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March 25, 2019    
February 23, 2016

Road to the National Championship - November

November changed everything. In the eleventh month the Tide turned the corner and grabbed control of its own destiny. After a month of steady improvement as a team and in the national rankings, November shifted the paradigm. Alabama went from a team in the hunt to the team to beat.

[This is part three of a four part series.]Somehow it’s hard to comprehend, but one of the most important plays in Alabama’s season was the Arkansas Razorback's conversion a fourth and 25 play against Ole Miss. As that play and the rest of the game unfolded I was stuck, literally in a bus in Columbia County, Arkansas, the tour bus driver eased a little too far off the gravel road into some mud where it remained for two or three hours. As we sat there the radio signal faded in and out. When Arkansas made the two point conversion in the first overtime to win the game the bus filled with historians/Hogs fans exploded. I cheered with them knowing that if Bama beat LSU, the Tide was in tall cotton.

  The first half of the LSU game was a defensive battle. Alabama took a 10-0 lead and then allowed LSU to tie the game late in the half. On the ensuing kickoff the ball went out of bounds setting up the Tide at the LSU 35. Bama gained 30 yards on three plays as Jake Coker hit Calvin Ridley for 19 yards and Derrick Henry picked eleven yards on the next two plays. Then Ole Miss sacked Coker for a nine yard loss, which he followed up with a seven yard pass to Richard Mullaney. Bama faced fourth down at the LSU 37. Saban sent out the punt team and then called timeout.

  During the timeout Adam Griffith talked Saban into trying a field goal. With the sophomore kicker experiencing a rocky year it was a bold call. Griffith nailed the kick. His teammates swarmed him and Bama took a 13-10 lead until the locker room.

  This one of my favorite games of the year, not just because the Tide took care of LSU, but because of a series of comments made by the CBS commentators. At some point in the game an LSU player ran out of his shoe and Gary Danielson, either trying to plug Chick fil A or trying to keep the whole cow theme going, made a comment about the player throwing a shoe like a cow. Then he said cows wear shoes right? And Verne Lundquist no doubt rolling his eyes said no that would be horses―priceless.

  The Tigers got the ball to open the second half and promptly gave it back to Alabama as Dillon Lee intercepted Brandon Harris’s first pass. The Tide started the four-play scoring drive on the LSU 28. A 25 yard pass to Kenyan Drake set up three Derrick Henry runs the last of which ended in a touchdown. Alabama upped its lead to 20-10. Afterwards the teams traded punts and then the Alabama defense forced an LSU three and out.

  After the LSU punt Bama had the ball on the Tide 27 yard line and began an eleven play drive, which started out badly. Henry lost two yards and fumbled the ball on the first play. He recovered and Coker followed up with a nice pass to Ridley to the Alabama 40. Two plays later Coker hit Ridley again, this time for 14 yards to the LSU 44. After a short Henry run Kenyan Drake broke loose for 24 yards. Three Derrick Henry runs later the Tide was up 27-10.

  Bama’s final score came after forcing another LSU three and out. A short LSU punt gave the Tide the ball on the Tigers 39 yard line. The seven play drive netted three points as Alabama bogged down in the red zone. With 12:45 left in the game Alabama was up 30-10. The next LSU drive started with a nice pass plus a Bama person foul penalty, but the next three plays went nowhere and LSU punted again.

  On the second play after the LSU punt Derrick Henry fumbled and LSU recovered the ball. This set them up on the Bama 22. Leonard Fournette, who had been a nonfactor, had his best run of the night, an 18 yard scamper that gave LSU a first and goal at the Bama three. Two plays later Fournette scored. Bama blocked the PAT, LSU trialed 30-16.

  Alabama put the game away when they got the ball back eating up over nine minutes with a thirteen play drive that except for two short passes, was all Derrick Henry. The clock killing drive ended any hoped of an LSU victory. When Coker took a knee to end the game the Heisman talk shifted from Leonard Fournette to Derrick Henry. Fournette, who the month before was the prohibitive Heisman favorite gained 31 yards on 19 carries while Henry carried the ball 38 times for 210 yards.

  The next week Alabama traveled to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. This was not the same team that came into Tuscaloosa ranked number one a year earlier, this team was pretty much all Dak Prescott. The game started slowly. There were five punts and both teams turned the ball over in the first quarter. Jake Coker threw a really bad interception that State could not convert into points and State fumbled which Bama also failed to capitalize on.

  MSU missed a field goal early in the second quarter. Bama followed that up with a quick three and out. State then drove fifteen yards in five plays and punted. Cyrus Jones took Logan Cooke’s 34 yard punt back 69 yards for a touchdown. Arguably, the referees missed a block in the back on the play, but such is life. Bama led 7-0.

