"When I make a decision, it's because I think it's best for our football team," Alabama Football Coach Mike Shula said in his weekly meeting with the media. He said that would be the case if Bama was 8-0 instead of 5-3. "Any changes we need to make, we're going to make them if we think it makes us a better team. Our goal is to win the football game every week. The guys we put on the field are the ones we think give us the best chance to win."
Shula believes that his team has "done a nice job of rebounding from a tough loss. It's a bad feeling and they realize that the only way to get this out of our system is to go win a football game."
Shula said, "Sunday night we went out and practiced well. We'll still have some guys that will be nicked up a little bit: Keith Brown, Jimmy Johns. We'll see where he is today. Terrence Jones will probably miss practice today. He's got a cold. Other than that we'll go out for three good days of practice and try to get on a winning track."
He said Brown, who missed Saturday's game at Knoxville, "practiced a little bit on Sunday. He's still a little sore. He tried to go on Friday, tried to go in pre-game warm-ups, tried to go Sunday. We'll have to see where he is."
He said, "I don't think anyone wants to feel like we felt Saturday night. It was a tough loss. The other two hurt, too. Anytime you think you could have won and come up on the short end of the stick, you hurt even more. I think we'll be motivated."
Alabama is coming off a 16-13 loss at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville. This week the Crimson Tide hosts Florida International for homecoming. Kickoff in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be at 2 p.m. CDT with television coverage on a Pay Per View basis. Bama is 5-3 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Florida International, a member of the Sun Belt Conference, is 0-7.
With any championship goals erased after a third conference loss, Shula said, "We talk about those (goals) to our team, but right now our goal is to win this week. We don't worry about anything else. When next week comes, our goal is to go win next week. There's never a disappointment in winning."
One reason wins have been difficult for the Crimson Tide to come by has been Bama's lack of productivity in the Red Zone, the final 20 yards to the end zone. Shula was asked the cause of the problem–execution, personnel, or play-calling?
"It's really all of the above," Shula said. "When we evaluate ourselves, we look at how we can do it better insofar as play-calling or personnel. Not that it's an excuse, but this year we have seen different things down there, different cov erages than what we've seen on tape. It's a little more difficult to adjust down there when you see things you haen't seen on tape, but we have to do that. You have to have good balance. You have to be able to run it down there. We'll continue to work on it."
He said that Alabama had addressed the situation with more repetitions on plus territory offense in practice. "We'll continue to work on it," he said.
"It's a mindset," Shula said. "I think the emphasis we have put on it in practice with extra reps speaks to that mindset. And when you have success in games, you gain confidence."
There were breakdowns on special teams in last week's loss to Tennessee. Shula said, "It's kind of like the other two phases (offense and defense). At times we're real, real good, such as blocking a kick the past two games. Unfortunately, when we blocked them they didn't go back. A couple of times our coverage was good like it usually is, but a couple of times we let them get in space and we didn't tackle well. And the punter is part of that, too. You have to have good hang time. And we had too many punts."
The coach added, "You can't give up big plays in kick coverage. We have to be more consistent. Giving up a big play takes away from the good things you do, and we did some good things. We'd like to be better."
There have been questions about Alabama's failure to use the tight end as a receiver. Bama tight ends have only seven receptions in eight games (Travis McCall 4 for 68 yards, Nick Walker 3 for 39 yards). Shula said, We try to get them the ball. It's not like they're not running routes. We have a lot of things called, but we're not going to throw it to them if they're covered. It's mostly a matter of the ball going to D.J. and Keith (wide receivers D.J. Hall and Keith Brown)."
Shula said, "In every game, whether you win or lose, you want to execute better. We want to show we're a better football team than our record. There's nothing you can do about them (the losses) now. You have to move on. And our players have moved on. You have to. You don't have any other choice. If we sit and dwell on what's happened then we're not going to be very good in our preparation and probably not in the game. You have to move on. That's what you're forced to do every week. If you don't move on, it's tough to be very good. And you have to do that every week."
Shula said that Florida International will bring "an attack defense. They like to blitz. They like to play man coverage. They have a lot of speed on defense. They are ranked close to our defense nationally."
The Golden Panthers are coming off an open date that follows an unfortunate game in which Florida International and Miami were involved in a bench-clearing brawl. As a result, about a dozen and a half FIU players, including several starters, have been indefinitely suspended and will not play against Alabama.
The Bama coach noted that "We are not going to see their guys on tape. They may decide to continue to play aggressively or they may decide to be not so aggressive to lessen the possibility of giving up big plays. Schemewise, I would think they would do things similarly to what they have been doing. The difference is personnel. Some may be more aggressive. Techniques may be different. It is similar to preparing for a season-opening game."
Shula said, "We have to be concerned with us. We have to have a good first down so we don't have many long third downs. We have to be concerned with our own preparation. And then in the game we have to watch them and make any necessary adjustments."
Shula said he had talked to his football team about the FIU-Miami brawl and about "restraint. It's a physical game, a violent game," Shula said. "But you have to control your temper. If a teammate begins to lose his temper, grab him and get him back to the huddle and get ready to go."
Shula will be coaching against a former comrade Saturday. Don Strock was a back-up quarterback for the Miami Dolphins under Shula's father, Don, when Mike was a high school student and parttime worker with the Dolphins. Mike Shula remembers Don Strock fondly.
Shula said, "I think it's always more fun to compete against somebody you have a lot of respect for. As far as Don Strock goes I've got a lot of respect for him just because he's very smart and he has a good way about him. He was probably one of the last guys that called his own plays, I know Bob Greise did and Peyton Manning does that now. I learned a lot from him–the mental part of the game and throwing the football mechanics. I still kind of coach those techniques today."