"Bart (Raulston) is still learning a couple of plays at fullback--getting the handoff up that high is a little problem for him. He and Ahmad Childress working in the backfield at the same time will be what we call our ‘jumbo set.'"
Franchione was laughing, of course, when he passed on those revelations. But there is a reason for making practice sessions this week players and coaches only. "Primarily we shut down practice to keep things calm for the players," Franchione explained. "It lets us work in privacy on what we need to do. This way our game plan will be our game plan. No distractions and let us keep things as normal as we can."
Alabama, ranked ninth in the nation with a 9-2 overall record and 6-1 Southeastern Conference mark, will host Auburn (7-4, 4-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The game will be the final conference contest for both teams. CBS will televise the game.
The Tide clinched the best record in the SEC's Western Division with their 31-0 win last week over LSU. However, due to NCAA sanctions Alabama cannot participate in the SEC Championship game. Auburn, which lost last week to Eastern Division champion Georgia, still has an outside chance of qualifying for that game---though numerous things must break their way for that to happen.
But first and foremost the Tigers must find a way to defeat a favored Alabama team in Tuscaloosa. "In rivalry games I don't know if there really are favorites," Franchione said. "They're a couple of plays away from having the exact same record we do. Fortunately we've made a couple of plays and gotten to where we are. I don't see a lot of differences in their football team and ours."
When it comes to Alabama/Auburn, Franchione subscribes to the cliché' of throwing out the record books. "There are so many intangibles that go into these games," he pointed out. "Who is a favorite and who's not is not quite as meaningful as it can be in other games."
Practicing inside the Crisp Indoor Facility, Franchione has been happy with his team's progress this week. "It was good today. We've had two solid days of practice. I'm pleased with what we've gotten done."
Last season when the two in-state rivals met, their relative positions were reversed. Then Auburn was the home favorite, and Alabama was the squad looking for the upset. But Franchione says his approach has been the same. He explained, "There is really no difference, other than my team is different and their team is somewhat different. We don't have to travel. We don't have to get quite as ready for crowd noise. Things are just about like they normally are. We don't change a great deal from any week to another week."
Of course that 2001 squad shocked Auburn and many so-called experts, running the ball almost at will en route to a 31-7 thrashing of the Tigers. "It was a marquee win for us, along with Iowa State (in the Independence Bowl)," Franchione acknowledged. "Of course at that point all victories were important for us as we were learning how to win. Finishing up with four wins in a row provided us with good feelings heading into the off-season about our direction."
Despite losing their starting tailback to a broken leg, the Tiger rushing game has not missed a beat. "That's their bread and butter," Franchione said. "Their offensive line is good and physical. I think they like to run. It fits their personnel. Their backs run hard.
"If we don't defend that, then we'll have a very difficult time winning the football game."
Of course Alabama also runs the ball very well. In fact the Tide leads the SEC in Total Offense and both the conference and nation defensively.
But Bama's kicking game has been too often inconsistent. "If we had the answers we would have changed them," Franchione said with a wry chuckle. "We haven't had every play go our way. We've been up and down in kickoffs and placekicking, but our percentage is not that bad. Most of the time our punt coverage has been good. Our returns have been solid."
But despite the inconsistencies, Franchione doesn't think special teams have cost Alabama any games. "You can say that we really haven't beaten ourselves in that area. We've had some glitches and flaws, but over the long haul none of those have beaten us. There's not a game I can look at and say we got beat because we lost the kicking game. I don't know if we've won a lot of kicking games either."
Sunday night the Tide players voted on permanent captains. Normally the names would be announced this week, with the winners serving as game captains versus Auburn. But with Hawaii on the schedule next week, this is an abnormal year for the Tide.
"I'm not ready to announce the captains today," Franchione revealed. "I asked our seniors if they'd like for us to announce the seniors individually before the game, since it's their last home game. But they didn't want to change the routine. I've talked to them about the emotion of their last home game, and I'm re-thinking the announcement right now.
"There have been so many leaders in this senior class. I might want all the seniors to be captains for this game."
If he does decide to announce the captains this week, Franchione will reveal the names tomorrow.