A tough Southern Miss again

With Alabama playing its fourth straight game without an off date, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione backed off a bit on the intensity of practice this week. Thursday's session was conducted in the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility.

"We gave the players a break from the heat and humidity," Franchione said. "We practice hard and we want to make sure they're fresh on Saturday. And we won't do any field practice the following Sunday, resting up a bit for Arkansas the next Saturday."

Alabama hosts Southern Mississippi at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium with television coverage by ESPN2. Alabama is 2-1. Southern Miss is 3-0 and making its first road trip of the season.

Golden Eagle running back Derrick Nix is currently ranked second in the nation in rushing, prompting many to wonder if Southern Miss will be the best offensive team Alabama has yet faced. "It was hard to grasp how good Oklahoma was running the ball after the Tulsa game," Franchione said. "but I think this is a more balanced offense that we're going to face--one that can run and throw."

In Saturday's game the nation's 18th best running team (Southern Miss) will face the 10th best rushing defense (Alabama). Franchione commented on the match-up. "Looking back at Oklahoma, I'm not sure how good they were. Maybe we deserve more credit for (holding down their running game) than I'm giving us. But going into this week Southern Miss looks to be the most efficient offense that we've faced."

Carrying over the comparison to defense, it's obvious that Oklahoma had more talented individual athletes. With names like Tommy Harris and Jimmy Wilkerson, the Sooners' D-Line is among the nation's best. But Franchione is also impressed with the Golden Eagle ‘D.'

"They're a good defensive ball club. It's hard for me to say that anybody is better than Oklahoma's defense at this point. Oklahoma had a couple of dominant football players that you had to play well against to have a chance, and then they had great speed across the board. Maybe after we play Southern Miss Saturday night I'll change. But they're pretty good."

Franchione listed USM's defensive strengths. "They've got good speed. Their kids know their scheme well. They play with a lot of energy and effort and confidence."

Southern Miss has built a reputation for effective--if somewhat unusual--defensive schemes. Utilizing constant movement and myriad stunts, they seek to confuse an offensive line, throwing off blocking assignments. Franchione explained, "They try to do enough stuff on defense to free somebody up to make the play. Often an unblocked player will make plays. They're good at tying up blockers to free a man to make the tackle."

From his long history coaching and developing offenses, Franchione admires what the Golden Eagles accomplish defensively. "You're going to have some bad plays against their defense," he related. "You have to go into a game versus a team like this and understand that you have to be patient. You know that they're going to make you look bad on some plays, but you hope you hit some as well. They're going to make some big plays; hopefully you're going to make some big plays."

The 2001 Bama/Southern Miss game was played in a virtual monsoon. And several big plays made by Tide athletes spelled the difference in the game. "Last year Ahmaad (Galloway's 40-yard touchdown) run was a big play," Franchione remembered. "The (26-yard touchdown) pass to Freddie (Milons) was a big play. You hope you get some of those."

Working against the Southern Miss defense, Alabama will have to take advantage with a big play when the opportunity arises. Franchione explained, "That does not mean you can't have some drives. It just means that they may get you for a three-yard loss, and you hope to get eight (yards) back the next play. You have to understand and not get frustrated and not lose your patience about what's happening."

"Sometimes they're going to be moving around enough that they can cause you some problems and cause you to malfunction," Franchione continued. "You do the best you can to not get into those situations, but it can happen. Last year we didn't get in too many of those situations, and it helped us over the course of the game."

With the exception of three years, Alabama and Southern Miss have played every season since 1980. But the contract is up for renewal soon. Tide Athletics Director Mal Moore makes the decisions on scheduling, but he'll certainly listen to Franchione's ideas on the subject. "I'd just say that there is strategy to scheduling," Franchione said. "As you build a schedule there are years when you want more challenges and there are years when you need fewer challenges. There is a strategy to every kind of scheduling."

Both Franchione and Moore are in only their second year in their present jobs at Alabama, so there has frankly been little chance so far to focus on long-term scheduling. "You have to have continuity in your program before you can have strategy," Franchione said. "We haven't been able to be in that situation."

With UCLA in 2001 and Oklahoma this year, for two seasons in a row Alabama under Dennis Franchione has faced a Top-Ten caliber out-of-conference opponent early in the year---only to welcom perennial Top 25 Southern Miss later on.

Franchione continued to talk about scheduling. "I'm not exactly sure what our strategy has been (before he and Moore took over). I don't mean that negative. I just don't know. What I inherited is what I inherited. I don't feel bad about this year's schedule."

As an interesting note, the Tide will play four out-of-conference games before beginning its SEC schedule. Then it will commence eight straight conference games, before ending its season versus Hawaii.

"I kind of like the fact that we will have played our non-conference games (early)," Franchione said. "I grew up with the Big 8 where you played four non-conference games and then your seven conference games every year. I kind of liked that.

"Sometimes as a coach when you play a non-conference game late you have an uneasiness about that game--depending on who it is."

Franchione stated earlier this week that his team was not affected by the NCAA's denial of Bama's appeal, explaining that his and the squad's plans had been laid back before the season began with the assumption that all sanctions would stand. But there was one minor exception, and it involved logistical planning for the Tide's season-ending trip to Hawaii.

Franchione explained the minor adjustment. "We're finalizing those plans, but our thought is to come back late (the following) Monday. We're going on business. But the game gets over around 6 pm on Saturday.

"That will give the players some time to sight-see and be a tourist--reflect on the season and enjoy it a little bit. It'll be educational for them."

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