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Heading Into Opener, Stallings Likes What He Sees

August 30, 1996

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) _ Gene Stallings concedes that what he says and what he means aren’t always the same thing.

``I think we’re going to be competitive this year,″ the Alabama coach said. ``And when I say `we’re going to be competitive’ or `we’re going to be decent,′ that’s my way of saying I like what I see. There are a lot of things going on on the practice field that I like.″

How that translates to the playing field will be tested for the first time Saturday when No. 13 Alabama plays Bowling Green in Birmingham, Ala.

Stallings said his team’s ability to avoid injuries will play as big a role as anything in determining how far the Crimson Tide can go this year. When asked if that means the talent level is that of a top five team, he smiled and said: ``We’ll be competitive.″

Some of his optimism comes from the preseason workouts of defensive backs Deshea Townsend and Kevin Jackson, who have the speed and size to play in the NFL. The linebackers are solid too, led by Dwayne Rudd, who is coming off a 91-tackle, five-sack season.

The offense, with only one returning receiver, appears ahead of schedule, Stallings said. And new offensive coordinator Woody McCorvey looks like the man who can put Stallings back in a comfort zone.

The seventh-year Alabama coach said he won’t struggle to convince McCorvey to run the ball 65-70 percent of the time. That should be a change from last season when Stallings and former offensive coordinator Homer Smith, a pass-oriented innovator, sometimes clashed over strategy.

A simple, ground-dominated offense should be enough to beat 25-point underdog Bowling Green. The Falcons of Ohio have the 13th best Division I-A record (41-14-2) over the last five years, but most of those wins have come in the Mid-American Conference.

Coach Gary Blackney knows that’s a far cry from the SEC. He said Alabama’s team speed and the weather _ expected to be in the high 80s with high humidity Saturday _ are his two biggest concerns.

``We cannot simulate either of those factors in practice,″ Blackney said. ``We will have to adjust to both when we get down there on the day of the game.″

The Falcons are thin at quarterback, where sophomore Bob Niemet, a backup who threw just 135 passes last season, is the only experienced passer.

Meanwhile, Freddie Kitchens, Warren Foust and John David Phillips are expected to split time at quarterback for Alabama. Stallings said he intends to rotate quarterbacks all season if possible.

Foust threw just two passes last season, while Kitchens split time with departed senior Brian Burgdorf. Kitchens completed 63 of 127 passes for 811 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions.

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