'BAMA Newsletter

Inside this week's 'BAMA: Inside the Crimson Tide weekly newsletter.

- Editorial: Stakes High For Alabama Vs. Vols
- Tide Takes Its Time In Win
- Depth Chart
- Scouting Report
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF version only)
- (PDF Newsletter)

Stakes High For Alabama Vs. Vols
By Kirk McNair

Historically, the Third Saturday in October has had ramifications for the two major players on that date in Southeastern Conference football. Alabama ranks number one and Tennessee number two in the SEC in number of wins, winning percentage, conference championships, bowl games, and bowl victories.

Alabama has won 21 SEC championships and Tennessee has worn the crown 13 times, and it is a rare year, indeed, when either could take the title without a victory over its top competitor.

For most of the 105 years of the series, which has its 90th game Saturday, it has been a most honorable rivalry, both teams giving their all on the field and then going on. In recent years it got a bit nastier with Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer and Tennessee fan Roy Kramer, the former SEC commissioner, taking active roles in crippling Bama's football program.

Under Alabama's football leadership and new blood in the SEC office, it appears the rivalry can attain its former stature. But that won't happen until both teams are once again the most dominant in the SEC.

Tennessee is closer, although the Vols have fallen a bit at the hands of Florida and sometimes Georgia in the SEC Eastern Division and Fulmer no doubt has a wary eye on South Carolina and his old nemesis Steve Spurrier. Alabama has fallen greatly, well below Auburn, Arkansas and LSU in talent level in the league's Western Division.

The Vols still have a reasonable chance to win the East and have an opportunity to take the league championship. Alabama has only the slimmest (unrealistic, really) mathematical chance at reaching the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta this year.

That doesn't mean Saturday's game lacks importance for Alabama. Even if there is no SEC championship in the Crimson Tide's future this year, a win over Tennessee is always good for the Bama psyche. In more practical terms, it would make the 5-2 Tide bowl eligible with a sixth victory. (No one doubts Alabama will get that sixth win the following week against Florida International, but the more wins, the better the bowl.)

More than that, it would be a good Alabama road victory. Last year the Tide had some good victories, but most were at home. Those wins included one over Tennessee, 6-3 in a miracle outcome for Bama. Alabama, as the winner of this game often does, went on to a good season, 10-2 including a Cotton Bowl victory. Tennessee, as is the danger for the loser, never recovered. It was the Vols' third loss of 2005 and Tennessee would lose three more times in its final five games, including a loss at the hands of Vanderbilt that would cost UT bowl eligibility.

The Crimson Tide has been foundering this year, unforced errors costing games at Arkansas and Florida, unimpressive victories over the likes of Vanderbilt, Duke and Ole Miss. Still, there have been recent signs of improvement for Bama, notably in the running game.

Knoxville is not a recommended destination for a team trying to extract itself from the mire of mediocrity, where it is fair to say Alabama has been this season. That's not to say there aren't reasons for the situation, only to acknowledge it. The task Saturday will be difficult. But historically the path of Crimson Tide football has followed from results in games like Alabama vs. Tennessee. And frequently, Bama has measured up and been able to travel higher. It would be of great importance to this Alabama team and to the Mike Shula program to be able to achieve victory Saturday.

Alabama Takes Time–Overtime–To Get By Ole Miss
By Kirk McNair

Most college football fans have not been thrilled with the new rules that speed up the game by taking away opportunities for football. Those fans at the Alabama-Mississippi game in Tuscaloosa ot their money's worth, though.

It was hardly a classic, but it was a victory. Alabama's football team had all sorts of struggles Saturday, but finally got the act together in overtime to take a 26-23 win over Mississippi as the Tide executed a nice third down, two-yard pass to fullback Le'Ron McClain.

