"There's a lot of football left," Alabama Coach Mike Shula said in his regular Tuesday meeting with sportswriters. Bama is coming off a 24-23 double overtime loss to Arkansas in Fayetteville and now must prepare for the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Saturday.
Shula said, "I think we found out some things that were positive about our football team even though we didn't win the game. We talked about moving on, and we've done that from after Sunday's practice. You answer questions from last week's game, and you want to move on, but there's part of you that wants to say ‘Remember that feeling from last week,' and use it as motivation."
Shula said, "I thought we had a really good practice on Sunday. Our guys know what we're getting into this week. Our kids, it's a new football team it's early in the season, they show you all signs of being resilient. Part of being resilient is responding well after setbacks. I would expect our team to do that."
Alabama didn't get off to a good start against Arkansas, but came back and played well. "We talk about starting fast every week," Shula said. "It's important on the road. But the game doesn't end at the end of the first quarter. If we don't start fast, we have to talk to them about being relentless."
There was a lot of talk about Alabama's offense and how it would play against the talented Gators. Shula said, "We try to attack every week–strongside, weakside, inside, outside. We try to be balanced." >p> The Tide coach was asked if there is a danger in a running team trying to play its game against a team like Florida that leads the league in rushing defense. Shula said there is a danger. But, he said, "We've got to do things that are in our personality. Even though we haven't been running as well, that's a part of our personality. We've always said each and every week we try to be balanced. We also have to balance that with doing what we think is best to move the football."
Shula was guarded in questions about changes in personnel, notably replacing senior halfback Kenneth Darby with sophomore Jimmy Johns. Darby has been struggling. But Shula said Darby would continue as the starter and that others would be utilized. "In offensive football, you have to have all 11 guys do what they are supposed to do on the play," he said. "You never know which play is going to be the one that gives you an opportunity to win. We understand that you can't hit on every play."
The Tide coach said the plan is parly predicated on what is working as the game progresses. He said, "If you're running the ball and you're running it well then it wouldn't be smart to stop running it. If you're throwing it and you're throwing it well you don't want to stop throwing it. But we're not going to throw it 60 times a game." Shula said, "We're going to have to be real sharp in our preparation. They‚ are obviously a much improved football team, you can see, from the time we played them last year. We've got our hands full. It's going to be a great atmosphere, a loud atmosphere. We've got to find a way to put our best foot forward, and it's exciting for our football team, exciting for college football.
"We have the toughest challenge of the year this week, back-to-back games on the road in the Southeastern Conference."
He said experience helps in handling crowd noise. "You have to practice that way with crowd noise again and bring up points on things that we can do better, on the huddle on the line of scrimmage or on the sideline. Those are all things hopefully you get better at, and based on our experience, you get better at after the first game."
He said, "Our guys have to be focused this week more than ever. We as coaches have to let them go out and do what they do best."
Shula was asked if quarterback John Parker Wilson had "grown up" at Arkansas. He said, "I think he took some steps in the right direction. What was good to see is we had some negative plays, and didn't get off to a good start in the first and third quarter, but we responded. That's critical for that position and I thought he did that very well. He's got to play better this week than he did last week for us to have a chance–as do all of our players."
Shula had only praise for undefeated Florida. He said, "Florida is very talented and well coached. Offensively they are putting up big numbers in all categories. They've been running it well, they've been throwing it well.
"Defensively, they are real good against the run. Their defensive backs do a real good job of the bump and run and getting up in your face so to speak. They disguise coverages and they disguise blitzes. They give you a lot of looks in all three of their phases."
Alabama recruited back-up quarterback Tim Tebow very hard last year. Tebow has become a big part of the Florida offense as back-up quarterback for the Gators. He has been something of a running specialist. Shula said, "It's an added dimension. He does a nice job with it. We saw him on the last tape 20 yards downfield stiff-arming a defensive back who was trying to make a tackle. But they are not one dimensional when he's in the game. And they do run (starting quarterback) Chris Leak as well. They spread you out and they are very dangerous."
As for Florida's team speed, Shula said, "We thought they had good speed last year. They've added to that speed. You combine that with the fact that they are more comfortable in their schemes. Any time you have that you are going to have guys that are faster on the field."
In one of the most surprising scores of 2005, Alabama defeated Florida 31-3. Shula was asked how Bama held the Gators to only three points last year. He said, "Our defense played well and they made a couple of mistakes. We were fortunate to have a good day. They had a down day. They are as hot a football team as there is in the country right now, and that's scary."
Shula said that linebacker Terrence Jones, who missed the Arkansas game with a shoulder injury, is back at practice. He said starting guard B.J. Stabler is having some problems with his knee and that back-up Marlon Davis might see more playing time. Two players who had surgery were updated. Halfback Terry Grant had shoulder surgery and will be out the rest of the year, returning next spring. Wide receiver Aaron McDaniel injured a knee Sunday and had surgery. His prognosis is not yet known.