Moving On

When Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula talked with sportswriters Sunday afternoon following the Crimson Tide's double overtime loss to Arkansas, the subjects included the process of recovery for the coach and the team.

Alabama fell to Arkansas in Fayetteville Saturday afternoon, 24-23. The loss dropped Bama to 3-1 on the season and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference games. This week the Crimson Tide travels to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by CBS.

Shula said, "It was a tough loss. Our guys were heart-broken. They have to learn from it and bounce back. You have to take the bad with the good. We knew coming into this season we had two tough games back-to-back on the road. We have to get through that one. We have to be positive this week. We can't let the (Arkansas) game affect preparation for Florida."

Florida is now 4-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play and ranked fifth in the nation. Last year Alabama rolled to a 31-3 romp of the Gators in Tuscaloosa. A Florida sportswriter was curious as to whether this was a "Perfect Storm" kind of game for Bama.

Shula said, "We were fortunate to get off to a good start. Well, actually, the very start wasn't that good. We fumbled the first punt. But our defense got it back and then we got it started with the first play offensively. We played well, kept the crowd in it, and had good fortune." That first play was Tyrone Prothro taking a pass from Brodie Croyle and turning it into an 87-yard touchdown. Later in the game Prothro went down with a broken leg, an injury which continues to plague him.

Until Saturday's game against Arkansas, Bama had not scored 20 points in an SEC game since the Florida game. Shula was asked if Prothro was that important.

The Tide coach said, "It affected us when we lost him, and then later in the year before the LSU game we lost our center (J.B. Closner) who was out only experienced offensive lineman. We've come back this year and we're moving the ball. We're just not getting the points in plus territory. We had some of that in the game Saturday. We just need to finish our drives off."

A Florida writer wondered if that injury had caused Shula to change his philosophy about taking starters out of the game in blowout wins. Shula didn't take the bait. "It's different in every game," he said.

This week Florida partisans will be thinking about last year's game. It will be Shula's job to get his players' minds off the Arkansas game and onto preparation for Florida.

"We have to make sure that we get the corrections made," Shula said. "We have to be positive. You can't hang your head and feel sorry for yourself. You don't have time. If you do that, you're not being fair to yourself or your teammates. You have to focus on getting ready to go on the road and play Florida.

"We'll watch the tape and see that everyone can play better. We'll see that we played well at times, but that sometimes we didn't play as well as we have to to win on the road."

As for himself, Shula said, "You have to recover quickly. I've been through it. There's nothing you can do about it (the loss). You have to move on. As the head coach, you are in a leadership position for the players. All eyes are on you. You have to lead your team in preparation for the next game."

Shula saw good things in the play of sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson. Wilson completed 16 of 20 passes for 243 yards for three touchdowns and was not intercepted. However, he was sacked five times, including once when he fumbled, a play the Razorbacks turned into a 39-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

Shula said, "I think he played with poise, even after some negative plays. He had some sacks and the fumble, unfortunately. He took a sack when he could have thrown it away. But he kept his cool and responded. He was real positive on the sidelines. He has leadership abilities. And he made plays, too. He is down because we lost, but I think when he sees the tape he's going to see some positive things."

Shula said the fumble occurred on a play when Arkansas had a successful blitz. He said Wilson "tried to make a play and the ball just came out. He made some plays against the blitz, but sometimes when you can't make a play you just have to go down. Afterwards I told him it was going to be tough, but he had to respond. And he did."

It was suggested that Alabama is not balanced offensively, that the passing game is going well while the running game is not.

Shula said, "We had a couple of miscommunications. You can run to open up the pass or pass to open up the run. If you're looking at the statistics, you see we had only 20 passes. But John Parker had a couple of quarterback sneaks and 11 other rushes, which were either scrambles or, unfortunately, sacks."

Kenneth Darby, who came into this season poised for an all-star senior season and, perhaps, Alabama record-breaking year, has not had a big game in four outings. Against Arkansas he had 26 rushes for onjly 64 yards, a 2.5 yards-per-carry average. Shula was asked if Darby might lose some rushing opportunities to sophomore Jimmy Johns, who had eight carries for 24 yards.

Shula said, "We've always kind of gone with the guy with the hot hand. Our lack of productivity wasn't just the fault of number 34 (Darby). At times we had some miscommunication in the offensive line. A coach has to look at all of it. If the problem is one guy…if others are involved in the problem, you have to make decisions."

Last week linebacker Terrence Jones suffered a shoulder injury. He did not play against Arkansas. Shula said, "We were going to give him every opportunity. He got treatment right up through Friday night. We decided it wasn't going to be to his advantage or to our advantage to play him. Hopefully he'll be ready Tuesday. We missed him. He's the one guy who has been a starter in every game for us at linebacker. We played Demarcus (Waldrop) for him. Demarcus and Juwan (Simpson) had to play a lot more because we didn't have Terrence."

A Florida writer wondered what it meant to Shula to take the Alabama head coaching job and already have Joe Kines on staff as defensive coordinator.

Shula said, "I first realized he was here just before I took the job. It made me feel at ease. I remembered when he was coaching us (when Shula was an Alabama player) and then when we coached together at Tampa. And he had come from Florida State where they have had success. I was comfortable. I knew I didn't have to worry about that. I knew he was a great defensive coordinator and a great leader of young men."


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