'BAMA Newsletter

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

Inside this issue:
- Editorial: Tide Should Get Back On Track
- Tide Can't Hold On At UT
- Depth Chart
- Basketball Gets Started
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF Version)

Tide Should Get Back On Track
By Kirk McNair

This is a week in which two coaching adages come to mind, but shouldn't. One is, "(Insert name of opponent) is the most important game on the schedule because it's the next one." The other, made by former Alabama Coach Gene Stallings, is "You think a game isn't important, just try losing it and see."

With the Alabama nation in near meltdown over this year's Crimson Tide's inability to win difficult games in the fourth quarter, one cannot imagine the fallout should Bama lose to Florida International at homecoming this week. Here's a confident prediction: Alabama will defeat the Golden Panthers and thus become bowl eligible. However, that is not likely to take away the sting of Southeastern Conference road losses at the hands of Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee this season.

Those are all good teams, all highly-ranked teams. It doesn't change the fact that Alabama was good enough to have the lead in the fourth quarter against all of them. And Bama defeated none of them.

Thus far, Alabama has done nothing except that which would have been expected by anyone. The Crimson Tide has defeated five relatively weak opponents in Bryant-Denny Stadium. And in most of those games, Alabama has been disappointing to the extent that the Crimson Tide has been far from impressive. Bama doesn't set off fan celebrations with three-point wins over the likes of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss or a sixteen-point win over winless Duke.

Why has the season gone this way? Alabama fans know the reasons. They have heard them, ad infinitum. NCAA penalties. Coaching changes. Young team. But to know them is not to love them, or even accept them.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula may have made things more difficult this year by his success of last year. No one would have suspected that Bama would have a 10-2 record, including a Cotton Bowl championship, and finish ranked eighth in the nation, as was the case in 2005. No Crimson partisan wanted to do (or accept) the math to see what had to be expected this year when more than two-thirds of the squad would be freshmen and sophomores.

The hard times may not be over for awhile. Just a few weeks ago there was general agreement that the two strongest teams in the SEC were Auburn and LSU, and those two are the final two on Alabama's 2006 schedule.

Alabama can guarantee a winning record with wins over Florida International Saturday and Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa the following week. And when Bama is bowl eligible, the Crimson Tide will be in a bowl game. Most guesses now have Alabama in either the Independence Bowl or the Music City Bowl, and those guesses also have Bama losing to LSU in Baton Rouge and to Auburn in Tuscaloosa.

We're going to stick with the tried and true method of picking them one game at a time. For now, our prognostication doesn't go beyond Saturday.

But we'll keep in mind that a team that could have the lead on nationally ranked SEC teams on the road in September and October could also be competitive with national powers in November. Alabama currently has five wins with four regular season games and, hopefully, a bowl game remaining.

This is not going to go down as a great Alabama season. That doesn't happen often where success is measured against national championship teams. But there are still ways for this to be a good season. The Crimson Tide definitely cannot afford a slip, then must find a way to get the job done against the big boys. Stranger things have happened.

Tide Can't Hold On In Fourth Quarter Against Vols
By Kirk McNair

The story was all-too-familiar last Saturday in Knoxville. Alabama played very hard and was in position to win a game on the road against a highly-ranked opponent. But in the end Bama wasn't good enough and suffered its third loss of the season.

The defense played well, but couldn't make the final stop it needed. The offense struggled without one of its top receivers, but still made an outstanding play for a go-ahead touchdown to lead going into the fourth quarter. Special teams got a couple of field goals, but otherwise has had better days. The bottom line was that Alabama wasn't quite good enough in any area in losing to 11th-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday.

Alabama led most of the game, but surrendered the lead with 3:28 to play as Tennessee completed the scoring in a 16-13 win in front of 106,695. Although Bama led at the end of the first quarter (3-0), at halftime (6-3, and at the end of the third quarter (13-6). Tennessee had the lead only once, but that lead was when it mattered, at the end of the game.

Twice in the fourth quarter Alabama had poor execution in the punting game and the Volunteers took advantage. After the Crimson Tide was called for interference with a punt return man and penalized 15 yards, the Vols were set up at the Alabama 43. Tennessee drove inside the Alabama 10 before the defense stiffened and forced a field goal that cut the Bama lead to 13-9.

Moments later the Tide offense stalled at its own 41. D.J. Fitzgerald had a statistically good day, a career-high nine punts for 371 yards, a 41.2-yard average. But on his eighth punt of the day, he managed only 29 yards. Still, Tennessee was 70 yards from an end zone it hadn't been in all day. The Vols got a crucial first down on a pass interference call, then had some big pass plays to get down to a first and goal at the Alabama 7. On second down Tennessee got inside the one, and on third down Arian Foster dove in for the go-ahead touchdown.

