“It’s been a very interesting series to be a part of, and to watch after I got out of school,” Shula said at his weekly news gathering Tuesday. “Both teams played real well on road, and hopefully that’s case this year. It’s different now with LSU – last year wining the national championship and this year with 14 returning starters - and still young.”
“A big part of that trend (winning on the road) has a lot to do with the players on the field also,” he said. “We feel like we’ve got our fair share of good players, too. But we’ve got get some of them healthy, go out there and play mistake-free football, play to our strengths and hopefully try slow their offense down a little bit.”
Shula’s squad is beaten up from nine weeks of games where the starters play a vast majority of the plays. Among the injured who did not play against Mississippi State or left the field with an injury at some point are JB Closner, Wesley Britt, Marcel Stamps, David Cavan, Clint Johnston, Anthony Bryant and Charlie Peprah.
“We’ve got some guys that are beat up a little bit. We’re going to rest some guys this week,” Shula said. “We won’t go out in pads today and hopefully most these guys will be ready to go for Saturday. It’s going to be day-to-day thing with most of these guys we’ve talked about and we are going have to have a lot of guys ready to go.”
Tuesday is usually the day of the most physical contact for players, but Shula’s team needs more healing than hitting.
“I think a lot of them are going to be ready to go,” he said. “We’re going take it easy on them for that reason. When I say take it easy I mean take the pads off we still going full speed, just without pads. We’ll know, hopefully by Thursday (who will be ready), and even then we probably won’t know on some guys.
Shula said he didn’t expect his starting tight end Clint Johnston and starting safety Charlie Peprah to miss Saturday’s game, but Johnston was not cleared to play and Peprah was only able to go two snaps before being replaced. No one has been ruled out as of yet, however.
“Right no there’s a few guys that would not play if we played today,” he said. “We going to give them every opportunity. We’re going to give Charlie Peprah, Clint Johnston, Wesley Britt, anybody that’s nicked up every opportunity”.
We go one week at a time,” Shula said. “If a guy is physically ready, can come in and help us win, our mindset is that he’ll play this week. If he’s declared not ready it’s an easy decision. That’s where we listen to our doctors and trainers.
Much like Alabama, the strength of the LSU team is its defense. The Tigers are second behind Alabama in the Southeastern Conference in total defense, allowing 257 yards per game. It’s the defensive line for the Bengal Tigers than anchors the unit.
“It starts up front,” Shula said. “Those guys up front are collectively their most athletic group, they have good size. Marcus Spears might be best defensive lineman in the country. He probably is. They do a lot of things with them - slant and angle, come from different directions, get up the field fast, chase down screens.”
“They can make a lot of plays themselves, more so than anyone else we’ve seen,” he said. “The biggest challenge for our offensive line will be not allowing them to have that type penetrate in backfield, and have some movement on them and get to the linebackers. It will be by far the biggest challenge for offensive line and for Darby.”
LSU has been equally successful in stopping the run and pass. They are second in the SEC in both categories.
“Their corners (Travis Daniels and Corey Webster) are two of the best corners in country,” Shula said. “They play a lot of man coverage. They get up in your face and it’s going to be challenging to our young receivers. They do that because they’re very athletic. They have great speed, change of direction, and play the ball well.”
Shula said that the key to winning Saturday night’s game is minimizing the mistakes and being consistent, and that his squad can’t afford plays such as the one on the second play of the Tennessee game that cost Alabama.
“Our football team is coming off good win and feeling good about themselves,” he said. “We’ve got to play better than we played last week. We’ve got to minimize the mistakes, more so than we have at any other time. We’re going have opportunities, and when they come we’ve got take advantage of them.
“Last week we didn’t play quite as consistently as we would have liked and we’re not going to be able to say that this week and still win the game.”
Keeping the time of possession in its favor, where Alabama leads the SEC, fits into that plan.
“That has helped our defense and helped field position,” Shula said. “It will be important again this week. (LSU) is a team that can score really fast. We can’t have it happen where all of a sudden we get down right away.“
“We’ve got to get off to a good start,” he said. “They’re going to be good players and make lot of plays, but let’s make sure we do our job and take advantage of plays if we have opportunities.”
Spencer Pennington will be making his sixth career start at quarterback on Saturday, and his fourth in a Southeastern Conference road game. Alabama is 3-2 in Pennington’s starts.
“(Spencer) had his best game last week as far as decisions he made and he made plays for us on 3rd down,” Shula said. “He’s missed some throws, we know that, every talked about that probably too much. There are some things he’s done that have gone unnoticed that help our football team. His emotional leadership has gotten better since he’s been the starter, he helped our young guys, been positive, and had a lot of energy. That’s very important. “
Shula said that Nick Saban might be “In a league of his own” in terms of bringing schemes he’s learned in the past to the success he’s experienced at LSU.
“He brings lot of (NFL style) into his style of defense and really throughout the team,” Shula said. “Yet he caters to the younger guys. A great example is with their quarterbacks. They have two guys that give them opportunities to make a lot of plays., and they are both athletic and both can throw the ball.
“When you look for weaknesses to try to attack, they’re very sound,” Shula said. “When have that kind of system with the good athletes they have, that’s why they have been very successful this year and last year.”