With a first-and-goal at the Ole Miss three-yard line, Alabama seemed to be in excellent shape even though trailing 23-20 in the overtime. But two runs by Tim Castille from the Jumbo Package left the Crimson Tide facing a third-and-goal from the two. Bama faked another Castille plunge in the middle with quarterback John Parker Wilson carrying out a nice fake. He then passed to fullback LeRon McClain, who stretched out and made a nice catch for the winning touchdown.

The game ended 20-20 and the Rebels got a 37-yard field goal from Joshua Shene to take a 23-20 lead before Alabama got the ball. Keith Saunders made a big third down play for Alabama on defense to force the field goal try for the Rebels.

In overtime, each team gets the ball at the 25-yard line going in and keeps it until the offense scores or fails to make a first down or score.

Alabama got its overtime possession off to a good start as Kenneth Darby, who would finish with 25 carries for 162 yards, ran for six yards on first down. He got only one yard on the next play, and Wilson connected on a pass to Will Oakley (who had his first career start this year) at the Ole Miss 13. Darby gained eight yards on first down from there, and two plays later Wilson sneaked for the first down at the three, setting up the winning touchdown.

With the win, Alabama improved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in Southeastern Conference play. The Rebels dropped to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in conference competition.

There had been a consideration that if Alabama had played the first eight minutes of its game against Duke the way theCrimson Tide played the final eight minutes, that game would have been a rout instead of the nail-biter it was. Against Ole Miss, the Tide played the first four minutes in near-perfect fashion. The special teams covered the opening kickoff well, the defense held three-and-out, and the offense drove 56 yards in four plays to a 7-0 lead. The drive took only 1:23.

But anyone expecting a rout by the Tide was due to be disappointed.

Wilson got that first crisp drive started with a 12-yard swing pass to Darby. Wilson scrambled for a seven-yard gain. And on a third-and-five he connected with D.J. Hall on a pas that looked like it would be good for a first down. But Hall made it a lot better than that with a nifty move to get free down the middle of the field, then out-raced the defense for a 39-yard touchdown.

Unfortunately, Bama played the next four minutes—and much of the remainder of the game—like Alabama was Duke. The defense gave up a long scramble and compounded it with a personal foul, and the Rebels drove 82 yards in nine plays taking 4:25 to tie the game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the Rebels' touchdown on a six-yard run.

One thing that looked vintage 2006 Alabama was the Crimson Tide's first trip into the Red Zone. Bama drove to the 17 and got a five-yard run from Kenneth Darby as the first quarter ended. But the first two plays of the second quarter came up two yards short and Jamie Christensen kicked Alabama to a 10-7 lead with a 26-yard field goal. The field goal was a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion to a drive that started out first and 20 from its on 30.

Mississippi also stalled in the Red Zone, settling for a 36-yard Joshua Shene field goal. The Rebels had held the ball for 11 plays and driven 41 yards after a 35-yard kickoff return by Mico McSwain. It was 10-10 midway through the second quarter.

Bama had another promising drive after Javier Arenas gave Bama good field position with a 31-yard kickoff return to the Alabama 43. Darby gained 11 at right end, then John Parker Wilson completed a couple of passes. But facing second and two, Bama seemingly tried to appease those who don't want "predictable" plays. The Tide missed on a pass to the end zone on second down. And on the play wide receiver D.J. Hall went out with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. (Hall returned in the third quarter.) On third down, Bama put back-up tailback Jimmy Johns at quarterback in the shotgun and his draw play came up short. Johns got out of the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury. On fourth down, Wilson had tight end Nick Walker wide open, but overthrew and the promising series had come to an end.

Ole Miss didn't worry about trying to trick Bama. With the Rebels offensive line opening big holes, Mississippi kept it simple. Brent Schaeffer completed a few safe sideline passes and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis pounded it up the middle. Mississippi was able to drive to a first and goal at the Alabama seven with 40 seconds until halftime. Two running plays got only a yard and took up 36 seconds. After a timeout, Shene kicked a 23-yad field goal to give the Rebels a 13-10 halftime lead. Ole Miss had run out the final 5:38 of the first half in driving from its 27 to the Alabama 6 in 11 plays to the go-ahead points.

