Yes, Alabama is still in a rebuilding process. Yes, Alabama played well against the nation's number two team on the road last week. And, yes, Alabama is expected to beat North Texas this week.
But there is little likelihood Alabama players will be thinking about the one that got away last week (a 37-27 loss to Oklahoma in Norman) when the Crimson Tide takes on the Mean Green this Saturday. Alabama hosts the North Texas Mean Green at 6 p.m. CDT in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The only telecast of the game will be on a Pay-Per-View basis on cable and satellite.
In his regular weekly press briefing prior to Tuesday's practice, Franchione said, "I'm proud of the way our players fought last week. They played hard and the coaches had a good plan." He added that the team would attempt to build on the Oklahoma game, then put it behind in preparation for the Mean Green.
Franchione said, "You can never let your players take consolation in defeat, and it's not that way here. I think we can be proud of the way we played, that we took steps, that we played well on the road. And we know we can beat anyone if we play well on every play."
"We have a lot of respect for North Texas," Franchione said. "They have 20 starters back." He added that the Mean Green of the Sun Belt Conference is a "good, solid football team" that will be well-coached and well-prepared. His experience against North Texas is that they will be patient, trying to get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win; that they will be disciplined, not likely to do things to beat themselves; and that they will play tough, hard-nosed football.
Franchione has a personal relationship with North Texas Head Coach Darrell Dickey. Dickey is the son of former Kansas State Coach Jim Dickey and Franchione was the wide receivers coach for Kansas State under Jim when Darrell was Kansas State's quarterback. (One of Darrell's cousins, Grant Dickey, is a freshman offensive lineman at Bama.)
Franchione pointed out the success North Texas had earlier this year in a game against highly-regarded Texas, holding the Longhorns to only 28 net rushing yards and turning in eight quarterback sacks against Texas. Texas did win that game, 27-0. North Texas evened its record with a 23-0 win last week over Nicholls State. Franchione also pointed out that North Texas represented the Sun Belt Conference in the New Orleans Bowl last year because the Mean Green was able to defeat Middle Tennessee State, a team Bama had trouble with in its opener this year.
Franchione said, "We have to get our players re-focused and ready to play this week." He said he expected his coaching staff to have a good plan, noting that Bama does not make big changes in its game plan from week-to-week.
In answer to a question about Shaud Williams perhaps having earned the job of punt return man, Franchione said, "It's too early to talk about starters. That will probably be determined Thursday." While he went on to say Williams probably would be the punt return man this week, he thus avoided announcing decisions on any changes in the starting offensive or defensive lineups.
Franchione also said the team looks forward to its first game of the year at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bama opened the season with a home game, but at Legion Field in Birmingham. "This is coming home," Franchione said. "Our stadium is a pretty special place." Some tickets ($30 each) remain and may be purchased at Coleman Coliseum, by calling 1-800-240-2300, or on the internet at www.rolltide.com and tickets will be on sale at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, where the gates will open at 3 p.m.
There was much discussion following the loss to Oklahoma regarding special teams play. The kicking game was huge in the Oklahoma game. Alabama recovered two on-sides kicks, blocked two punts (one returning for a touchdown), and blocked a field goal. Additionally, the Tide got two 45-yard field goals from Michael Ziifle and Lane Bearden, the holder on field goal tries, scored a touchdown on a fake field goal. However, Bama also had a field goal blocked, missed a chip shot field goal attempt, and allowed Oklahoma its first points of the game when Bearden as punter muffed a center snap and had to kick the ball through the end zone for a safety.
Alabama had not played well on special teams in the season-opener against MTSU, and Franchione said that had been disappointing. He noted that Alabama works on every phase of the kicking game in every practice and improvement showed last Saturday. But, he said, "You can just get fired up for an onside kick. You have to be consistent."
He said that Alabama has a specific plan for every team for things such as fake field goals. But, he said, the situation has to be right in order to implement those plans, so frequently there is no fake field goal or punt or onside kick.
The Tide coach says it is a boost for a team to have special teams success because his kicking philosophy is to play the best player, even though that player may be a starter on offense or defense. He said he and his staff had the feeling that special teams had been considered a place for second-teamers prior to his arrival in 2001 and that it has taken awhile to change that thinking among the players.
In answer to questions Franchione said:
He is not concerned that quarterback Tyler Watts will not be ready to play. Watts is remembered from the Oklahoma game primarily for an unforced fumble that was turned into a game-clinching touchdown by the Sooners. The coach said, "Tyler will be fine. He's been out there a lot of days and played in a lot of big games."
He didn't expect Alabama's young defensive backscornerbacks Charlie Peprah and Anthony Madison and safety Roman Harperto have to make an impact so early, but that he is not surprised by them. "We expect them to be very good players," Franchione said. "We needed them Saturday and they responded very well."
While wide receiver Antonio Carter is listed as a captain for Saturday's game, that does not necessarily mean he will be ready to play. Carter is having a difficult recovery from off-season surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg.