Alabama Game Preview

UCLA opens the 2001 season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against an emotional Alabama team. Alabama has a great deal to be excited over, but will it be enough against talented UCLA?

Noteworthy Factors:

-- The entire state of Alabama is psyched up for the game. There is great anticipation over starting a new era with a new head coach, Dennis Franchione. In 18 seasons, Franchione record is 138-65-2. In three seasons at TCU, he posted a 25-10-0. Oveall, he is currently fifth on the active wins list behind Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz and Jackie Sherrill.

  -- There is also the revenge factor. Many blamed then-#3 Alabama losing to UCLA in last year's season opener at the Rose Bowl as the catalyst to the subsequent downward spiral of last year's Alabama team.

-- UCLA hasn't won a game east of the Mississippi since beating Wisconsin in 1982.

-- UCLA is 2-4 in regular season, non-conference games on the road since Bob Toledo took over as head coach in 1996. UCLA is 12-14 in regular season road games since Toledo has been coach.

-- UCLA will start 15 seniors or juniors for the Alabama game, the most of any opening-season game since Bob Toledo has been head coach.

-- Alabama stars the 2001 season with an NCAA investigation for alleged rules violations hanging over their heads.

-- In the 2000 season, UCLA lost six of its final nine games and Alabama lost its last five games in a row.

-- UCLA comes in ranked 15th in the Coaches Poll and 17th in the Associated Press Poll, while Alabama is 25th in both polls.

-- In the last 20 years, UCLA is 9-1 in opening-season games when it's been ranked, and ranked higher than its opponent. UCLA also posted two other wins in opening games when it was ranked, but ranked lower than its opponent.

-- While approximately 30,000 Alabama fans traveled to Los Angeles for last year's Alabama/UCLA game, so far only 3,500 tickets have been sold to UCLA fans traveling to Tuscaloosa this year.

-- Scattered thunderstorms are expected on Saturday, with temperature and humidity both expected to be in the mid-80s.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. ALABAMA'S DEFENSE

This is definitely UCLA's strength versus Alabama's strength.

Alabama has the makings of a very good defense. In fact, it's very similar to UCLA's defense: strong defensive line, the linebackers anchored by veterans, but question marks in the secondary.

Really the only semi-bright star from last year's team was the defense, and they're returning perhaps their best player in defensive end, Kindal Moorehead (pictured at right), who sat out last season because of injury. Throw in last year's DL starters, Kenny King, at noseguard; Aries Monroe at the other defensive end spot; and tackle Jarret Johnson (who led the team in tackles for loss and was the guy who knocked out Cory Paus in the first series of last year's game), and Alabama has one of the potentially best DLs in the country.

The linebackers are a definitely strength also. They're pretty big and very fast. Victor Ellis had a big game at strongside linebacker for Alabama against UCLA last year. He and middle linebacker Saleem Rasheed are both potentially All-SEC performers.

The question is the secondary. New Defensive Coordinator Carl Torbush will be blitzing from the first play, especially given the strength of his front seven. But Torbush's style of defense and blitz packages are also dependent on good man-cover cornerbacks. At one corner is Gerald Dixon, who started seven games last year before breaking his wrist. He's the more proven commodity. At the other corner is unproven Hirchel Bolden, who is considered talented but still very raw. Reggie Myles is pretty solid at free safety, but a new starter at strong safety is Shontua Ray, who's only really played on special teams in the past. He's very fast but a complete unknown quantity.

UCLA's offense will try to exploit's Alabama's weakness, which it will perceive as its secondary. Look for UCLA to try to match up it's big receiver Brian Poli-Dixon against inexperienced Bolden. Even if it's raining pretty heavily, UCLA is going to throw the ball. Alabama will try to neutralize UCLA's passing attack by blitzing and hurrying Paus into mistakes and sacks. UCLA will then try to counteract that more than likely with a short passing game, dumping off to its big receivers, running backs and tight ends, giving them the opportunity to gain yards on their own.

But make no mistake – UCLA will come out and try to establish a running game. They manhandled Alabama's defense on the ground last year and feel they can certainly do it again. DeShaun Foster (pictured at left) has looked exceptional in fall practice, and he'll take it right at the Alabama defense. When he tires, UCLA will keep pounding with Manuel White and Akil Harris. Alabama, though, if it was embarrassed about anything in last year's game, it was the way a supposed finesse west coast team like UCLA dominated them in its running game. With UCLA's offensive line still needing to prove itself, this will be the true test – and where the battle line will more than likely be drawn that determines the outcome of the game.

Advantage: Even. This should be a pretty evenly matched clash. Unlike last year, Alabama might wear down UCLA's offensive line. But UCLA will get its share with Foster and its passing game.

ALABAMA'S OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE

Between the four units – UCLA's offense and defense and Alabama's offense and defense – the weakest is Alabama's offense.

Since Alabama Head Coach Franchione ran primarily an option offense at TCU, you would naturally expect that he'd continue to do that at Alabama. But the word is that, while Franchione will use the option, it won't be Alabama's primary offensive set.

The problem is, though, that, no matter what set you use, you need some players to execute it.

Alabama lacks star-talent at quarterback and running back. While there's been a big mystery over which quarterback will start, it's generally pretty well accepted that Tyler Watts is the better quarterback. He runs the ball better and makes better decisions in the passing game. If he completely falters, Alabama could go with Andrew Zow, like they did in last year's game. But more than likely, Head Coach Franchione will want to stay with Watts for him to try to develop a rhythm in his new offense. Going out on a limb, though, don't be completely surprised if the most talented offensive player on the team, wide receiver Freddie Milons, (pictured at right) takes some snaps behind center.

Alabama will try to get the ball into the hands of Milons as much as possible, by throwing, handing off, or, as indicated above, even snapping him the ball. If UCLA can shut down Alabama's capability of scoring on the big play, it could shut down Alabama's ability to score completely. UCLA cornerback Ricky Manning (pictured at left) will primarily have the job of shutting down Milons.

Alabama's second-most talented offensive player is tight end Terry Jones. He's returning from a torn ACL that kept him out of half of last season. But Alabama will make an effort to get him off the line and get him to take advantage of UCLA's inexperienced strongside backer, Mat Ball.

Alabama's starting at tailback is Ahmaad Galloway, who is solid but not spectacular. He's b


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