TUSCALOOSA, Ala.- The University of Alabama football team began its week of practice for the upcoming homecoming contest with Florida International with a two-hour workout in full pads on Tuesday.
The Crimson Tide will face the Golden Panthers for the first time in school history on Saturday. Alabama enters the game with an undefeated record at home, sitting at 5-0 on the year. They are 5-3 overall while FIU comes in to the game at 0-7. The Golden Panthers have suffered losses by fewer than seven points in five of the seven games. They have a defense that is among the best in the country. They lead the nation in tackles for a loss with 9.43 a game and are 27th in total defense, one spot better than the Crimson Tide nationally, allowing just 289.71 per contest. They also lead the Sun Belt Conference in pass efficiency defense, limiting opponents to a rating of 112.44. Teams have only averaged 159.29 yards through the air against FIU, making them 18th in the country in pass defense.
"By nature they're aggressive, said Alabama head coach Mike Shula. "They like to blitz. They like to play man coverage. They've really got a lot of speed on defense. They're ranked, I think, real close to our defense nationally as far as statistically. It's probably more difficult this week because there's a lot of guys that are out, so the guys that you're watching on tape, we won't see those guys, and the other guys we won't have enough tape on. They (may) continue to try to play aggressive and blitz or they may decide to play not quite as aggressive, since they've got a lot of younger guys. So those are all the things that we've got to be prepared for.
The Alabama offense will try to counter the FIU defense by keeping them on the field. The Crimson Tide offense is fifth in the nation in time of possession averaging 33:17 minutes per game. One of the key factors that has led to the lengthy time has been the lack of turnovers. Alabama has not turned the ball over in the last two games and has run 150 plays from scrimmage since an interception in the third quarter of the Duke game. They have run 229 plays from scrimmage since the last lost fumble, including 189 rushing attempts without losing a fumble.
Another key to producing long drives has been third down conversions. In five victories they have converted 47.8-percent of their third down opportunities compared to 37.5-percent on third down in three losses.
"The biggest thing for us is to concern ourselves with our team," said Shula. "We've got to stay out of second and long, third and long. We've got to be better on early downs and make first downs on first and second downs so we don't have quite as many third downs."
This weekend's game will be the 86th homecoming game in Alabama history. They have compiled an all-time record of 70-13-1 in homecoming games. Shula is a perfect 3-0 in homecoming contests. The game will begin at 2:07 p.m. CT and will be televised on a pay-per-view basis by Crimson Tide Sports Marketing.