Home sweet home? Alabama, certainly, is a formidable opponent in any venue, but seven games into the season there is no question that the Crimson Tide’s best wins have come away from Tuscaloosa, while the one blemish on the Bama schedule was a poorly played game and a loss to Ole Miss.
The first good road win came in the season-opener when Alabama went to Arlington and defeated top 20 opponent Wisconsin with relative ease, a 35-17 win. Two weeks later, though, with Bama ranked second in the nation, the Crimson Tide laid an egg, falling to Ole Miss, 43-37, in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Since then there has been no doubt that Alabama has been playing with its back to the wall. There is no room for error if the Tide wants to be in the national championship conversation. And, to date, Bama has responded well.
The Tide was ranked 13th in the nation and playing in Athens against undefeated and eighth-ranked Georgia. Alabama romped to a 38-10 win three games ago.
Last weekend, the 10th ranked Tide went to College Station and took care of Texas A&M by a 41-23 margin.
Does that mean that Alabama is in dangerous territory this week. The Crimson Tide (6-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC games) hosts Tennessee (3-3, 1-2) at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Tuscaloosa. CBS will televise the game.
On Monday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban was asked about his team being road warriors and whether there might be some distractions for a team playing at home.
“I don’t know,” Saban said. “I never thought it was an issue until this year but probably the three best games that we've played this year have all been on the road, whether it was Wisconsin, Georgia, or this past game with Texas A&M.
I think it's a matter of being able to stay focused on what you need to do to do your job play in and play out. Just because you're at home, whether it's family, friends, the atmosphere, the distractions that that can create, as a mature competitor, you can't be affected by external factors. I've talked about friendly fire before but I look at our team and I'm like, ‘We play different when it''s 28-6 than we do when it's 0-0.’ Well, there's not supposed to be a scoreboard. You're supposed to have enough killer instinct to keep playing at a high level and execute and do your job.
“It can't be the scoreboard. It can't be playing at home. It can't be the fans. All those things should be positive things that enhance your chances of competition, affects the other team. It’s omething that we've just got to continue to address and try to get the players to focus better, and do a better job.”
Saban was quite pleased with the latest road win for Bama. The Tide was playing before the largest crowd in newly-remodeled Kyle Field, 105,733.
“It was certainly a tough, hard-fought game,” Saban said. “I’m proud of our players for the way they responded. I thought we did some good things, especially up front. We were able to affect the quarterback, control the line of scrimmage, run the ball effectively, and did a nice job with the turnovers.
“The big thing that I think we need to focus on is not having the kind of mistakes and breakdowns in the game that really create momentum in the game for the other team, whether it's not covering a punt correctly, fumbling a punt return, getting a penalty on a punt return that causes great field position – 30 or 40 yards of field position lost. Getting a punt blocked. Making mistakes on defense in the secondary when they make plays, allow them to make big plays and go score. Or whether it's having negative plays on offense because we don't execute correctly. To me, the focus needs to be on how do you stay locked in and how do you stay focused regardless of the circumstance or the situation that you're in and be able to execute.
“That's really what we're trying to get accomplished here this week.”
The secret to Alabama success on the road probably has nothing to do with the venue.
Bama has looked very good in its recent road wins in part because they followed such a terrible performance in the game against Ole Miss a month ago. The story of the game was Alabama giving up five turnovers – two fumbled kickoff returns that gave the Rebels excellent field position for scores and three pass interceptions.
In that game Alabama had 100 plays for 503 yards and accumulated 29 first downs. The Rebels had several short fields for scores, but still had 433 yards of offense – 341 of those yards passing. And Mississippi had no turnovers.
Jacob Coker did not start the Ole Miss game, but took over from Cooper Bateman and finished with 21-44 passing for 201 yards.
Against Georgia, Alabama had three interceptions – one a 50-yard runback for a touchdown by Eddie Jackson – and recovered a fumble, while the Tide gave up two lost fumbles on a rainy day. Bama had 379 yards of offense, the Bulldogs 299 – 83 of those coming on a garbage time run by Nick Chubb when Alabama was sitting on a 38-3 lead.
Coker was very efficient, 11-16 for 190 yards with no interceptions and a perfect 45-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley. Derrick Henry was a big force for the Tide, rushing 26 times for 148 yards, including a 30-yard TD rush.
The turnover margin was huge in Alabama’s favor against Texas A&M. Jackson had a 93-yard return for a touchdown with one of his two interceptions and freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick had two picks and returned both for touchdowns, 33 yards to start the scoring and 55 yards to end it.
Coker had another good day, 19-25 for 138 yards, and Henry was outstanding with career highs of 32 carries for 236 yards and two touchdowns.
So it seems that Alabama’s success is not so much the playing field as the playing.