Alabama got the ball back with 3:22 to play, but couldn't move and punted with two minutes to play. Although Bama used its timeouts well to get the ball back with 1:19, the Tide's last gasp effort didn't come close to success, Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson sacked on the final two plays of the game.

With the loss, Alabama fell to 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play and 5-3 overall. Although Alabama leads the all-time series against Tennessee, 44-38-7, the Vols have won 11 of the past 13 meetings after having gone winless from 1986 through 1994. Tennessee, which had an open date before hosting Alabama, improved to 6-1 overall and 2-1 in SEC games. Alabama had an excellent first half against the SEC's top quarterback, Tennessee's Erik Ainge. Simeon Castille had two interceptions, one at the Tennessee goalline, the other one he returned 60 yards to inside the Tennessee 10. Lionel Mitchell had an interception to end the first half. But in the second half, Ainge had very good success. Bama got no more picks and Ainge finished with 300 yards passing.

Pre-game contemplation had it that Kenneth Darby would have to have a good day running for Alabama to be successful. The Tide came very close to success even with Darby unable to make yards against a Tennessee defensive front that defeated the Alabama offensive line most of the day. (Back-up Jimmy Johns had a career-long run of 26 yards and a pass reception for 16 yards, but wasn't used much after having missed most practice the previous week with a bad ankle.)

With starting wide receiver Keith Brown held out of the game because of a knee injury, Wilson had to rely on D.J. Hall and Will Oakley. Both did well, including Hall making a third quarter play reminiscent of the legendary catch of Tyrone Prothro in last year's Southern Miss game. Wilson tossed one into triple coverage, and Hall was interfered with. But amazingly, Hall caught the ball on the back of Tennessee defender D.J. Heffney for a 40-yard gain to the Tennessee 12-yard line. Hall on a reverse and Darby up the middle picked up the first down at the one. From there Tim Castille in Bama's jumbo package took it in for a touchdown with 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

But that was to be it for the Tide, and 13 points would not be enough to win in Knoxville.

Tennessee had the first scoring opportunity of the game after returning Alabama's first punt of the game for 32 yards to the Alabama 35. The defense held and the Vols' fine placekicker, James Wilhoit, missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. Hawaii is the only team this year that has scored on Alabama's defense on its opening possession.

Alabama had a nice drive to a first and goal, but as has often been the case this year the Tide couldn't punch out a touchdown. The 11-play drive included Wilson hitting passes for nine yards to Hall, eight to Oakley and 12 to Nikita Stover (on a third-and-11 play at the Tennessee 20) and runs of five and 26 yards by Johns. But inside the 10, Darby was held for no gain and Wilson was incomplete on two passes, forcing Jamie Christensen to kick a 24-yard field goal.

Simeon Castille kept the scoring at 3-0 after one quarter when he intercepted Ainge at the Bama four on a first-and-10 play from the Alabama 19.

Tennessee got a nice march on its first possession of the second quarter, going to a first and goal at the Alabama nine. The Tide defense stiffened and Wilhoit tied the score at 3-3 with a 27-yard field goal.

Castille's second interception of the game came with just over three and a half minutes to play in the first half. He got the ball at the Alabama 32 and raced down the right sidelines, where Ainge forced Castille out of bounds at the eight yard line. Castille being unable to get it into the end zone would prove costly, because the Bama offense couldn't do the job. The golden opportunity was limited to only three points, an 18-yard Christensen field goal. That was kicking on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. It made it 6-3 Alabama at halftime, and those four missed points would be huge later in the game.

Tennessee had another big punt return midway through the third quarter. The Vols forced a punt from the Tide 29 and returned it 29 yards to the Bama 34. Tennessee couldn't get a first down, but did get a 47-yard field goal from Wilhoit to tie the game at 6-6. After the Hall catch and Tim Castille run gave Alabama a 13-6 lead, it was pretty much all Tennessee for the remainder of the game.

An interference call on an Alabama punt put the Vols at the Alabama 43 and Tennessee pulled to within four points at 13-9 when Wilhoit was good on a 26-yard field goal with 8:18 to play. Bama got one first down, but the Tide used only about a minute and a half of time before punting back to Tennessee. From there the Vols drove to the winning touchdown.

This week is homecoming at Alabama. The Crimson Tide will host Florida International, the unfortunate team that is 0-7 and now short 18 players, suspended after a brawl in the FIU-Miami game. Kickoff for the game is at 2:07 CDT with the only television being Pay Per View.

Alabama is 2-3 in Southeastern Conference games. This is the final non-conference game of the year for Bama. The Tide closes out with home games against Mississippi State and Auburn (November 18) around a road game at LSU (November 11). Bama is 2-0 in SEC home games (and 5-0 in all games at Bryant-Denny Stadium) and 0-3 in road games, all against SEC opponents.

