TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you want to know Alabama’s mentality through eight games, look no further than the two fourth-and-goal plays from the 1-yard-line Saturday night.
In both cases, the Crimson Tide didn’t hesitate, inserting defense tackle Da’Ron Payne as a fullback and all but held up a sign stating: “We’re giving the ball to Bo Scarbrough, stop us if you can.”
Just like every other opponent this season, Tennessee couldn’t.
“I don’t know if there has ever been a time where we didn’t go for it,” coach Nick Saban said, before adding: “One day we will get stopped.”
The plays were more than symbolic for this season, and not because Scarbrough reacted to the defense as going up-and-over was just one his options. Undefeated Alabama is almost daring teams to try to stop it, and so far none have come close.
Since derailing Florida State in the season opener, with the Seminoles having gone from being a playoff favorite to a woeful 2-4, Alabama has trailed just 13 seconds.
Alabama has outscored its opponents 107-9 in the first quarter, 190-26 in the first half and only Texas A&M was able to mount any sort of a comeback.
But Alabama’s SEC schedule has been a dud so far.
This time a year ago, the Crimson Tide was in the midst of becoming just the third top-ranked team in the nation to knock off four straight ranked opponents (No. 16 Arkansas, No. 9 Tennessee, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 15 LSU), joining 1943 Notre Dame and 2001 Miami. It ended up playing 10 ranked foes, finally losing in the final second to Clemson in the national championship game.
Instead, this year it has outscored its opposition 344-78, and SEC opponents by 200 points (238-38) for an average of 40 per game.
On Saturday night, Alabama outgained Tennessee by nearly 500 yards, missing only by the 4 yards it lost taking a knee twice to run out the clock. In the last two meetings in the Third Saturday in October, the Tide have won by a combined score of 94-17.
The last time the Volunteers lit up victory cigars, Crimson Tide senior center Bradley Bozeman was in sixth grade.
“I do remember, but it’s not clear,” he said. “It’s great to be 5-0 against those guys.”
Alabama has had similar success against just about every other SEC team, with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin the only two active coaches who know what a win against Saban feels like. Combined, they’re still 2-8, and the most recent win was in 2013.
That’s beyond domination. Since Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007, the rest of the league has seen 25 coaches depart for a variety of reasons, including the five who had won a national championship in bold. (Interim coaches are in parentheses.)
|Arkansas||Houston Nutt (Reggie Herring), Bobby Petrino, John L. Smith|
|Auburn||Tommy Tuberville, Gene Chizik|
|Florida||Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp (D.J. Durkin)|
|Kentucky||Rich Brooks, Joker Phillips|
|Ole Miss||Ed Orgeron, Houston Nutt, Hugh Freeze|
|Mississippi State||Sylvester Croom|
|South Carolina||Steve Spurrier (Shawn Elliott)|
|Tennessee||Phillip Fulmer, Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley|
|Texas A&M*||Dennis Franchione (Gary Darnell), Mike Sherman (Tim DeRuyter)|
|Vanderbilt||Bobby Johnson, Robbie Caldwell, James Franklin|
* Joined SEC for start of 2012 season
Their replacements, many of whom appear to have very little job security, don’t seem to be faring any better, especially when you see scores like 59-0, 66-3, 41-9 and 45-7. Alabama has been so good, complacency reared its head during Tennessee week — not an opponent like Colorado State, but in one of the biggest rivalries in college football — until Saban said he had a “come-to-Jesus meeting” to get the team motivated and back on track.
“We have a lot of come-to-Jesus meetings,” sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “When he feels something needs to be addressed, he addresses it and we respond.
“As long as we continue to do that …”
However, when 8-0 Alabama comes off its much-needed bye week, as numerous players like senior linebacker Rashaan Evans are banged up — “Just when I got hit my whole left side when numb,” he said about the stinger Satuday — it’ll be in perfect position to play for its fourth consecutive league title and more.
Last week, Alabama was the unanimous No. 1 team in both polls, and when the College Football Playoff committee meets next week, there’s probably no scenario in which the Crimson Tide aren’t in the top four, which translates to being in position to determine their own fate.
Alabama will be hitting the meat of its schedule: No. 24 LSU, at Mississippi State and at No. 21 Auburn, before a possible showdown with No. 3 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
Each of those opponents will give the Crimson Tide problems. Put them together and it’s a tough stretch by anyone’s standards, especially since only one of those four key games will be played at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“I think that the toughest games that we have, and the best teams that we have to play, are ahead of us,” Saban said. “We’re certainly going to need to play better, and with more consistency, and continue to improve in several areas like the balance that we have on offense, being able to throw the ball effectively and on a consistent basis.”
Consequently, we still don’t quite know what this Crimson Tide team is made of when push comes to shove, because — at least so far — no one has really shoved back. But with each victory we’re getting a little better idea, just like with those fourth-down situations.
For the season, Alabama is a perfect 11-for-11 on fourth-down conversions.
“We’re still not the team that we’re capable of being,” Scarbrough said. “We still have a lot of work to do in trying to be the team that we want to be.”