Practice heavy on the mental

One of the trademarks of Mississippi State Defensive Coordinator Joe Lee Dunn is that opposing offenses have to prepare for a number of schemes and alignments. As a result, practice for the Bulldogs is heavy on the mental. Alabama Head Football Coach Dennis Franchione was not pleased with the mental sharpness of his offense as the Crimson Tide continued preparation Wednesday.

The Bama coach said the defense was good and the kicking game was good, but "the offense was a little out of sync. We had a great Tuesday practice, but the offense didn't match it today," he said after the two-hour workout in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts.

The Crimson Tide will host Mississippi State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama is 7-2 and ranked 11th in the nation and has the best record among Southeastern Conference Western Division teams with a 4-1 mark. The Bulldogs of Coach Jackie Sherrill have struggled to a 3-5 mark and State is winless in its four SEC games. There will be no telecast of any type Saturday, the first time since the 1995 Ole Miss game that Alabama has had a football game without some type of television coverage. It's not quite so new a thing for the Bulldogs, who will be playing their fifth straight contest without being televised.

Franchione said, "The offense has to prepare for a little bit of everything. Mississippi State is so multiple on defense that you have to be sharp mentally. You're going to be off some as you learn all the things they do, but you've got to be sharp and we weren't sharp today."

The Tide coach said that Mississippi State has SEC-caliber athletes and the Bulldogs' record does not reflect their ability. "Their secondary has played very well," Franchione said. "They have moved the ball well at times. Something seems to happen that stymies them­a punt return or an interception return or a penalty or a turnover. Kentucky scored 45 points (in a 45-24 win over the Bulldogs last week), but they had two punt returns for touchdowns and one interception return for a touchdown." Franchione also noted that Mississippi State has had a number of injuries this year, particularly to offensive linemen.

"That can be frustrating for their players and their coaches, because they are competitors," Franchione said.

In answer to a question about placekicker Kyle Robinson, who has taken over field goal and extra point duties, Franchione said, "He is kicking with confidence now. He gets the ball up quickly and he has a live leg."

Robinson, a walkon from Cleburne, Texas, is a transfer from Ranger (Texas) Community College. Franchione said his staff was aware of Robinson from his high school days, but that Robinson didn't get many kicking opportunities as a sophomore at Ranger. "He was something of an unknown," Franchione said. "But he kicked on his own and was patient."

Director of Football Operations Charley North said that preparation of the turf at Bryant-Denny Stadium appears to be satisfactory. Following the Mississippi game on October 19, it was decided to replace the turf in the middle of the field from goalline to goalline, some 18,000 square feet. The new bermuda sod, with rye sown in, was mowed Wednesday morning. Tuscaloosa has had a great deal of rain since the installation, but North said the turf should be good for Saturday and for the Auburn game on November 23. Following the Auburn game the field will be taken up and a new base put down to improve drainage.

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