"They've come to play every week and played with effort and focus--and played pretty well."
After six games, Bama's record stands at 4-2. But both losses were to legitimate Top 10 teams. "I don't feel bad about where we are," Franchione said. "This is a league that not much separates one team from another. You've got to be on with most of your game every week, or you're going to get beat--whether you're home or away. We have to understand that."
Against both Oklahoma and Georgia, the Tide held a lead late in the fourth quarter, only to lose in the end. But Franchione prefers to focus on the positives. "It would be wrong to say I'm not disappointed with the two losses," he admitted, "but you're supposed to be. The important thing is to find the good things and move forward. Correct the things you can correct. That's what we're trying to do."
So far injury luck has not been kind. Ahmaad Galloway, Bama's senior leading rusher, was lost for the season with a knee injury. Tyler Watts, the Tide's senior quarterback, missed most of the last two games with a foot injury. And Alabama has had to make do the past two games without Lane Bearden, the heart and soul of its kicking game.
"We've certainly had to play some games without some key individuals," Franchione acknowledged. "We've had to play without some of our leaders. We've been very fortunate for the people that have stepped up and done a good job. For the most part we've been able to find somebody to fill every vacancy, which has been very satisfying.
"Hopefully we won't have to keep trying to do that."
Asked if the play of redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle has been about as good as he could have asked for, Franchione's reply was blunt. "No. We strive for excellence. In a best-case scenario I could find a lot of plays where he has had freshman-like results.
"But at the same time he's done very well. Don't misconstrue my statement as one of disappointment, because it's not. Even though he had not played for awhile, he's done well. I do not want to diminish the progress and the performance that he's given us."
Croyle was near-perfect in Bama's dominating win over Arkansas. But the redshirt freshman played like one the week before against Southern Miss. And while Croyle turned in a gutty performance last Saturday versus the Bulldogs, there was also plenty of room for improvement.
Franchione assessed Croyle's performance so far. "Can Brodie do better? Yes. Will he do better? Yes. Could he have done better?
"Maybe or maybe not. We've asked a lot of him the past few weeks, and he's responded very well for the most part."
After playing six weekends in a row, this Saturday is an open date for the Tide. And Franchione is taking advantage of the extra practices. "The off week gives us a chance to work more on special teams," he explained. "We worked every aspect of the kicking game today. It's given us time to look harder at kickers and punters.
"One of the key things you do as a coach as you go into an open week is you try to be smart enough to recognize what you can make better---and you make it better. But you're also smart enough to know that with some problems there are not a lot of things that you can do to fix it at this point in the season. Work on the things that you can fix.
"Special teams are one aspect that I know we can make better. Hopefully we'll come out of the off week having done that."
In a departure from recent years, the Tide will play a Junior Varsity game this Thursday. "I've used JV games before," Franchione said. "Because of our numbers and because of our non-scholarshipped kids, I knew that we would have athletes that we could get valuable experience."
Bama's opponent will be a very good Georgia Military team, but the Tide coaches will be using the game as much for player evaluation as anything else. "Sometimes it's very difficult to put a young athlete into a regular season game, when all the money is on the line," Franchione explained. "You only have to judge what you see in practice. Thursday will be an opportunity for some young men to get game experience. The coaches won't be out there on the field coaching them.
"Maybe we'll find some guys that may be able to help us."