Tuesday, September 03, 2002
"I know the first game at Bryant-Denny is coming up in a week, but you know what, we're not going to look past Oklahoma. Okay?"
"I think as coaches we all cling to the thought that you make your most improvement from game one to game two as a football team during the course of a season, and everyone associated with this team and this program needs to do that. We need to improve in every area, especially in regard to penalties and kicking game and things like that, but there's not an area that we don't need to make improvement in if we're going to continue to have a good season.
"One thing I will say, half the nation sitting there today--I would say about half the nation anyway--they're 0-1, and we're not in that category. We're certainly pleased with that.
"The Oklahoma game is certainly an exciting week. As a guy would say, `whoa, Nellie, this is a big one.' That's the only thing I could think of that would make this game more exciting is if we could get Keith Jackson to cross the Rockies just one more time to do an Alabama game. It's not going to happen. We've got good announcers but that would certainly add to the tradition of this game. This is why you coach, to get to coach in these kinds of games. It's why players come to Alabama, to play in these kinds of games. It's certainly two great, tradition rich programs. Two interesting teams and a lot of stories that are by-lines for this game with Coach (Charley) North, and Coach (Chris) Thurmond and Coach (Kenith) Pope and those kind of guys having been at Oklahoma during some great times.
"For us the other incentive is that it's game two. Yes it is against a highly ranked team, but we've got to improve. We've got a chance to get better and we've got to do that. I think this game provides an early season measuring stick for where we are and where we want to get to (playing a highly ranked team like this). It will certainly be difficult going to Norman, Oklahoma. They have not lost very many times there in the last few years, once I believe. They have outstanding athletes. If there are things that would stick out about them, it would be great team speed, great quickness, great athletic ability. If you can get them in a bad position they can make up for it with their speed and quickness. Their defense is very good. Very good players. Play with great passion. Love to play defense. Play very aggressively.
"Last year only three of the twelve teams they played had over 300 yards. Everybody else had below 300. They held Arkansas to 50 yards last year. That's total, not rushing, not passing. Total. (They) Held Texas A&M to 132 (yards). That's a couple of pretty tradition rich programs, too, that didn't do very well.
"It's going to be a little difficult to determine what to do in the red zone. There have been 29 possessions the last two games, and only once has a team made it there. So that's how good this defense is. And now offensively they got the running game established in the first game, 378 yards I believe. I know that was an area of importance to them to establish that. They played well on that side of the ball other than some turnovers. The quarterback played very solid, very heady. The offensive line played very solid. Pretty good performance for them.
"The kicking game has no letup there either. They scored twice on punt returns, had one called back but they are very good in that aspect of the game. So in order to win, we're going to have to play better in every area of our game. Offensively we're going to have to find a way to move the ball with some consistency and avoid negative yardage plays. We're going to have to play four quarters on defense and we're going to have to play a lot better in the kicking game. We're going to have to play very well against this team."
Fran, could you talk a little bit about what it is about their defense that makes it as good as it's been for several years now?
"Good scheme. Well coached. But really good athletes. You look through their material, they've got four or five guys who are up for awards or All-American honors. They've got some outstanding players. They all take turns making big plays for their defense and you've got to find a way to account for them all."
Since you've been at Alabama, what's been your philosophy in scheduling non-conference games? What's been your involvement in that? Would you prefer not to have a Penn State or an Oklahoma every year?
"I don't think I've scheduled a game yet. Would I prefer not to? Is that what you're saying? I wouldn't say that at all. With four non-conference games in 12 games I think certainly the aspect of being able to play a game like this has got a lot of interesting parts to it. And I think it's something that our players are looking forward to and are excited about. I think there's a time for all these kinds of things, and you look at your schedule and have a chance to determine the perfect time. But this is certainly a good time for us to have this measuring stick."
Coach, what do you say to your team to get over the intimidation factor of playing a top-ranked team like Oklahoma? How do you motivate them? I know they're excited about the game, but how do you motivate them to go in and know that they can win this game?
"I think our players believe they can win the game. I think they all came to practice Sunday knowing that they have to improve in certain areas. But they have looked forward to this game for a long time. They have the right kind of mentality to play a highly ranked team. They understand the ramifications of playing in this kind of game and the preparation that it's going to need. I don't think I'm going to have to do a lot of motivating at practice. I feel like they understand that they've got to be on their game and they've got to get better this week. There are certain weeks that the game takes care of itself. And I think in this respect it does take care of itself. We will not be intimidated. We've played some pretty good folks in this conference, nothing against OU, they're an outstanding program certainly, but we've played the Tennessee's and the Florida's and on and on and on. So we've played highly ranked programs before. Alabama will be ready to play."
There's a coaching adage that you attack when you encounter great speed (Fran then interjects: "by running right at it"). Does it apply when a team has great speed across the board like Oklahoma? What do you have to do offensively to combat it?
"I think you've got a good point there, Tom (Murphy). Running sideways may be difficult. You've got to mix it up a little bit. They have had some plays that have gone sideways and hurt them, too, so you can't beat this team just doing one dimensional type stuff either. You've got to be able to do a number of things. You've got to find some flaws or weaknesses if there are any or ways to exploit them and you've got to execute very well. I think for us, number one, we've got to eliminate negative yardage plays and we've got to be successful on first downs to some degree. We can't be behind the chains. These guys get better when they get you behind the chains. And so we're going to have to find a way to be sharp there. We're going to have to be able to handle some of their big guys up front that are good players. (Tommie) Harris and (Jimmy) Wilkerson are both outstanding players. You've got to handle their pass rush. But they're not the only ones. There are some other good ones in there that you've got to be able to handle, too. (We) Can't turn the ball over. Fortunately we did not have any last Saturday which was positive. We've got to get some kind of rhythm offensively in this game if we're going to be able to score enough points to win."
Coach, you've alluded to this: it is a big game. With the external factors of the program--is this their bowl game? Is this as good as it's going to get this year for them?
"I don't look at it this way. I don't feel like our players do. In our regard it's game two and we've got a long schedule ahead of us. It's probably a highlight game on this schedule and for them this year, but, no, I certainly don't look at it as our bowl game or anything like that."