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December 13, 2017    
February 08, 2016

Road to the National Championship: October

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In the Deep South October is the month fall arrives, the heat and humidity of summer finally break and the days are warm and dry and the nights cool. In October Alabama traveled to Athens, Georgia an underdog for the first time in 72 games. The last time was in 2009 when the Tide faced Urban Myer’s Florida Gators in Atlanta.

(This is the second of a four part series.)   Alabama played Georgia in the afternoon and it rained and the Tide crushed the number eight Bulldogs in front of a packed house. The game was essentially over at halftime—the Tide led 24 to 3 and never looked back. Derrick Henry scored, Calvin Ridley scored and the Bama special teams blocked a punt and Minkah Fitzpatrick scooped and scored. Adam Griffith also hit a short field goal. It rained and rained and rained some more and Georgia just couldn’t get untracked.

  In the second half the Tide secondary picked off three Georgia passes returning one for a touchdown. Georgia used two quarterbacks neither Brice Ramsey nor Greyson Lambert had much luck. Nick Chubb broke Herschel Walker’s record for consecutive 100 yard games with an 83 yard run at the end of the third quarter. That run was the bright spot for the Georgia offense and no doubt a teaching moment for Nick Saban. On that play Reggie Ragland was out of position as a result Chubb found a crease and scored Georgia’s only touchdown. It was a total team victory for Alabama, a road win that they desperately needed.

  Against Georgia, Jake Coker played a solid game, he didn’t throw an interception. That day the running game was working, though Georgia out rushed the Tide. The next Saturday the Tide returned to Bryant-Denny to take on the Arkansas Razorbacks. The book on Alabama at this point was they played better on the road than at home. The Tide had climbed to 8/10 in the polls and Ole Miss lost to Memphis. While that made them look bad it didn’t help Alabama chances of getting to Atlanta. That would be a job for Arkansas, but that’s another story.

  Arkansas did what Arkansas does when they play Alabama. They made Alabama work for every yard and every point. Coker threw two interceptions fortunately, all in the first half. His second interception and a personal foul penalty set Arkansas up on the Alabama 12 yard line. Three plays later the Hogs scored and when the half ended Arkansas led 7-3.

  With less than two minutes left in the third quarter after three consecutive Bama punts Coker hit Calvin Ridley and 81 yards later Alabama’s one play drive gave the Tide the lead for good. A failed Arkansas fake punt gave Alabama the ball on the Hogs 43. Eight plays later Coker connected with Richard Mullaney on a short pass and the Tide was up 17-7. Alabama converted the Hogs lone turnover into a field goal. The teams traded punts. Then the Tide got the ball back with 4:25 left in the game four Derrick Henry runs pushed the Tide lead to 27-7. Arkansas scored late. Alabama recovered the onside kick and Alabama had won three in a row since the loss to Ole Miss.

  The third game of October was against Texas A&M in College Station. The Aggies have, in the past been a thorn in Alabama’s side. The last two years not so much. This was not the 59-0 spanking of 2014, but it was close. The teams traded punts and then Minkah Fitzpatrick picked Kyle Allen and scored. The Tide was up 7-0. Four plays later A&M punted again. A short Henry run a nine yard pass to Mullaney was followed by a 55 yard Derrick Henry touchdown run. Bama was off to the races.

  A&M managed a field goal after which Henry scored his second touchdown on the first play of the second quarter Alabama was up 21-3. The Aggies got a second field goal and forced Bama to punt. A&M drove to the Alabama 30 and then Allen threw his second interception which Eddie Jackson returned 93 yards for a touchdown. After an Aggie punt Bama punted and A&M returned it 68 yards for a touchdown. The half ended Alabama up 28-13.

  The second half did not begin well for Alabama. After forcing an Aggie punt Cyrus Jones fumbled the ball on the Bama 47, which led to an A&M touchdown. Three field goals (two by Bama and one by A&M) Bama led 34-23. A few plays later, Minkah Fitzpatrick’s second pick six of the game made the final score 41-23. On the game A&M managed 32 rushing yards while Henry alone racked up 236. It was a second very solid road win.

  The Tide now ranked number eight awaited a hot Tennessee team that had beaten Georgia and was in contention for the SEC east title. A very tired Alabama team faced the Vols in Bryant-Denny. This was the Tide’s eighth straight game.

  Tennessee missed a field goal after a Rueben Foster sack pushed them out of the red zone. The teams traded touchdowns and the first half ended tied 7-7. After the two touchdowns the teams traded punts. Jake Coker threw an interception, though the Bama defense forced a punt and Tennessee returned the favor. Neither team could generate much offense in the first half.

  In the second half a 73 yard drive ended at the Tennessee two and the Tide settled for a field goal. Again the teams traded punts UT missed a field goal and Bama made one, which put the Tide up 13-7 with a little over seven minutes to play. UT then took the lead. A four play 75 yard drive gave Tennessee its first lead in the second half against Alabama since 2006.

  With less than six minutes on the clock Alabama once again faced a critical moment in a championship season against Tennessee. The drive did not start well Coker was sacked. However, he made amends the next play hitting ArDarius Stewart for 29 yards to the UT 44. Two Henry runs netted four yards then Coker hit Calvin Ridley for 15 yards giving the Tide a first down at the Vol 25. Three plays later Henry took it in and Bama was up 19-14 after the failed two point conversion.

  Tennessee got the ball back with 2:24 on the clock. The Vols moved to their 35. After a five yard penalty the Tide’s defense took over. Jonathan Allen sacked Joshua Dobbs on first and fifteen. Second and 19 Ryan Anderson sacked Dobbs again, this time knocking the ball loose Bama recovered and ran out the clock. The beauty of those two sacks is that both Allen and Anderson imposed their will on Tennessee. They ran past a Tennessee offensive line that had pretty much held them in check all day, but when the chips were down they made plays. Bama would enjoy a much need bye week before heading to Baton Rouge.

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