Alabama, Auburn square off Saturday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

The biggest game of the season for both the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers will be played Saturday in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN.

Head coaches for both teams discussed the importance of the annual rivalry game at their weekly press conferences on Tuesday.

Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula said this game is the biggest of his life.

"We all realize how big a game this is, how big a week this is. If any of us has forgotten over the course of the last 15 years, we were quickly reminded when we came to work here and then also this week by a lot of you people," Shula said. "It's an exciting week. My experience as a player, in not knowing and coming from South Florida, it was something that is just hard to describe to anybody else that hasn't been a part of this. It's the biggest game I'll ever prepare for in my career."

Shula said the Alabama players want to win this game for several reasons.

"I think our players are extremely excited about the opportunity for a lot of reasons: because it's our in-state rival; because they want to go out and prove themselves and make up for the way we played last week and move on and end up on a good note in the SEC for our seniors; and build momentum; and have bragging rights going into the off season," he said.

Auburn Head Coach Tommy Tuberville said the game between these two teams is special.

"We have one of the best college sporting events in the country happening this weekend and we don't want to have anything take away from that," Tuberville said. "We want to add prestige to it. We want to go out and play a good football game. This weekend isn't about coaches. It's about players and upholding long-standing traditions. This is a very important game to me because I'm a football traditionalist. This is the No. 1 rivalry in the country. This game is full of great players and great plays, and we hope that there will be a lot of great plays this weekend that we will always remember. Memories are the things that everyone has which makes this rivalry even more special. It's going to be a fun game."

Tuberville said the Crimson Tide began the season in a tough situation and have battled to overcome that all year.

"They've struggled a little bit this season. Coach Shula got off to a rough start," Tuberville said. "Nobody would like to have to come in and start implementing an offense and defense in the middle of the summer. I think they've done an excellent job of keeping their players focused each week. They've had a couple of tough overtime losses. We wouldn't expect anything other than having to play in the toughest game we've had to play in this season."

Tuberville talked highly of the Tide, but hinted that the Tigers may try to take advantage of an "inexperienced" secondary with a passing attack.

"Offensively, they have a very good offensive line and the most productive running back in the SEC this season," Tuberville said. "They have a lot of experience at receiver with five of their six being seniors. They also have a quarterback in Brodie Croyle, who is about as good of a quarterback as I have ever seen. Defensively, they have a lot of speed, especially at linebacker. They have one of the better defensive lines in the league. They play against the pass and run very well. They have a little inexperience in the defensive secondary, just like we do."

Shula said Auburn is strong, especially when it comes to run defense.

"They've got real good personnel. They've got a good size up front. Their front seven are probably the nucleus. There are a lot of good players in that front seven," Shula said about the Tigers. "They've got guys that can run with the football sideline to sideline. They've got inside linebackers that take on lead blocks really well and stuff holes for making it harder for running backs to run inside. They've got speed and quickness with their defensive ends. I think that combination more so than maybe some other defenses have made them really good against the run. This team, they like to blitz. Other teams that we've played have blitzed a lot more than this team does but those guys are effective and it starts up front."

Regardless, the Tide will still look to run the ball and Shaud Williams can expect to get the ball.

"Let me give you our game plan Š No, we need to be more effective running the football. We realize with Shaud (Williams) being on top there of the SEC as one of the leading rushers, he's got to be a guy that's going to help us win the football game," Shula said. "Now we realize that teams know that and we've got to still be able to run the football. We've got to mix it up.

"I think the best way to help our running game is to be more effective in the passing game," he added. "You're not going to sit there against Auburn and run it 50 times and feel like you're going to have a lot of success or do things that it's going to take to win the football game. You've got to mix it up. You've got to create things as we say each week whether or not it's by different personnel or by formations that are going to help put our guys in position to best do their job. You feel like with Shaud if you just give him a crease here or there or make sure you get guys that as we say, hats on hats, our guys on their guys and let Shaud just go find a hole, that's going to give us a good chance, too, hopefully."