Next week's game, Alabama hosting Mississippi State, has been selected for telecast by Lincoln Financial (formerly the Jefferson Pilot game). That means kickoff will be at 11:30 a.m. CST (don't forget to set clocks back this Sunday night as Daylight Savings Time ends).

John Parker Wilson has completed 131-of-226 passes for 1,737 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 1,737 yards rank 11th among the highest singles season totals in Alabama history. His 11 touchdown passes are tied for 13th among the all-time singles season totals. Wilson's game against the Vols was the first game this season he did not throw for over 200 yards.

Tim Castille's one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter gives him four touchdowns for the season and 19 for his career. Three of Alabama's last four touchdowns against Tennessee have been scored by Castille. He scored the Crimson Tide's last touchdown against the Vols in 2004 on a two-yard run at the 5:55 mark of the first quarter, a span of 154:57 between scores. It was the first touchdown of the series since Erik Ainge connected with Jayson Swain on a pass in 2004, spanning 140:42 minutes.

D.J. Hall moved into eighth on the all-time list for career receptions. He became the eighth Alabama player to catch his 100th career pass with seven catches for 102 yards. He moved past Kevin Turner and is now one catch shy of David Palmer and Ozzie Newsome.

Hall also climbed up the career receiving yards charts moving past Dennis Homan into sixth all-time with 1,567 yards. He is only one yard away from Curtis Brown for fifth on the list.

Hall now has 36 catches for 705 yards and five touchdowns. His 705 yards rank eighth among the highest totals for a single season in school history.

The 102 yards for Hall gives him a school record five straight games with 100 receiving yards. He also holds records with five 100-yard games this season and eight in his career.

Will Oakley set a new career high with four receptions in the game. He finished with four catches for 28 yards.

It was the second time this season Simeon Castille intercepted two passes in a game. He also had two interceptions against Vanderbilt. His return of 60 yards on his second interception was a career long. He has five interceptions on the season and nine for his career.

Lionel Mitchell intercepted a pass and returned it 30 yards to end the first half. It was his fourth interception of the season. He now has 131 return yards on his four interceptions this season, the third highest single season total in school history.

Marcel Stamps recorded his second career blocked punt in the third quarter. He previously blocked a punt against Western Carolina in 2004. It was the second blocked punt this season for Alabama. Justin Woodall blocked a punt the previous week against Ole Miss.

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Tennessee
By Kirk McNair

Alabama looked familiar insofar as its starting offensive and defensive alignments against Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday. The Crimson Tide opened with a 4-3 defense and an offense with one tight end, two wide receivers and two running backs. For the third time this year Alabama's opening defense had four defensive linemen, meaning Dominic Lee was in the starting lineup at tackle. In the secondary, Rashad Johnson got his second start of the season. He had opened in the Hawaii game, but it was as a nickel back against the Warriors. Against Tennessee he started at safety in place of Marcus Carter. On offense, Will Oakley got his consecutive start. Keith Brown, who suffered a knee injury against Ole Miss last week, was dressed, but did not play in the game. It was the first game Brown had not started since the Utah State game a year ago. Oakley was in on 57 plays and fellow starting wide receiver D.J. Hall 55 as back-up wide receivers had little playing time. Freshman Mike McCoy was used for only one play. He had two plays against Hawaii, his only other game action. Left tackle Andre Smith was out of the game for three plays. His spot was taken by Chris Capps, last year's left tackle who now plays right tackle. Capps played every offensive snap. Kyle Tatum, last year's starting right tackle, played that position the three plays that Smith was out. Evan Cardwell played eight snaps at center with Antoine Caldwell moving over to replace Justin Britt at left guard those plays. Caldwell, halfback Kenneth Darby, and defensive end Wallace Gilberry extended their starting streaks to 19 games, longest of any current Tide players. Chris Harris played in his 37th game, the most by any Alabama player without a career start. Alabama dressed the Southeastern Conference limit of 70 men as the visiting team in a league game. (The home team is allowed to dress 95 and 80 of those may be designated as eligible to play.) The Tide used 58 men against the Vols, 21 on offense, 21 on defense, and 16 just on special teams. Here are those who played against Tennessee 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 (55), Nikita Stover (16), Mike McCoy (1)
Left Tackle—Andre Smith (55-3)
Left Guard—Justin Britt (50)
Center—Antoine Caldwell (58), Evan Cardwell (8-3)
Right Guard—B.J. Stabler (51), Marlon Davis (7)
Right Tackle—Chris Capps (58-3), Kyle Tatum (3)
Tight End—Travis McCall (38-12), Nick Walker (2-3), Charles Hoke (1-8)
Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (58)
Halfback—Kenneth Darby (29), Jimmy Johns (11-14)
Fullback—LéRon McClain (25-17), Tim Castille (33)
Flanker—Will Oakley (57), Matt Caddell (22)

