Alabama finds itself ranked 11th in the latest Associated Press poll, and the Tide players are taking pride in what they've accomplished. "I believe we are starting to believe we're one of the best teams in the country," Franchione acknowledged. "Last week when we went from 19th to 12th in the poll--being able to go to Knoxville and win… If you stop and think about the number of road games we've won and the people we've played, who our two losses have been to…
"But they understand that all glory is fleeting and that they have to prepare every week. We've got some big games ahead of us. If we can continue to play well and stay healthy, then we'll have a chance to be very competitive."
After last week's emotional victory over Tennessee, many Bama fans were frankly worried that the players would take Vanderbilt lightly. But Franchione pointed out to his players that a mature team takes every opponent seriously. "This team is as good as any I've had maintaining focus," he said. "They respected Vanderbilt Saturday. They knew they were playing on the road. They tried hard to get it right emotionally."
Calling it a "business-like win," Franchione praised his team's efficient play. "They did as well as they could do. When you don't turn the ball over and you hold somebody to less than 200 yards offense, they obviously did a nice job of staying focused. In my 30 years of coaching, I haven't been around many teams that have been able to do a better job."
NCAA sanctions have taken away any chance of post-season play, but the Tide team has maintained its focus. Franchione explained, "The players have been through a lot. The coaches have done a marvelous job with them, helping them stay focused and keeping them from getting frustrated or impatient. They know that they've got to get ready and play. They've been very mature about that.
"One of my themes to them all last week was that a mature football team will take care of business. They played and played well against Vanderbilt. I have to compliment them for staying focused."
One of Franchione's consistent goals is to foster leadership among a large number of players, spreading responsibility around to involve more than just a few athletes. And he credits an excellent senior class with the squad's maturity. "That's definitely a part of it," Franchione said. "We have some outstanding people on our leadership council. We have some outstanding seniors that keep the team playing together. There is no doubt that your leaders have to be a pivotal part of success. They are doing what needs to be done, and the rest of the players follow."
Seven games into last season was when Franchione first noticed the change. Following a devastating defeat at the hands of LSU, players and coaches bonded. That 2002 team finished up winning four games in a row. Combined with this year's start, Alabama has won 11 out of its last 13 games.
"I don't know which one comes first," Franchione said. "I doubt if the wins at this level could have happened without the team developing a real spirit among themselves and a belief. That has to come first. To win 11 out of 13 started last year when we won the last four of the year."
Franchione listed the athletes honored as Players of the Week:
- Offensive back: Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham and Tyler Watts
- Offensive line: Justin Smiley and Clint Johnston
- Special teams: DeMeco Ryans and Kyle Robinson
- Defensive back: Roman Harper
- Defensive line: Kenny King, Jarret Johnson and Kindal Moorehead
- Offensive scout team: Ramzee Robinson and Brandon Avalos
- Defensive scout team: Ben Rose and Sammie Autrey
Alabama gained 428 yards of offense in Saturday's win, including 157 on the ground. But despite playing in his home town of Nashville in front of scores of relatives and friends, tailback Santonio Beard was basically a non-factor, gaining just seven net yards on eight carries.
But Franchione isn't concerned with his starter's lack of production. "Santonio had one run that was probably going to be a big one, but he tripped over a lineman in the hole," Franchione related. "Some of his other plays just didn't work. Vanderbilt did a good job of defending them, and we didn't do a good job of blocking. There weren't a lot of places for Santonio to run."
The previous week Beard had gained 67 yards and scored two touchdowns against his home-state university. But Saturday the Nashville native admitted that he had trouble maintaining the same intensity. "Santonio ran a little more side to side than we liked for him to run," Franchione said. "But it just seemed like with his carries yesterday we didn't block them as well. Some of the other carries with the other guys we did block a little better. It was just one of those things."
For the third week in a row, Alabama's defensive line played an outstanding game. Versus Vanderbilt the Tide defense garnered three sacks and 15 quarterback hurries, harassing the Commodore signal caller all game.
Alabama leads the SEC in quarterback sacks, but Franchione expected all along the Tide would be this good. "I was disappointed with the performance in our opening game versus Middle Tennessee," Franchione said. "But I saw going into the season that they could be a very good defensive line. I'm very seldom surprised, because I can see the potential for players and hope to get it out of them."
Bama's three senior starters, Jarret Johnson, Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King, get most of the credit, but Franchione believes that developing adequate depth has been the biggest factor. He explained, "I knew that the group had a great upside, especially if we could get Ahmad Childress, Anthony Bryant and Leslie Williams to continue to develop to provide depth.
"That helps make sure that all (the starters') snaps are quality snaps."