Murphy: Game Should Be About the Players

Mike Shula so doesn't want Saturday's Iron Bowl against Auburn to seem like a referendum, for want of a better word, on his coaching status that he has dodged and misdirected questions about it better than he ever eluded the rush as the Crimson Tide's quarterback.

This is about the players, he says. This is about the game.

And he's right.

Except for the fact that the way his players perform and the effort they put forth and the execution they exhibit will all reflect on the way they were prepared. That takes it right back to Shula and his fourth-year staff.

Should the Tide throw out another sorry display as it did against Mississippi State, what would be the use in keeping Shula around? That would add up to a season's full of underwhelming home performances for the Crimson Tide.

Is it too much to ask to have your team put together a complete game -- one complete game -- in a season?

It is up to Shula and his coaching staff to give the Alabama players the designs for success. That amounts to:

1) Plays they can execute without snafu written all over them. That throws out the cockamamie reverse pass with Keith Brown last week, though I applaud the sentiment behind the gimmickry.

2) A sound defensive plan. If they can't fight off blocks, fill holes and get Brad Lester and Kenny Irons on the ground, they won't have to worry about confusing or pressuring or picking off or picking on Brandon Cox. Auburn won't have to rely on its passing game.

3) Not getting embarrassed on special teams. Every sane college football analyst worth his salt expects Auburn to win the kicking game tomorrow, the Crimson Tide just needs to make sure it's not a landslide.

4) Giving the players something to rally around. Last week, the setting -- a night game on ESPN at LSU's Tiger Stadium -- seemed to ignite some passion in the Crimson Tide. The thought of a daring game plan, a bootleg throwback that hadn't been used all year, an onside kick further enlivened the atmosphere. It wasn't enough against a vastly talented LSU team, but it charged the senses.

Anything less against Auburn cannot be justified.

Everything should be fair game. Jimmy Johns at quarterback, a Ken Darby run inside the 5, double reverses, fake field goals, another onside kick, a simple fade route to DJ Hall. They should all be ready to fire.

Will Alabama's big brass be ready to fire if the Crimson Tide puts forth another listless effort? Think of how unpleasant they'll feel if they have to endure Tommy Tuberville running around with five -- maybe all 10 -- fingers stretched to the heavens, the Tigers celebrating a sixth win, against no defeats, on Crimson soil.

The calculating, rational perspective around the Capstone calls for at least another season under Shula.

The emotional response should Alabama look badly in a loss, who knows?

Shula is 8-19 against teams with winning records and 18-2 against teams with losing records. His teams have yet to enter a fourth quarter trailing and gut out a win.

If Shula wants his players to head into the holidays feeling good about themselves with a lifelong memory of ending the ``Fear the Thumb'' threat, he'll find a way to lead them to victory tomorrow.

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