Alabama had an excellent drive that, unfortunately, ended up in the Red Zone, which meant a typical conclusion.

Field goal.

Christensen tied the game with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter with a 26-yard field goal, the final play of a drive that lasted 6:33. Bama started at its own 28, was penalized back to the 15, got a 36-yard third-and-25 pass from Wilson to Hall. Darby had his longest run of the year, 21 yards, which would soon be eclipsed. And Bama looked likely to get an elusive touchdown, but fullback Le'Ron McClain dropped a pass.

Darby had his longest run of the season for the second time in the game, a 37-yarder to the Ole Miss 43 as Bama got the ball back at its 20 late in the third quarter. Wilson scrambled for four as the quarter ended. A pass interference call against Ole Miss moved Bama to the Ole Miss 19 (inside the Red Zone), a play on which Keith Brown came out with a leg injury. (Brown did not return.) Darby got three, McClain with great effort got six on a pass reception for a third-and-one at the 10, and then Tim Castille from the tailback spot picked up the first down at the Ole Miss 7.

On first down Darby ran it to the two, which got him out of the game. Castille went back to running back in Bama's Jumbo Package and took it over right guard for the touchdown with 10:32 remaining in the game. After a short delay while officials reviewed the touchdown run, Christensen kicked Bama to a 20-13 lead. The 80-yard drive in nine plays took 5:50.

Ole Miss didn't take near as much time to tie the game. And the Rebels' had a trick play that worked. After Alabama kicked off out of bounds for the second time in the game, giving the Rebels the ball at the 35, Mississippi got a huge break when an apparent interception by the Tide's Ramzee Robinson was wiped out by Alabama being offsides. Still, the Bama defense seemed to get the job done as Ole Miss went into punt formation at its own 40, fourth-and-five. But punter Rob Park pulled the ball down and passed to Bruce Hall, who made a first down by inches.

On the next play Schaeffer scramble to his right and completed a 55-yard bomb to split end Mike Wallace to tie the game at 20.

Alabama had a nice drive to the Ole Miss 27, but with just over four minutes to play Darby was stopped short on a fourth-and-two by the Rebels' All-American linebacker Patrick Willis. Neither team threatened again and the game went to overtime.

TIDE NOTES: It seems to be Feast or Famine for Alabama football insofar as television coverage is concerned. In seven games this year, Alabama has been on CBS three times and will make it four of eight this weekend against Tennessee. Three of the other four games have been Pay-Per-View. There has been one FoxSouth telecast (Vanderbilt). And next week for homecoming the Tide will have its fourth Pay-Per-View game of the year when the Tide hosts Florida International at 2 p.m. CDT.

Freshman running back Roy Upchurch will undergo surgery on his right ankle and will be out for the remainder of the season. The operation will be similar to the one performed on Upchurch's left ankle in 2005. His rehabilitation will be four to six months and he is expected to make a full recovery. Upchurch played in the first four games this season before suffering his injury during the Arkansas game. He played a total of 49 snaps with 12 carries for 37 yards and two touchdowns against Louisiana Monroe.

The two-yard touchdown pass from John Parker Wilson to Le'Ron McClain that gave Alabama a 26-23 victory over Ole Miss in overtime on Saturday is one of four finalists for the Pontiac Game Changing Performance of the Week. The team that receives the most votes for its performance will earn a $5,000 contribution to the school's general scholarship fund. It will also become a finalist for the $100,000 performance of the year. Alabama had five game changing performances last season, including Tyrone Prothro's over-the-back of a Southern Miss defender pass reception that earned the $100,000 grand prize for The University.

Meanwhile, Alabama's coaching staff selected the players of the week against Ole Miss. They were: Wide receiver D.J. Hall on offense, middle linebacker Prince Hall on defense, and Jimmy Johns on special teams.

