Shula Looks At LSU

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula doesn't feel very good this week, and that's before he even thinks about his Crimson Tide football team going to Baton Rouge to take on the nation's number one ranked defense of LSU. "It has been tough on everyone in this building," he said Tuesday at his regular weekly media briefing. "That goes with the territory.

"You know that when you come in here, especially if you are the head football coach. You have to win. That's what we're working for; to go out and win every Saturday.

"We had a game when we did not play as well as we should. That doesn't make us a bad football team. Now we have to get ready to to to LSU."

Alabama did not win last Saturday, falling to Mississippi State, 24-16, in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Tide thus fell to 2-4 in Southeastern Conference games and 6-4 overall. Bama will be at LSU at 6:45 p.m. CST Saturday for an ESPN televised game. The Bengal Tigers are coming off an impressive 28-24 come-from-behind win over Tennessee in Knoxville. LSU is 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the conference.

"It's tough to swallow a loss when you didn't play as well as we're capable," he said. "It's tough because we lost a game we thought we should have won. But it's over. There's nothing we can do about that one. As bad as we feel, we have to move on."

Shula said the team met and watched a tape of the game and talked about how everyone could do better in the future. And the future is now.

"This is an incredible opportunity," Shula said. "We've had ten games. We lost three tough ones on the road and one at home when we didn't play well. Now we have to everyone in the right mindset. Everyone has given incredible effort in practice every week. It's too bad it hasn't always paid off. But this could be the week. We haven't played four quarters yet. Our goal is to do that and see how good we are."

Shula was asked if Bama's season could be judged a success with wins in the last two games, against LSU and Auburn, teams that are certain to be substantial favorites to beat the Tide. "We're not going to look past this week, but our goal is to win them all," Shula said.

Shula called LSU a very talented team. "It starts with quarterback," he said. "JaMarcus Russell has made a lot of plays in a variety of ways. Their wide receivers have good numbers, they ran the ball as well as anyone has against Tennessee, they have a good line, the defense has good speed, and they have good special teams."

He noted that even though Russell threw three interceptions at Tennessee, "he kept his poise and made some plays and made the game-winner at the end. That's about as good as it gets for a quarterback."

Shula said that because Russell "is as big as most of our defensive tackles," which adds to the difficulty of defending against him. "It's probably going to be hard to tackle him too high," Shula said. "You have to hit him about waist high and hold on for dear life. He's made a lot of big plays. He's playing more physical than he ever has. he takes hits and keeps going. He wards off tacklers. We've got to get pressure on him. We have to hit him a few times. Our secondary has got to cover hard and be disciplined. We're going to have to react real quick and keep playing. You can't panic."

Shula said that going to LSU will be his team's biggest challenge "so far. Tennessee was good, and we have Auburn the next week."

Among many areas in which LSU has been impressive this year is in an SEC-best 28 sacks. Shula said there are things the Tide can do to protect against being sacked. "First of all, you have to stay out of third and long," he said. "There are some things we are looking at schemewise. You can get the ball out faster, receivers can get open more quickly, you can be more efficient in the running game. those are things we have to be able to do, particularly this week. We are going to have opportunities, but maybe not as many this week."

His message to the players is "Let's not be close this week. Let's make them."

In answer to a question as to whether Shula and his coaches might be "losing the team," the Tide head coach said, "I think you look at your plaeyrs and the way they prepare. You talk to them about it. Our guys have prepared well. They came in Sunday night and had a nice short workout, as well as they have since we've been here. Each week we look hard at effort things. You can talk about a team not playing hard. that hasn't been our case. They play their hearts out each and every week. They did that last week and came up short. And they know they have to give their best in Baton Rouge."

He said there is communication between coaches and players "if there are things that come up during some tough times."

Shula said the goals are the same each week. "Win," he said. "Winning cures a lot. Going to Baton Rouge to play one of the better teams in the country is something we talk to our team about, and which will get them motivated. We talk about each week being a one-week season. ou have to block every thing that's happened and you have to forget about anything that's going to happen in the future. One thing they've done is they haven't let things bother them, and that's tough to do."

Bama has not fared well on the road with three "away" losses in as many tries. This is the fourth and final road game for Alabama. Why has the Tide had such a difficult time in road games?

Shula said it's a product of having a young offense, and particularly a young quarterback. He pointed out, "We've been in three of the loudest stadiums in the country (Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee) and been in all three games. We just haven't been able to finish. That's why we'll continue to talk (to the team) about it being a four quarter game. If things don't go your way, keep your poise."

Alabama historically has done well in Baton Rouge, although under Shula the Tide is 0-3 against LSU and 0-1 at Tiger Stadium. "We've been close, but we haven't had it end like we've wanted it to," Shula said. "We had the lead in the third quarter with a team that has been beaten up." He noted that he asked for a show of hands of players who had been to Knoxville before the Tide played Tennessee on the road this year. "There weren't as many as I would have liked," the coach said. That will be the case in Baton Rouge, too.

Shula knows dissatisfaction is directed against him, and he is not surprised. "I learned a lot about that when I came here as a player," he said. "You don't have that attention in high school that you get here. But then you lose those nice things that were being said go away and you see the opposite." He said he also was growing up in the home of a football coach and when his father had some tough losses "he was down and he was hurt. The only way you can change things is focus on your job."

And how does he evaluate the job he's done?

"When you answer a question like that, all you've got is your record. It's not where we want to be."

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