Saturday's game will measure the Tide

Alabama Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione sees this week's game against second-ranked Oklahoma as a measuring stick for his Crimson Tide. In his regular Tuesday meeting with the press, Franchione said, "I think this game provides an early season measuring stick for where we are and where we want to get to."

Alabama, coming off a pedestrian 39-34 season-opening win over mid-major Middle Tennessee State, takes on Oklahoma, which blistered Tulsa, 37-0, in its opening game, at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Norman. ABC will televise the game with Brent Musburger doing play-by-play.

Franchione said he expects improvement by his team, particularly in the two areas that were so disappointing against MTSU. Alabama had a school record-tying 16 penalties for 127 yards and was very poor in kick coverage. He said, "We all cling to the thought that you make your most improvement from game one to game two during the course of a season, and everyone associated with this team and this program needs to do that. We need to improve in every area if we're going to continue to have a good season."

Much has been made of two tradition-rich programs playing in an early season game. Franchione said, "This is why you coach, to get to coach in these kinds of games. It's why players come to Alabama, to play in these kinds of games. It's certainly two great, tradition rich programs."

Oklahoma won the national championship two years ago and is considered by many as likely to win this year's title. Franchione said, "They have outstanding athletes (with) great team speed, great quickness, great athletic ability. If you can get them in a bad position they can make up for it with their speed and quickness."

The Oklahoma defense is particularly noteworthy. Franchione said it is made up with good players who play with "great passion" and "aggressively." The Tide coach noted that last year Arkansas had only 50 yards total offense against Oklahoma, Texas A&M only 132 yards. Indeed, he said, only three of 12 opponents had as many as 300 yards.

Franchione noted that the team that had the most offensive success against Oklahoma last year was Kansas State. And what does their offense look like? "If you changed the color of their jerseys, they'd look a lot like Alabama," the coach said. "They are very multiple with multiple looks, run the option, throw it, and have a power running game." Kansas State actually got over 400 yards of offense against the Sooners.

The Tide coach said Alabama's task has been made greater by an Oklahoma running game that produced 378 yards, including Quentin Griffin running for 237 yards on just 17 carries. Previously the Sooners had been noted primarily for their passing attack. Franchione said Oklahoma played well on offense with quarterback Jason White giving a solid performance.

Franchione said, "Offensively we're going to have to find a way to move the ball with some consistency and avoid negative yardage plays. We're going to have to play four quarters on defense and we're going to have to play a lot better in the kicking game. We're going to have to play very well against this team."

He said that while Bama quarterback Tyler Watts "will have to play solid in order for us to have a chance to win, but he doesn't have to win it by himself."

In answer to a question, Franchione said, "I think our players believe they can win the game. I think they all came to practice Sunday knowing that they have to improve in certain areas. But they have looked forward to this game for a long time. They have the right kind of mentality to play a highly-ranked team. They understand the ramifications of playing in this kind of game and the preparation that it's going to need. I don't think I'm going to have to do a lot of motivating at practice. I feel like they understand that they've got to be on their game and they've got to get better this week. Alabama will be ready to play."

However, in answer to another question, he reiterated that no one at Alabama considers this to be the team's "bowl game." Franchione did say it is a "highlight game."

He said it was a positive that Alabama did not have a turnover last week and said it will be important not to have turnovers against Oklahoma. He also said Alabama will have to diversify its offense, that it cannot be one-dimensional.

Franchione said he was not surprised that Triandos Luke had a good game at wide receiver for Bama against MTSU. Luke had nine catches for 85 yards. He said he has confidence that all the Tide receivers can play solid football, both catching the football and blocking.


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