Stretch run means it’s time for Alabama football to circle the wagons

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In the words of University of Alabama junior guard Ross Pierschbacher, the cowbells that the Crimson Tide will be hearing at Mississippi State on Saturday night can be “annoying” and “pretty loud.”

In a way, though, they’ve been music to Alabama’s ears because they force visiting offensive players to focus on what they’re doing — not just during the game but the practices leading up to it.

The Crimson Tide could use some of that right now, and the timing couldn’t be better.

Since Nick Saban arrived in 2007, the Crimson Tide have pretty much had the same schedule in the month of November: LSU, Mississippi State, an FCS (Division I-AA) team and Auburn. Every year they flip the locations of the conference games, which is the important aspect to this discussion.

Three of Alabama’s four national championships under Saban have been during odd-numbered years: 2009, 2011 and 2015. Those and 2013 all had the same home and away locations as this November.

In the 21 games played during those years, Alabama has had only two losses: the 2011 Game of the Century against LSU, 9-6 in overtime, and the Kick Six against Auburn in 2013.

The Crimson Tide overcame the 2011 defeat, getting another crack at the Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game, but not the shocking final play defeat at Auburn. Had the College Football Playoff been around then, Alabama would have had a good chance at making the semifinals along with Florida State and Michigan State.

Alabama’s November win streak vs. ranked opponents

Date Opponent Result
Nov. 8, 2014 at No. 16 LSU W 20-13 (OT)
Nov. 15, 2014 No. 1 Mississippi State W 25-20
Nov. 29, 2014 No. 15 Auburn W 55-44
Nov. 7, 2015 No. 2 LSU W 30-16
Nov. 14, 2015 No. 17 Mississippi State W 31-6
Nov. 5, 2016 at No. 13 LSU W 10-0
Nov. 26, 2016 at No. 13 Auburn W 30-12
Nov. 4, 2017 No. 19 LSU W 24-10

There were obviously numerous factors that went into the Crimson Tide having so much success during those specific years, from talent down to dedication. However, don’t look past the schedule.

It has forced the Crimson Tide to do the equivalent to circling the wagons during the most important time of the season.

It begins with LSU, with both teams coming off a bye to rest up for what has consistently been the sport’s version of a slugfest. Alabama’s last four victories against the Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium have been solid wins, but none were easy.

That includes Saturday’s 24-10 victory to stay undefeated (9-0, 6-0 SEC).

“Things like that I think it’s always beneficial to us because it kind of wakes us up in a way,” sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts said.

But with the Crimson Tide feeling like they didn’t play well, along with suffering numerous injuries, the atmosphere around the football building this week has been anything by congratulatory or celebratory. Its’s been more like morose.

“That’s why we came here, to not be average, and to try to play up to our standard,” Pierschbacher said. “I think when we don’t do that, it kind feels like we didn’t play [well] or we almost lost the game.”

From here, though, the challenges only get tougher, and they’ll all be away from Bryant-Denny-Stadium.

According to the latest College Football Playoff rankings Mississippi State is No. 16 and Auburn No. 10. Should Alabama keep winning it’ll face No. 1 Georgia on Dec. 2 in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta followed by the CFP semifinals. This season they’re at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, with the National Championship Game in Atlanta on Jan. 8.

While playing away from home is considered a disadvantage, there can also be a lot of pluses. There are fewer distractions, it’s easier to play with an edge and develop an us-against-the-world mentality.

This week there will be cowbells. For the Iron Bowl you’ll see toilet paper thrown about in the stands. Plus there’s the yelling, and it’s non-stop.

Auburn football-toilet paper
Just add toilet paper and the crossing of South College Street and Magnolia Avenue looks like a winter wonderland (Courtesy Auburn Athletics).

“Kind of gets me fired up, kind of like back against the wall,” Pierschbacher said. “I think some of the other guys are the same way.”

What’s better than beating a rival? Beating them on their own field.

“I love playing on the road,” junior running back Bo Scarbrough said. “I like to make their fans mad when we come in and win. Everyone wants to beat Alabama, so when we come there it’s like a playoff game. Everybody is going to give us their best.”

LSU already did that despite the location. The Tigers’ three remaining games are against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M, which all might be looking at coaching changes and mediocre bowls if they can get enough wins. Regardless of how LSU finishes, Saturday’s game was the zenith of its season.

Mississippi State always gears up for Alabama, located 85 miles away. And Auburn? Well, that just goes without saying.

“It’s always fun going into somebody’s house and quieting the entire stadium,” said linebacker Keith Holcombe, who grew up in a Crimson Tide house in Tuscaloosa. His father, Danny, played for Paul “Bear’”Bryant and Keith was committed to Mississippi State before Alabama offered.

“That’s probably the most fun thing to do in the SEC, if you ask me,” Holcombe said. “Going into somewhere that you know is going to be a hostile environment, everybody hates you out there, and you go out there, do your job, do what you’re coached to do and you show everyone that you can play football. Hitting, flying around to the ball, having fun. It’s a really cool moment to take all that in when you literally take that crowd out of the game.”

college football-Mississippi State cowbells
Mississippi State fans are known for ringing their cowbells during games. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images.

Alabama has been good at nullifying the concept of home-field advantage. The Crimson Tide have won 13 consecutive road games at opposing venues, dating back to the Ole Miss loss in 2014.

It’s 25-2 on opposing campuses since 2011 (.926 winning percentage), and 36-4 over the last decade (.900).

Alabama is also 19-3 in neutral-site games since 2009 (.864).

Home may be where your heart is, but in college football the road is where teams usually live or die — and Alabama has a history of staying alive.

“I like to smile,” Scarbrough said about walking off another team’s field with a win. “You like to be happy, right? Everyone likes to smile. I like to be happy.”

The post Stretch run means it’s time for Alabama football to circle the wagons appeared first on SEC Country.

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