Prince Hall was selected as the Freshman Player of the Week by the Southeastern Conference. Hall recorded a career-high eight tackles (seven solos) with two tackles for loss in Alabama's overtime win. Hall had two tackles on second and third down of Ole Miss' opening drive that helped force a three-and-out after seven-yard play on first down. After Alabama tied the game at 13-13 late in the third quarter, Ole Miss had second down and three to go, with Hall making two straight solo stops to force a punt.

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Ole Miss
By Kirk McNair

Alabama opened the Ole Miss game in its traditional 4-3 defense for only the third time this season. The offense started with three wide receivers and no tight end as sophomore wide receiver Will Oakley got the first start of his Crimson Tide career and also had the most plays he has had, 38. At one point in the game, Alabama had three middle linebackers in the game together with Prince Hall and Darren Mustin flanking Matt Collins. Alabama will be back under Southeastern Conference roster restrictions this week. As the visiting team, Bama will be limited to 70 players dressed. The home team, Tennessee, will be allowed to dress 95 players, of which 80 will be designated as eligible to participate in the game. In last week's game against Ole Miss, Alabama had 95 players dressed and 80 were eligible to participate. However, the Tide used only 56 men. Bama played 21 on offense, 21 on defense, and 14 just on special teams. Here are those who played against Mississippi with starters listed first and the number of plays in parenthesis. If there are two numbers, the second is the number of plays on special teams.

Split End—D. J. Hall (50), Matt Caddell (19), Nikita Stover (5)
Left Tackle—Andre Smith (71-4) Left Guard—Justin Britt (58)
Center—Antoine Caldwell (69), Evan Cardwell (6-4)
Right Guard—B.J. Stabler (65), Marlon Davis (15)
Right Tackle—Chris Capps (43-3), Kyle Tatum (28-1)
Tight End—Travis McCall (56-7), Nick Walker (15-4), Charles Hoke (4-8)
Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (71)
Halfback—Kenneth Darby (47), Jimmy Johns (6-8)
Fullback—LéRon McClain (53-11), Tim Castille (24)
Flanker—Keith Brown (38), Will Oakley (38)

Left End—Wallace Gilberry (53), Chris Harris (8)
Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (40)
Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (27), J.P. Adams (20)
Right End—Keith Saunders (37), Bobby Greenwood (24)
Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (60), Demarcus Waldrop (6-3)
Middle Linebacker— Prince Hall (51), Matt Collins (9-3), Darren Mustin (1-5)
Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (54-3), Zach Schreiber (2-6)
Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (59), Eric Gray (14-15)
Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (61-6), Lionel Mitchell (23)
Strong Safety—effrey Dukes (60-8)
Safety—Marcus Carter (31-4), Rashad Johnson (31-18)

Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (3 punts, 2 field goals, 2 extra points) Snapper—Luke Spaulding (3 punts, 2 field goals, 2 extra points)
Placekicker—Jamie Christensen (5 kickoffs, 2 field goals, 2 extra points)
Coverage and Returns—Marcel Stamps (6), Chris Rogers (8), Marquis Johnson (11), Ali Sharrief (12), Justin Woodall (11), Javier Arenas (10), Bryan Kilpatrick (12), Eryk Anders (2), Baron Huber (4), Sam Burnthall (15), Mike Johnson (4)

Scouting Report: Tennessee Rejuvenates Offense Under Cutcliffe
By Mitch Dobbs

Under the influence of Offensive Coordinator David Cutcliffe, who returned to the Tennessee football team after being fired as Ole Miss head coach, UT's offense has had a mammoth resurgence brought about by the renaissance of junior quarterback Erik Ainge. Two former Alabama defensive backs, who were seniors last year, said Tennessee had some of the best receivers they had faced in the Southeastern Conference, but UT didn't have a quarterback to deliver them the ball. Ainge has delivered this year, however.

