Shula Looks Ahead

Mike Shula has his work cut out for him. After Alabama lost to lowly Mississippi State in Tuscaloosa Saturday, the Crimson Tide has to go to Baton Rouge to take on talented LSU, which is coming off an impressive win over Tennessee in Knoxville.

In his regular Sunday teleconference with sportswriters, Shula said that Alabama's football team can't do anything about the loss to Mississippi State. But, he added, that doesn't mean he and his assistant coaches and players won't take a long, hard look at that 24-16 loss to the Bulldogs.

"You have to be realistic," Shula said. "You have to correct the mistakes. Some coaches don't want their team to look at the tape after a loss like this, but I think it's important that we go through it and see. That's tough. The players have to have thick skins. And when we correct it -- the players and coaches -- we're trying to make ourselves better. Then it's over. When we get back in here practicing Tuesday you can't be dwelling on the past. You can't live in the past, even if we had won."

Shula stated the obvious when he said, "It's going to be a challenge this week. LSU is big and talented in all three areas (offense, defense, kicking) and playing well. We know what we're getting into. LSU is a talented team that is playing with a lot of confidence. We've got to find a way to put this behind us and regroup. We have to be positive with each other and get the most out of every day and that gives us a chance on Saturday."

Although LSU has a couple of tough road losses at Auburn and Florida, the Bengal Tigers are generally considered to have the most talent of any football team in the Southeastern Conference. Bama will take on LSU in Baton Rouge with kickoff at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday. The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN.

Alabama's record fell to 6-4 overall and 2-4 in SEC play with the loss to Mississippi State. LSU is 7-2 overall, 3-2 in conference games and coming off an impressive last-second 28-24 win over Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday.

It has been disappointing to Shula that Alabama has practiced well, then not carried that good into the games. He also said that changes might have to be made.

"We'll change some things, but we'll change within our personality," Shula said. "Whether it's in our run or play action or drop back or misdirection, we can change some things. We'll look at them. Some things we do may look better against the defense you face this week than against the defense you faced last week.

"We'll talk about that as we continue to go through our preparation today and Monday. I don't think there are any major things. We have to see where we are injurywise. We have to have a good plan in all three areas."

The Tide coach said, "We'll continue to preach taking it from the practice field to the playing field. Sometimes it can come only with experience."

Shula said, "Yesterday was disappointing for all of us, not to be able to play like we know we are capable of playing. There were some good efforts and some good things that happened that could have given us a chance to change momentum and we didn't do that and couldn't dig out. Mississippi State did a nice job. We have to correct mistakes. We can't change anything about yesterday. We have to change for this week. It's going to be tough to do because everyone is disappointed about yesterday."

Follwing the game he talked to his team, he said, "about being a better football team than the way we played. The guys had practiced and done all the things we asked them to do. Somehow we've got to do the things on game day we're capable of doing and not doing right now. If you play in the SEC you have to do that to have success. We have a lot of guys working hard to get better and they are going to get better. We told them to continue to work hard, and to remember this feeling and use it for motivation."

And what is the problem?

"It's hard to put a finger on it," Shula said. "Obviously if we had a concrete answer we'd have it corrected. We've been close on some third down connections–caught the ball out of bounds or it was just out of reach on long ones. We need to m,ake first downs and keep on the field. We were doing that early in the year and we're not making as many now. And I keep coming back to this: We have to find a way to get it in the end zone when we get down there.

Several times following the game and again on Sunday Shula cited the Tide's inability to get into the end zone with touchdowns from plus territory as a primary reason for Bama's loss to Mississippi State.

He said, "We go down there on the opening drive and we're second and two at the two and don't get the ball in the end zone. After having some successful plays and doing some good things, everyone comes off disappointed."

Shula added, "We didn't (pass) protect as well as we should have at times. We had some opportunities and didn't get them. We've been close. If we just do a little thing here or a little thing there we can get over the edge. The big thing still is finishing. If we get in half the times in the games we've lost it would have made a difference."

Shula was asked about the so-called Jumbo Package, the short yardage offensive alignment that includes replacing running back Kenneth Darby with fullback Tim Castille and adding a second tight end in place of the split end. Shula said that Darby isn't replaced because he can't do the job, but because Bama has had success with Castille.

He said, "When things don't work, the tendency is to want to change the running back. But often its a play where we didn't execute up front as well as we should have."

Speaking of the offensive line, Shula said, "I think we all feel we should be better. Sometimes little things add up to bigger things. You have an opportunity to make a play and don't make it and so you're in third and long and it exposes offensive linemen. If you score in the plus zone and you're playing with a lead that helps your offensive line. We have played primarily with the same guys. We've mixed in Marlon (Davis) with B.J. (Stabler), who is playing on a bad knee. There have been some good things that haven't shown up on the scoreboard. But pass protection probably wasn't as good as it needed to be. If we'll do a couple of little things better we can play better. In techniques and schemes, it we make those adjustments on game day we'll be better.

"There are a lot of new guys, first or second year of playing. Michael Johnson and Evan Cardwell would be the next ones we would consider."

The coach also pointed out that sometimes when protection breaks down it's not entirely the fault of the offensive line. He said he didn't know the proportion, but said sometimes it was because "the ball has to come out faster. Sometimes a young quarterback wants to wait to throw downfield instead of taking what's underneath.

"But that's on the coaches, too. We can call plays for that.

"And the receivers factor in, too. They have to get open when they are supposed to be open." Shula was asked specifically about right offensive tackle, where Chris Capps has taken over for Kyle Tatum. Tatum was the starter the previous two seasons, while Capps moved from starting at left tackle last year to starting at right tackle this year. Shula noted that Mississippi State had exploited the right side of Alabama's offensive line. He said Capps would continue to be the starter.

Shula said because Alabama doesn't have a bye week in this year's 12-game schedule that practices have been designed to get the team off the field as quickly as possible. "I think that helps them," he said.

He said, "It's important to be positive, important to know what we need to do."

Shula was asked if he could have foreseen Alabama's record. The coach said, "Our expectations were high going into the season. That was especially true for the seniors. They are our leaders and we want them to have high expectations. Then you lose some tough games on the road. We have worked like crasy to get things corrected and get back on the right track. Then yesterday we didn't play well for a quarter and a half and dug ourselves a hole. We have to expect better things of ourselves. That comes with signing on here."

Safety Rashad Johnson injured an ankle, but other than bumps and bruises Shula did not think there were other serious injuries in the game. He added that those who have been banged up, including quarterback John Parker Wilson, running back Kenneth Darby, and center Antoine Caldwell "will probably be sore."

Shula knows he is being criticized.

"You know about the fallout if you lose from the day you take this job," he said. "The only thing you can do is win. That has to be our mindset."

He was asked if he had any advice from his father, Hall of Fame NFL Coach Don Shula, about handling the criticism. Shula said, "Probably after I was about six years old when they were winning Super Bowls. Then you find out it doesn't always happen. You have to take the good with the bad, not let certain things bother you. When you lose, there are not going to be many good things said about you or your football team, but you can't do anything about that. All you can do is work and get your team ready.

"That will be our focus this week, to work to get better and give our team a chance to win."


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