Moving On

Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula wasn't surprised when the question finally came in his regular Sunday teleconference with sportswriters. A coach has to make decisions and Shula had made one just before halftime at Tennessee Saturday that gave the second-guessers plenty of ammunition following the Volunteers' 16-13 win over the Crfimson Tide.

Alabama was at the Tennessee one-yard line in a 3-3 game, less than two minutes until halftime in Knoxville. Although there appeared to be some discussion, the final decision was Shula's, and that decision was to kick the field goal. And so Alabama had three points instead of possibly seven in what would be a three-point loss.

Of course, the second-guessers fail to point out that instead of three points or seven points, there is another possibility. Zero points.

Sunday Shula said, "It's a tough decision, it really is. We got the ball down to the eight-yard line on Simeon Castille's big play (an interception and 60-yard runback). And then we got down to the one-yard line.

"To come away with no points would be really deflating. Obviously, if we get the touchdown we get a lot of momentum. But we've all been a part of making decisions where it worked and where it didn't work. At the time, we felt we wanted to show something for it. We'd like a 10-3 lead, but we wanted to go in with a lead and we had a 6-3 lead.

"We thought we had momentum. We had a lot of things, including a lead in the middle of the fourth quarter.

"I understand if you lose the game you're going to get second-guessed and if you win no one's going to question the numbers."

Shula said the loss to Tennessee "was about as tough a loss as we've had in a while. It was unfortunate because we had a lot of great efforts by our guys in all three phases (offense, defense, special teams). The guys played thier hearts out. For three and a half quarters I thought we were going to win the game. Tennessee came up with a lot of great plays on that 70-yard drive and, unfortunately, we couldn't come back. It's tough. But we have to move on."

Alabama has had three difficult losses this year, basically all three of its difficult games. Bama lost at Arkansas, at Florida and at Tennessee. The Tide has five wins, all against lesser opponents and all at home.

Shula said that in tough times, "We draw on each other. That's what this group has always been about, players and coaches. We're in this together and we talk about it from day one, being together through thick and thin. It's harder after a loss like that. But we have good leadership. The guys have stepped up lately. It's tough and it will be tougher this week, but the guys will fight through it and get ready for our homecoming game.

Alabama hosts Florida International at 2 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium, a homecoming game for the Tide against a winless team. The only television will be Pay Per View.

Shula was asked how the fix occurs. Is it change in personnel? Is it change in schemes?

"We'll continue to look at all those things like we do every week," Shula said. "Maybe it's getting more guys involved early so we have (first team) guiys more fresh at the end. Maybe it's schemes. But there's a fine line involved. You don't want to hit the panic button with a big change that might make the situation worse when it might be that all you need is a little tweak."

Alabama had its worst rushing game of the season, Kenneth Darby getting only 26 yards on 14 carries, Jimmy Johns adding 37, but getting only three attempts. Shula said he expected Bama to be better, but said that "Maybe they (the Vols) were a little better than we expected–not that we expected them to be bad. Last year they were one of the best we faced, one of the best in the country. But some of those great players were gone, and we thought we might have some success. Unfortunately, we were not able to run it like we thought we could.

"We have to look at it, learn from it, and get the corrections done."

Johns' success in few attempts prompted the question as to whether the sophomore might see more playing time at halfback. Shula said, "Our plan has been to try to get him in more. Unfortunately, against Ole Miss (the week before) he got hurt. Last week he was able to practice, but he was limited. That, combined with K.D. (Darby) having such a good week (against Ole Miss, when he rushed for 162 yards) figured into it."

There were other factors. "We didn't have as many plays (only 59) and we punted more than usual (nine times). Because of that, no one got untracked."

He said the offensive line was "not quite as consistent overall. It's not one gujy all the time. It's this guy on one play and that guy on another. And they (Tennessee) were pretty good up front."

Alabama has virtually no college game experience behind John Parker Wilson at quarterback. Shula was asked if Jimmy Barnes, the redshirt freshman who moved up to number two when Marc Guillon quit in the middle of the season, might get some work this week.

"It's something we talk about every week," Shula said. "We talked about it last year with John Parker, talking about getting him into a game early. The number one focus is getting off to a fast start. And we have a young starter who needs every snap he cdan get."

Shula added that "the worst thing we can do is have the mindset that we can get a bunch of people ready to play in this game (Florida International) because we're going to beat these guys. And then we find ourselves in a dogfight."

Shula saw some good things in special teams play, although he acknowledged that punt coverage had some breakdowns. Tennessee returned six punts for 104 yards. "We punted more than we have," Shula said. "There were times when our gunners (Rashad Johnson and Marquis Johnson, the outside players first down in coverage) got doubled up. The others didn't get down and fill those lanes like they've got to do. And we had a couple of missed tackles. And once or twice we didn't have good hang time on the punts."

But the Tide coach was pleased with the partial punt block by Marcel Stamps and with kickoff coverage.

Shula said that Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines "did a good job mixing up our defenses. They just made a couple of plays in that last drive. They made plays when we had made them earlier."

On a day of not much good news, Shula said he got some from the trainer following the game. "He said we made it through the game okay. I don't think anyone is worse than they were before the game."

Well, maybe one. Freshman wide receiver Mike McCoy was bitten by the Tennessee mascot hound in pre-game warm-ups. "It brought blood," Shula said.

He also said that McCoy had played earlier this year and "wasn't going to be redshirted" in answer to a question about him playing so late in the season.

Alabama was short-handed at wide receiver with starter Keith Brown held out of the game after suffering a sprained knee against Mississippi. Shula said Brown is expected back this week.


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