Not since 1997– Peyton Manning's senior season– has Tennessee's offense relied so heavily on the passing game as this year. Through six games, the Vols are averaging 291 passing yards per game. Tennessee ranks among the top 20 teams nationally in four offensive stat categories this season. UT's passing efficiency rating of 175.82 is third-best in the nation, they rank eighth in the country in passing yards, and rank 13th nationally in scoring with 35.2 points per game. Tennessee is 13th nationally with 421.5 yards of total offense per game. The Vols' offensive numbers place them atop the SEC rankings in six different categories: total offense, passing offense, passing efficiency and third-down conversion percentage (59.5).

The 6-6, 220 pound junior leads the SEC in all three major pass categories: efficiency (171.6), yardage (276.2 per game) and total offense (269.0). The five best games of Ainge's career have all come this season, including two 300-yard performances. Against Georgia Ainge set career highs in attempts and completions, completing 25 of 38 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns. For the year Ainge is 118 for 171 (.690 PCT) with 1,657 yards, 14 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions.

Junior wideout Robert Meachem (6-3, 210) has led the Vols in receiving yards each of the last two years. This season, he ranks second in the nation in receiving yards per game (112.5) and is one of the leading candidates for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver (Meachum wasn't on the preseason Biletnikoff "Watch List" however). Meachem has piled up 675 yards on 34 catches for six touchdowns. Among SEC receivers, Meachem ranks first in receiving yards per game, second in receptions per game (5.67) and third in all-purpose yardage (116.5 ypg).

He has combined with Huntsville's Jason Swain (6-1, 205, senior) to give UT a dual receiving threat. The pair make up the second-best receiving duo in the country in yards per game, and have combined for 1,053 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Swain has totaled 378, and the two have combined for a per game average of 175.5 yards.

Senior Bret Smith (6-3, 190) stepped in when Swain twisted his ankle against Georgia and set career-highs for catches (7) and yards (94) and scored a touchdown. Starting tight end Chris Brown (6-3, 250, junior) ranks fourth on the team with 16 catches for 108 yards this year.

Tennessee is averaging 130.0 rushing yards per game and have scored 11 rushing touchdowns on the year while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Their running game is led by redshirt freshman LaMarcus Coker, who made his second career start at Georgia and now averages 63.5 rushing yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry. On the season he has 57 rushes for 381 yards. After missing two games with an ankle injury, sophomore tailback Arian Foster returned against Georgia and rushed for three touchdowns. He now has 41 carries for 156 yards on the season. Redshirt freshman Montario Hardesty and senior David Yancey give the Vols some depth at tailback.

Tennessee starts two seniors, one junior, one sophomore and one freshman on an offensive line that leads the league in fewest sacks allowed with only six given up all season. Senior left tackle Arron Sears (6-4, 320) has started 29 consecutive games for the Vols and is a candidate for the Jacobs Trophy (SEC's best blocker). Left guard David Ligon (6-5, 300) is the other Vols senior lineman. He has started 10 games in his career, including the last four of last season and every game this year. Josh McNeil (6-4, 290, freshman) starts at center, with Anthony Parker (6-3, 305, sophomore) at right guard and junior Eric Young (6-4, 310) at right tackle.

In the SEC, Tennessee ranks 8th in rushing defense (129.8 yards per game), 9th in scoring defense (19.3 points allowed per game), 5th in passing defense (160.3 yards per game) and 6th in total defense (290.2 yards per game).

Tennessee has played the last three games without the services of injured preseason All-America defensive tackle Justin Harrell. Following the loss to Florida– Harrell's final game– the Vols brought a number of inexperienced players into the fray. Four players (Wes Brown, Walter Fisher, Chase Nelson and Dan Williams) who have seen action in Harrell's absence had no previous Division I game experience entering this season, and another (J.T. Mapu) spent the last two years away from football. Tennessee has surrendered 311 rushing yards on 95 carries over the last three games, limiting the opposition to 3.3 yards per carry. All three of those contests have been wins for UT.

