This one was circled last year

Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione didn't wait very long after last year's game at Mississippi to begin thinking about this year's game. Following the 27-24 loss to the Rebels in Oxford last season, Franchione said, "I circled this one on the Sunday after last year's Saturday game."

Franchione said, "You remember that one. It was a close loss." He also said he wasn't worried that his admission would end up as bulletin board material at Mississippi. "They don't need that," he said. "They are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference."

Mississippi is coming off a 52-17 win over Arkansas State and is ranked 21st in the nation, while Alabama had an open date last week. Bama is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in Southeastern Conference play and is ranked 24th. The Crimson Tide and the Rebels will meet at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game, which is Alabama's homecoming contest, will be televised by CBS. This will be the 50th game in the series. Alabama has a 39-8-2 lead.

One alumnus making the trip to Tuscaloosa for homecoming won't want his alma mater to succeed. Mississippi Head Coach David Cutcliffe is a 1976 Alabama graduate. Franchione will be seeking his 150th win as a head coach.

The interest in this game is on the quarterback position. Alabama's quarterback won't be known until game time. It will be either redshirt freshman Brodie Croyle, who has quarterbacked the last three games (wins over Southern Miss and Arkansas and a loss to Georgia in Bama's last outing), or Tyler Watts, the fifth-year senior who was the starter until being injured on Alabama's first possession against Southern Miss on September 21. The Mississippi quarterback is well-known, Eli Manning of the famous Manning family (father Archie, brother Peyton). Manning ranks second in the SEC in both passing and total offense.

Franchione, who does not discuss injuries during the season, jokingly asked and answered his own questions to start his normal Tuesday press briefing:

Who's going to start at quarterback? I don't know

How's Tyler? Okay.

Later he said that Alabama's offense did not respond differently to the two quarterbacks. The other players, he said, "look up to both Brodie, who has done a lot in a short time, and Tyler, who has a long tenure. We're fortunate to have two we can rely on."

Franchione was asked if Alabama was nearing a two-quarterback situation similar to when both Watts and Andrew Zow shared the position in the past. "I think we're working that way," Franchione said. "Brodie doesn't have as many games as Andrew, but in this offense he does. Every time he goes out he learns. We have confidence in him and his team has confidence in him. We have to understand his strengths and weaknesses, just as we have to understand Tyler's strengths and weaknesses. Both want to play and should want to play. That's the kind of young man we want. Tyler hasn't played in a while and it will be nice to see him on the field."

That, along with Franchione having played number three quarterback Spencer Pennington in a junior varsity game last week, indicates Watts will be back in the lineup this week.

As for Manning, Franchione said, "You're not going to fool him very much. He understands football and he understands defenses and he throws it where it needs to go. You have to execute against him. You are not going to sack him very much. He doesn't put his team in second and long or third and long situations. You're not going to slow down or stop Eli Manning. You go in there hoping you make one more play than Eli Manning does. He's going to make some plays."

Franchione said Alabama's open week had come at a good time, halfway through the season. He said the team had practiced Sunday, its only practice in five days prior to Tuesday's practice. He said the Sunday workout was a good one. "They looked a little quicker, a little fresher," the coach said.

Now, he said, they need to make it pay off by playing well Saturday. And, he said, Alabama will have to play well because Mississippi has been good in every aspect of the game. "They have a lot of energy," Franchione said.

Franchione said he put "good vs. good," meaning first team offense against first team defense, for about 20 minutes in Sunday's practice and scheduled the same for Tuesday's practice in order to get the team back into rhythm and accustomed to the speed of an SEC game.

While Franchione said the open date should be good for his team, he noted that "Last year we played our worst game after our open date." In 2001 Alabama came off an open week and lost a 35-21 decision to eventual SEC champion LSU.

Asked to make an assessment of the good and the bad in the first half of the year, Franchione said it was good that the team had been able to overcome some injuries; that the receivers and tight ends had been better than most expected, as had the secondary and linebackers, and that freshman Greg McLain had helped overcome the loss of 2001 starting fullback Donnie Lowe. He said, "There's not an area in which we can't play better," and noted specifically kickoff coverage.

The coach said, "I don't think the players or the coaches feel we have played four complete quarters. We've had some good games and some good halves and some good quarters, but not four quarters in one game as good as we can play."

It is no secret that the fourth quarter has not been good for Alabama in a number of losses over the past two years, including last year's game against Mississippi, when the Rebels came from behind to defeat Alabama.

Franchione said, "We know we've got to play four quarters to win a football game. You have to play well enough to put yourself in position to win in the fourth quarter. We haven't had a game [in the past two seasons] where we didn't get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win. That's a tribute to the players and coaches. On the other hand, we have to do what it takes in the fourth quarter to win.

"There haven't been many times that we have put someone away before the fourth quarter, but we haven't been put away, either."

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