In that game, Alabama held a 10-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play, but lost the lead and the game in the final minute.
Since that point, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione has watched his team forge a complete turnaround in its road fortunes. "These players started to acquire what it took to play in hostile environments at the end of the season last year," Franchione said. "Toward the end of the season last year we started to develop those kinds of skills."
During the streak the Tide has racked up some impressive statistics.
- Alabama's average margin of victory during its four-game SEC road winning streak is 21 points per game.
- Alabama has shutout all four opponents in the first quarter, for a 28-0 scoring advantage.
- In those four games, Alabama has outscored the opposition 67-20 in the second half, including 40-10 in the fourth quarter.
Franchione credits hard-won experience as the key to Bama's successful road play. "I think this team has learned to prepare and focus," he said. "They have a ‘next play' attitude. They're mature enough that they understand the difficulties that immature teams maybe don't understand when they go into hostile environments."
Bama finished 2001 with four consecutive wins, including the first road win in the current streak at Auburn. But prior to that run the squad had been embarrassed in consecutive conference losses to Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU.
Franchione believes that adversity served to toughen the current Tide squad. "They're tight as a team," he said. "They feed off of each other in difficult situations and carry each other through those times."
Versus LSU last year the Tide was flattened by the Bengal Tiger offensive juggernaut, prompting blistering criticism from fans. But almost paradoxically, that game proved a turning point for players and coaches. Franchione explained, "Coming together as a football team, playing together, counting on each other and believing in each other--those were all things this squad has learned.
"Knowing that the situation they're in will require a little more mental toughness and discipline and fight--it takes all those things to win a football game, but it takes a little bit more on the road."
Winning four consecutive games on the road against always-tough SEC opposition is impressive enough. But remarkably the Crimson Tide has never trailed in any of those contests. The Crimson Tide and Auburn were tied 7-7 in the second quarter last year on the Plains before UA reeled off 24 unanswered points en route to the 31-7 win.
Alabama has also led from start to finish in all three SEC road games this season.
- UA scored in the very first play from scrimmage at Arkansas (Shaud Williams 80-yard run) and led 17-0 early in the second quarter. Arkansas closed the gap to 17-10 on its first possession of the third quarter, but Alabama would score the next 13 points en route to the 30-12 win.
- Gerald Dixon's 66-yard fumble return on Tennessee's first possession of the game put the Crimson Tide up 7-0. A late TD run by Santonio Beard in the second quarter upped the lead to 14-0. UT ran back the ensuing kickoff to narrow the margin to seven points at halftime, but quickly fell behind 24-7 in the third quarter and eventually lost to Alabama 34-14.
- The Crimson Tide scored on its very first possession and led the Commodores 30-0 with less than five minutes to play before Vandy avoided the shutout with a a touchdown and two-point conversion.
Besides the maturity and mental toughness of his players, Franchione also points to the Tide's incredibly loyal fans as deserving credit for Bama's success on the road.
"It's much easier to play at home and feed off your crowd when things go well," he said. "One good thing for us is that our fans on the road have been unbelievable. They always give us a boost. When you have a quiet stadium on the other side and your fans are into it, it helps."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Allen of Alabama Media Relations contributed to this report.