Xavier Mitchell (6-2, 252, junior) and Antonio Reynolds (6-3, 260, junior) start at left and right end respectively, and have combined for just 34 tackles and two sacks on the year. Mitchell has six tackles for loss on the season and Reynolds has one. Seniors Turk McBride (6-4, 275, senior) and Matt McGlothlin (6-0, 290) will start at tackle. McBride has moved from end to tackle in Harrell's absence, and has performed well. He had 10 tackles against Florida (32 on the season) and on the year has four tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and one sack. McGlothlin has started five games this season, and has four total tackles.

Senior middle linebacker Marvin Mitchell (6-3, 235) ranks second in the SEC with 9.3 tackles per game, and sophomore weakside backer Jerod Mayo (6-2, 230) ranks tied for 10th in the league with 6.8 stops per game. Mayo's four sacks on the year rank him tied for eighth in the SEC. Strongside linebakcer Ryan Karl (6-0, 225) averages 6.2 stops per game. Redshirt freshman weakside linebacker Rico McCoy (6-1, 215) is also getting some playing time for the Vols, and has 13 tackles.

Free safety Jonathan Hefney (5-9, 185) nabbed the 8th interceptions of the season for the UT defense when he intercepted Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford in the closing minutes of the Vols' 51-33 win over the Bulldogs. The interception was the third for the Vols in the game, and also marked the third consecutive game that the junior defensive back had a pick. Senior right cornerback Jonathan Wade (6-0, 195) has also been instrumental in leading the No. 18 ranked passing defense in the country. Wade recorded his second interception of the season against the Bulldogs, and leads the Vols with 11 defensive "big plays" this season. He has broken up a team-leading eight passes. Fellow senior, and left side corner Antwan Stewart (6-0, 195) also picked off a pass against the Bulldogs to give him two on the season. Demetrice Morley (6-2, 195, sophomore) starts at strong safety. He has 21 tackles on the year, including four for loss. He has also broken up four passes.

Tennessee senior placekicker James Wilhoit is the SEC's active career scoring leader with 276 points. For his career, Wilhoit is 48-of-68 on field goal attempts and 132-of-135 on extra-point tries. He has converted on 15 of his last 16 field goal attempts dating to 2005.

Redshirt freshman Antonio Wardlow blocked a punt at Georgia and recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. Sophomore punter Britton Colquitt is averaging 47.2 yards per punt this year. Coker gained 93 yards on four kickoff returns at UGA, including returns of 40 and 32 yards. The Vols average 7.0 yards on punt returns and 16.2 yards on kick returns. UT's opponents are averaging 11.4 and 22.3 yards on punt and kick returns, respectively.

Coach Mike Shula Says
By Kirk McNair

Alabama Coach Mike Shula knows that Alabama-Tennessee week is big and excitiing and he knows that this year the game is on the road. The game fell for years on the Third Saturday in October until the Southeastern Conference office reworked the schedule to fit with a 12-team league working towards a championship game.

And still the game is familiar as "The Third Saturday in October," Shula said. "Everyone in the South–everyone who follows college football, really–knows you're talking about Alabama vs. Tennessee," he said. "It's a great example of what college football is all about. It's played in a great atmosphere whether in Knoxville or Tuscaloosa and almost always on national television. It's as big as it gets in an out-of-state rivalry."

Shula said, "The game always seems to be close. I don't know what kind of game we'll have this year, but I know you have to be at your best because you'll be playing against real talented players. You have to play with poise and confidence."

Shula said, "We'll have to play better this week to have a chance. We have to do a good job with all their schemes. They present a lot of problems. We'll have to deal with the crowd noise. We'll have to play four solid quarters–offense, defense and special teams. We have to do a better job with penalties."

Although the all-time series is very close (Alabama leads 44-37 with seven ties), there have been periods of one team or the other having long streaks of wins. Shula agreed with that, but pointed out that current players "don't really think about that. They might think about last year. The ones who were in Knoxville two years ago will think back that far."

