high school coach to be the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator. Shula said, "Coach Rader (Alabama Offensive Coordinator David Rader) said we didn't need to go that far."

Shula said there might be a temptation to try to confuse a freshman quarterback. The problem, he said, is while you're doing that, they'll just give the ball to two big running backs in Darren McFadden and Felix Jones behind that big offensive line.

The Tide coach said that Arkansas also has a big offensive weapon in "their go-to wide receiver, Marcus Monk."

He said, "Our mindset is ‘This is Arkansas. We have to find a way to go on the road and win a ball game.'"

Shula said the intensity in practice should pick up this week. "It's on national TV," he said. "It's on the road. Arkansas is a good team. We have to win if we're going to have a chance at the end of the season to be in the SEC Championship Game. That should be reflected in the way we practice this week."

Alabama is 3-0, but is making its first road trip. "It's good to see that we played better last week," Shula said. "The better we run the ball, the better we are." He said he puts having a balanced offense high on the list of priorities. "After scoring points," he said. "It's a fact that when we're best moving the ball is when we are balanced. It's important every week to have balance. It helps the quarterback even if he's a three-year starter."

Shula said the road game this week presents special problems, particularly for younger players. He noted that older players would be expected to help those younger ones prepare. He said that Arkansas would have crowd noise and the momentum of having won two games with a freshman quarterback. He said the Razorbacks have an aggressive running game, "but they keep you off balance by things like reverses. They will be good in all three phases. We have to have a good week of preparation."

Shula said part of the preparation would be working with crowd noise, which is piped in to the practice area.

Shula said that Bama's defensive backs "have done a nice job" this year.

He also had praise for fullback LeRon McClain and linebacker Terrence Jones, former teammates at Tuscaloosa County High School. He said McClain takes a lot of pride in his blocking. "He's a good lead blocker," Shula said. "He's 250 pounds and can block linebackers and defensive ends. And he can catch the ball well. And he sees defenses well, about like a senior quarterback."

It was suggested that Jones had been a weak link in Bama's defense in his freshman year in 2003. Shula said, "He's gotten better each and every year. He understands the defense and he uses his athleticism. He's really running to the ball well, which will be important."


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