Left End—Wallace Gilberry (54), Chris Harris (18)
Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (45), Lorenzo Washington (3)
Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (37), J.P. Adams (31)
Right End—Keith Saunders (46), Bobby Greenwood (26)
Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (71), Demarcus Waldrop (3-9)
Middle Linebacker— Prince Hall (68), Matt Collins (4-9), Darren Mustin (1-4)
Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (68), Zach Schreiber (1-4) Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (71-3)
Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (72-4), Lionel Mitchell (29) Strong Safety—Jeffrey Dukes (71-7)
Safety—Rashad Johnson (42-18), Marcus Carter (31-5)

Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (9 punts, 2 field goals, 1 extra point) Snapper—Luke Spaulding (9 punts, 2 field goals, 1 extra point)
Placekicker—Jamie Christensen (4 kickoffs, 2 field goals, 1 extra point)
Coverage and Returns—Marcel Stamps (4), Chris Rogers (8), Marquis Johnson (11), Ali Sharrief (9), Justin Woodall (8), Javier Arenas (9), Bryan Kilpatrick (18), Forress Rayford (4), Eryk Anders (4), Eric Gray (13), Baron Huber (5), Sam Burnthall (13), Mike Johnson (3)

Basketball Outlook: Gottfried's Crimson Tide Picked To Win SEC West
By Mitch Dobbs

Southeastern Conference Media Days for the upcoming basketball season was held in Birmingham on Wednesday and Thursday, with media votes at the event picking Alabama to win the SEC Western Division regular season in a split vote.

Alabama picked up 16 first place votes among the 29 ballots and LSU, coming off its Final Four season and returning the SEC Player of the Year, received 13 first place media votes. Regional bias should be considered, as there were certainly more attendees from the state of Alabama than Louisiana, but there are high expectations on Alabama nonetheless.

Florida was picked decisively to win the Southeastern Conference overall title, picking up 28 first place Eastern Division votes, and 21 votes to win the overall crown. LSU received five votes and Alabama picked up three votes in the overall league title voting. Kentucky received one first place vote to win the Eastern Division. The predicted order of finish was:

Western Division Alabama (16)
LSU (13)
Mississippi State
Ole Miss

Eastern Division
Florida (28)
Kentucky (1)
South Carolina

Alabama point guard Ronald Steele was voted to the All-SEC first team on every ballot but one, and received three votes as the SEC Player of the Year (Florida's Joakim Noah was the top Player of the Year vote getter with 14). Crimson Tide center Jermareo Davidson was a second-team pick.

Other first teamers were: Glen Davis, LSU (unanimous); Joakim Noah, Florida; Chris Lofton, Tennessee; Al Horford, Florida. Other second-teamers were: Corey Brewer, Florida; Shan Foster, Vanderbilt; Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State; Taurean Green, Florida.

Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried said his squad is much further along through two weeks of practice this season than it was in the early portion of last year.

"I think we're a little more established early on than we were last year," Gottfried said. "If you go back to the beginning of last year it wasn't until the beginning of January that we figured out how this team should really play and who should play. When you have new players it takes you a little while to figure out your team.

"With Chuck Davis' injury and then when Justin (Jonus) left the team, we figured out how this team needed to play. Early in the season we weren't there. We have a much better idea how we should play, who should play and what roles."

Alabama returns starters Steele, Davidson and sophomore forward Richard Hendrix to this year's team, and sophomore Alonzo Gee has asserted himself in the first two weeks of practice as a solid fourth starter. (Brandon Hollinger was a starter late last year, but is more likely to be in contention for a back-up to Steele.)

"We're a lot further ahead of ourselves than we were last year," Gottfried said. "I don't know who the fifth guy would be. I really don't. I think there's a couple of different ways we could do it and we could change after a while."

Sophomore Alonzo Gee has grown as a man, and as a basketball player, establishing himself early in practice. Gee, Gottfried said, has grown an inch and a half (to six-feet, six-and-a-half inches), and added 20 pounds (from 205 to 225) while reducing his body fat from 17 per cent when he arrived on campus to 4 per cent now.

Gee has toned up, and Gottfried is looking to him to replace the defensive aptitude lost with Jean Felix's departure from last year's team. Felix was tabbed to defend the opponents best player nearly every game.

"Last year Felix, he guarded every one of those guys," Gottfried said, "and I'm not sure we've got that guy right now. Hopefully Alonzo Gee can become that."

Coach Mike Shula Says
By Kirk McNair

Alabama Coach Mike Shula is adamant that the decisions he has made regarding play-calling and personnel have been predicated on giving the Crimson Tide football team the best chance to win. By the same token, he said if changes are made it will be because it gives Bama its best chance for success.

"When I make a decision, it's because I think it's best for our football team," he said in his weekly meeting with the media. "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."

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."

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."

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 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."

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