In his Tuesday meeting with sportswriters, Shula was asked if playing tough road games against Arkansas and Florida would help Alabama this week in Neyland Stadium. The Crimson Tide coach said, "It helps. It would have helped a lot more if we had won those games, though. We talk about where we are and we also talk about where we could have been. We have to do the things we know to do to win games."

Shula is aware that Tennessee has rebounded from last year's poor 5-6 season, that included a 6-3 loss to Bama. He said, "Defensively they were good last year and they're good again this year. Last year they had some tough things happen before our game. This year it seems like it's gone the other way. They're a hot team and they have some things going their way.

"They're doing a couple of things differently with the way they run the ball. The key is their quarterback is more efficient. He's trying not to force the ball downfield, he's being more patient. He's matured like a lot of good talented young quarterbacks and he's got a lot to work with with those two wideouts."

The Tennessee quarterback is Erik Ainge and the wide receivers are Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain.

While acknowledging Tennessee's offensive excellence, Shula said "They're playing well on offense, but we think our defense is pretty good."

The Tide coach said that Alabama prepares every week "for what we think we're going to see. This year, particularly, we've been seeing things we haven't expected. You have to have your guys coached well enough to handle that."

He also said Bama has "a little momentum from our win last week." Tennessee almost always has an open date before playing Alabama, including this year. Shula was asked if that is significant. He said, "It depends. It depends if the week before you have injuries or depends on how your season's going. A lot of times if you're on a roll then you want to keep playing."

Alabama has some injuries with top wide receivers Keith Brown and D.J. Hall and back-up halfback Jimmy Johns nursing injuries. Shula said he thinks all will be limited, in preparation but that the medical staff thinks all will be ready to play by Saturday. Shula called it a balancing act, where the players have to get practice time, but also have to get rest in order to rehabilitate. He said, "Hopefully, all three of them will be as close to full speed as possible. If not, it's that time of year where guys are beat up and we've got to give them a little bit of rest. We want to be smart."

Although placekicker Jamie Christensen has been injured, Shula said "he's fine. He'll be our kicker this week." Last year Christensen kicked two field goals, one in the final seconds of play, in Alabama's 6-3 win. Shula also said that in the event Christensen couldn't kick that he has confidence in freshman Leigh Tiffin.

Shula said that because of the success of Bama wide receivers D.J. Hall and Keith Brown that the Tide has seen "some different coverages in the past few weeks." He said that has sometimes meant a better opportunity for the running game and senior halfback Kenneth Darby "has taken advantage of that."

This week, though, the Tide will be facing very good safeties who are capable of both helping the cornerbacks and playing run support.

Shula said Bama has made an effort "to get the ball into the hands of those guys who make plays, whether it's down the field or a 15-yard throw. We want to get them touches. They have the ability to turn a five-yard completion into a 25-yard completion."

He said the success of the receivers "helps our team. People have to play us differently. It gets our players excited. It helps in play-calling. They are different in some ways, but we are comfortable with both. Both are doing more things better. But they have to prove it every week."

Former Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle said that a Crimson Tide quarterback would be remembered for what he did in games like the Tennessee contest. Shula said that sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson "is not going to try to make a name for himself in this game. He's going to try to win this football game. If that means handing it off 50 times, he's going to hand it off 50 times. He understands how this game is perceived by Alabama fans. It's big."

He said Wilson "prepares really hard. The game means a lot to him. Does he make mistakes? Yes. But he's made some big plays that make you forget those mistakes. We continue to talk about consistency. If he eliminates the minuses, he'll be really good."

With Marc Guillon, the senior back-up quarterback having quit the team, Shula reiterated that redshirt freshman Jimmy Barnes is the back-up quarterback. How much work is Barnes getting? Shula said, "He's our number two and we'll give him the same amount of reps our back-ups have always had. Ideally, you'd like to give more, but there's not enough time. If you did give him more, you'd be taking them away from John Parker, and we can't do that. And you can't be out there all day, either."

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