Tide Faces Adversity

Frequently it is said that football can prepare one for life, particularly in having perseverance in the face of odds and obstacles. In his regular Sunday teleconference with sportswriters, Alabama Coach Mike Shula said he and his staff "preach to the players" about how to handle adversity.

In a second quarter Alabama offensive series against Ole Miss Saturday, Shula saw his leading pass receiver, D.J. Hall, reinjure a shoulder while diving for a pass that fell incomplete on second-and-one; saw his back-up halfback/quarterback Jimmy Johns suffer a badly sprained ankle while coming up short of a first down on third-and-one; and then watched quarterback John Parker Wilson overthrow a wide open Nick Walker on fourth-and-one, ending a drive at the Mississippi 26.

Did a thought of "What else can happen?" pass through Shula's mind?

Shula didn't say that wasn't possible, but said, "I was thinking what we preach to our players: When nothing is going the way you want it to go, you just keep playing. You don't let it bother you. As much as you preach it to your players, you have to have the same mindset. If not, you might push the panic button.

"If someone gets hurt, someone else is there waiting for the opportunity. Someone like Will Oakley. I was glad to see him come through when Keith Brown got hurt."

Alabama kept playing Saturday and eventually came out with a 26-23 overtime victory over the Rebels.

Adversity is nothing new to Shula.

"We've been in games like this before, probably more often than we'd want to be," Shula said. "We've got some confidence that when things don't go our way, someone's going to step up. I thought that was the case yesterday."

Shula said he understands why there are questions about Alabama's close wins. "We want to win and we want to play as well as we can each and every week," he said. "We know we can play better. The coaches want the kids to play better, to put their best foot forward. And the kids want to do the same thing."

Shula said he's not sure the problems are from the players "pressing too hard," as has been suggested.

"I'm not sure it's so much that," he said. "We've had penalties. We've got to cut our penalties down. We can't be in first and 20 and expect to score points very often. I think we're more on the same page. We have to finish drives off. We had a fourth down pass open and overthrew it. Was that pressing or was that not getting set? Whatever it is, we have to be more consistent and when those plays come up we need to make them."

Shula said, "I thought it was good to get our first overtime win. We fought hard. Guys played hard. Defensively, we played better in the second half. Unfortunately, we gave up one big play. We came closer to doing some things offensively. We didn't quite come up with it (in regulation), but fortunately we were able to finish some things off in the overtime and get the win."

The injury situation was a major topic of conversation Sunday, but Shula said it might be a couple of days before the status of three regulars was known. Those injured include the two starting wide receivers.

Shula said, "D.J. Hall hurt his shoulder, but he came back. I think he's going to be fine.

"Keith Brown has a mild knee strain. He'll be day-to-day.

"Jimmy Johns sprained his left ankle. He's about like Keith, day-to-day.

"We might have to rest those guys. The early prognosis is they'll be ready to play in this week's game, but that could change. It was better news than what we thought after the game."

Shula also gave an update of running back Roy Upchurch and said there is a possibility the redshirt freshman won't be able to come back this season. "The ankle is still bothering him," Shula said. "He's being reevaluated today and Monday. We'll see." Upchurch was held out all last year after undergoing foot surgery.

With the wide receivers injured, Will Oakley got extra playing time Saturday and he made the most of it, including a key third down pass reception on Bama's winning touchdown drive in overtime. Oakley started the game as Bama opened with three wide receivers.

Shula said that Oakley, a sophomore who missed basically all of the past two seasons with hamstring injuries, "is ready to step in. I think yesterday was just a glimpse of what he can do. We've seen it from him all year, since the start of training camp. We just haven't been able to get him out there much because Keith and D.J. have been having such a good year."

Shula knows a challenge awaits Alabama. The Crimson Tide will take on Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday. Bama, 5-2 overall and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference games, will take on the Vols at 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 eastern time) with television coverage by CBS. Tennessee, which had an open date Saturday, is 5-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC games.

Shula said, "It's typical Tennessee. Big on both lines of the line of scrimmage. They have a big, athletic defensive line; good skill guys; a quarterback who has been improving. He's the one who makes them more dangerous than the last couple of years. They've gotten some maturity. I'd say they are similar to other good Tennessee teams.

"Hopefully, we're a little better up front (offensively), a little more mature after six or seven games into it. We've really got to concentrate on playing a real athletic front at their home. It's going to be a challenge for us."

Shula was asked about the progress of his own quarterback, sophomore John Parker Wilson, who has passed for over 200 yards in each of Bama's seven games this year. "He's done a good job for a young guy," Shula said. "He's made some big, big plays. Of course, he's missed some, too. But we've moved the ball and he's a big reason we've moved the ball. We haven't punted a lot. He just needs to learn to cut out the negative plays. I think with experience and maturity he's got a chance to be real good."

One Tide player who has been good in the past and who is getting better this year is halfback Kenneth Darby. Shula said, "When he's going good like he's been going the past few weeks it really opens up a lot of things. You can feel the team starting to feed off it."

Darby had 25 carries for 162 yards, most of it after halftime. He had only six carries for 11 yards in the first half. Shula said, "We felt we moved it a little in the first half and K.D. was doing pretty well. They were playing a lot of two-deep (in the secondary), so there wasn't a safety in the box. We saw that and thought we should run the ball and make them honor the run. I thought the offensive line had one of its better games up front in the running game, as well as in pass protection."

Shula said he thought right tackle Kyle Tatum had his best game of this season. He said Chris Capps, who had taken over the right tackle job from Tatum this year, had been injured "a little bit" Saturday. He said that Capps had also played well. "We're going to need both of them," he said.

Shula admitted that he had not liked the idea of substituting in the offensive line, but said Assistant Coach Bob Connelly had done a good job with that and it had worked out.

Shula said Tatum, a a6-7, 311-pound senior "was doing some good things coming off the ball. He's a good run blocker. He's a big guy and when he's coming off he can move guys around."

Prince Hall got the starting nod at middle linebacker Saturday. "We've kind of gone back and forth with him and Matt Collins," Shula said. "We consider them both starters. We're going to be playing both of them. Prince is getting better. Matt is a guy who will play against teams who like to run more."

Shula was asked about the brawl that broke out in Saturday's Miami-Florida International game. He said, "It was a real unfortunate thing for college football and for both those programs." He said he knows both head coaches and said he knows "they are trying to do it right. I don't know what happened to cause that."

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