Alabama is now 3-2 overall and 1-2 in Southeastern Conference games. After back-to-back road game conference losses, the Crimson Tide returns home to Bryant-Denny Stadium for a non-conference game. Bama and Duke will kick off at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday. The only television coverage is Pay Per View.
Alabama ranks low in the SEC in the category of Red Zone Offense, and that's with the statistic generously giving equal credit for field goals as it does touchdowns. Thus far in five games, Alabama has made 23 trips into the Red Zone and scored on 16 of them. But only six of those successes have been touchdowns (four rushing and two passing). Alabama has kicked field goals on 10 of 14 opportunities.
Alabama Coach Mike Shula isn't oblivious to the problem. By the same token, he doesn't have a quick and easy solution. Obviously, if he did he would have used it. As with most problems, the cure is not easy.
"We've got to continue to increase our repetitions down there in practice," Shula said Sunday in his weekly teleconference with sportswriters. "We've got to give some more players more looks. For instance, give John Parker (Wilson) more reps on plays down there. Even if you don't have the perfect play called, he sees more looks in practice, it gives him chance to make the right play in the game."
Shula agreed that Florida changed some coverages in the Red Zone. But, he said, "It was nothing we hadn't seen. We just weren't quite as sharp as we needed to be."
Shula said, "It was another tough loss, especially after the way our kids fought hard and practiced hard all last week. Unfortunately we made some mistakes. Turnovers led to us not having ability to come back and win the game. But there were some other things [we did or failed to do] earlier in the game that didn't let us increase our lead. They are a good team. There was good news and bad news. We have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone with the game on the line."
Along with the Red Zone frustration, it was pointed out that Alabama has a miserable record of not being able to win games when the Tide trails going into the fourth quarter. Shula couldn't give a reason for that. "We just have to finish things," he said. "We're real, real close. One or two things happen. We just can't afford to make mistakes. We're real close on some other plays and we're making some plays. But it's discouraging that we lost. We've got to look at the good things and make sure we don't lose sight of those. But we've got to correct things that are wrong. I don't want to make excuses, but I think that comes with experience."
Much of the Sunday conversation concerned sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson, who hit 21 of 40 passes for 240 yards, but had no touchdowns and suffered three interceptions.
Shula said the Tide had confidence in Wilson, which is one reason Bama had a rare game in which about twice as many pass plays as run plays were called. The coach also pointed out that the Florida defense dictated part of he plan. He said, "We had the same thought process as last year. One of the differences is that last year we hit some big plays and this year they did a good job of taking away those big plays."
Shula said that there is a measure of patience with a young quarterback. But, he said, "You have to get your point across. You have to covet that football. You can't make a play every time you have the ball in your hands. You want to turn the reins loose to let him play, but you don't want him to lose the ball. It gets better with experience."
And Shula emphasized that even though Wilson had "some negative plays" that the coach is "excited" about Wilson's future.
Shula said the three interceptions thrown by Wilson were the results of different problems, correctable problems. "And," the coach reiterated, "he's got to learn to throw it away or run it" when the pass isn't there.
The loss wasn't entirely because of offensive mistakes. Florida had offensive success against Alabama. Shula said, "Their quarterback has good feel for their offense. They involve their quarterback more in the running game. They do a good job with misdirection. They did some nice things in the passing game off misdirection. We did a poor job, but they did a good job. We blitzed them a little more this year which helped us against their running game. It hurt us once on the long quarterback draw when a man missed his gap and they got the long run on their touchdown drive."
Late in the game Antoine Caldwell moved from center to left guard, his 2005 position, replacing Justin Britt. Evan Cardwell took over snapping duties. Shula said, "We've been practicing that for a couple of weeks now, using Evan to snap and it allows Antoine to move to guard in a two-minute situation. Bob (Connelly) likes that and so we did it."
Another notable change in the offensive line in the second half was 2005 right tackle starter Kyle Tatum taking over for Chris Capps at that position. Shula said Capps "turned anankle , but we plan on playing both those guys. I thought Kyle came in and did a good job."
Defensive end Ezekial Knight didn't make the trip because he has had dizziness. Shula said he expected an update this week after Knight underwent tests.
Fullback LéRon McClain was injured in the game. Shula said McClain was having Xrays taken He said, "We've got our fingers crossed. He was getting around okay after the game, but we won't know for sure until we see the Xrays."
Strongside linebacker Terrence Jones returned to action after having missed the previous week with a shoulder injury. Shula said, "You could tell he wasn't 100 per cent, but we needed him and he gave everything he had. He should hould be closer to 100 per cent this week. He's probably sore today."
For the second consecutive week an Alabama player had complaints about the officiating following the game. Shula said, "Kids when emotional are going to say certain things. We don't want it to come out where it sounds like we're blaming things on certain people. Officials are part of the game, so when they make calls you disagree with you have to move on. We don't want to be a team complaining about officials."
As for this week's game against winless Duke, Shula said, "It's a difficult week. You don't want to overlook a Division I team that might not be playing well, but every week is different. We've got to concern ourselves with us and get back on the winning track; get that winning feeling we haven't had in a couple of weeks and get our confidence back."