  State went three and out after the punt return and Bama went 65 yards in three plays―all passes. The longest of which was a 60 yarder to Calvin Ridley for a touchdown. Bama was up 14-0. On their next drive State finally got on the board. The Bulldogs drove 71 yards in 10 plays the longest play was a 41 yard completion from Dak Prescott to Fred Ross for a first down on the Bama 14. Three incompletions later the Bulldogs settled for a short field goal cutting Bama’s lead to 14-3. The Tide scored on the following drive as Henry ripped off 74 yards putting the Tide up 21-3. State wasted a 13 play drive that netted nothing and Alabama took the 21-3 lead into halftime.

  In the second half Alabama scored ten points and Mississippi State scored three. The game ended Alabama 31 – Mississippi State 6. It was not a pretty game, Alabama didn’t look real sharp, but the game was never really in doubt. State had more time of possession and more yards but way fewer points and that’s still what matters. The Tide had now won seven straight games since losing to Ole Miss. The Rebels on the other hand had lost to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas. Bama was in control of the SEC west.

  The next week Alabama dispatched Charleston Southern. In that game Alabama played three quarterbacks and rolled up 403 yards to Buccaneers’ 134. Charleston Southern gained 74 of their total yards on the last drive of the game against Bama reserves. It was basically a name your score game that allowed Saban to rest many of his starters in the second half. For the record Alabama won 56-6.

  The last time Alabama played in Auburn it ended badly, to say the least. Needless to say CBS felt compelled to run the immortal “kick-six” as many times as they could before and during the game. Auburn had a good defensive game plan that day. Because of the defenses, the first half was a field goal fest―Bama kicked four and Auburn two. Bama struck first when Adam Griffith hit from 26 yards. Auburn took the ensuing kickoff and marched 68 yards in nine plays and Daniel Carlson kicked a 24 yard field goal as the Tide’s defense stopped Auburn at the Alabama seven yard line. After Auburn scored the Tide went three and out and the punt gave the Tigers the ball on the 50 yard line.

  Auburn’s drive wasn’t great but it didn’t need to be. They drove 22 yards in seven plays the longest play was a 20-yard Jeremy Johnson to Jovon Robinson pass. This set Auburn up with a first down on the Bama 25. Three plays netted two yards and Carlson again kicked a short field goal giving Auburn the lead 6-3. It would be Auburn’s last lead of the game.

  The first quarter ended with Auburn ahead and Alabama driving. This drive bogged down but Griffith kicked field goal number two and tied the game at six apiece. The drive covered 67 yards in fourteen plays. Alabama forced an Auburn three and out and then drove 55 yards in eight plays. This was a very disappointing drive as Bama had the ball first and goal inside the five and could not punch it in. Regardless they took a 9-6 lead, which they would not relinquish.

  After the Griffith field goal Auburn went on a long drive that stalled at the Alabama 31. On fourth and two Carlson missed his first field goal of the year. Bama got the ball back and drove 35 yards in six plays and Griffith hit his fourth field goal making the halftime score Alabama 12 Auburn 6.

  The second half was a heavy duty dose of Derrick Henry and one silly touchdown that kept Auburn in the game. The teams trading punts on the opening sequence. Then Alabama put together an eight play 83 yard drive that was punctuated with a 34 yard Jake Coker to ArDarius Stewart touchdown pass. Then that Auburn magic reared its ugly head. Alabama was plagued by silly touchdowns in 2015. Ole Miss got two and Auburn got one. This pass which covered 77 yards bounced around and into Jason Smith’s hands and he ran unimpeded into the end zone. Bama 19 Auburn 13, Good lord.

  Then things got even stranger. Three Derrick Henry runs got a first down. Then on a pass play Coker took off gained a yard and a fifteen yard person foul penalty. This gave the Tide the ball and a first down on the Auburn 49. Then there was a commercial and during that time Will Muschamp apparently said something really bad to one of the officials which gave the Tide another fifteen yards. In essence Coker’s one yard run netted 31 yards. After all that Bama managed another three yards and Adam Griffith kicked his fifth field goal and Alabama took a 22-13 lead.

  After an Auburn three and out both teams turned the ball over on downs and then the Tide put the game away. With 2:13 left Alabama had the ball at the Auburn 34 four Henry runs later it was 29-13. In the game Henry gained 271 yards on 45 carries. It was a very solid Alabama win, which put the Tide in the SEC Championship game. The Tide earned the opportunity to be the first team since Tennessee did it in 1998 to win back to back SEC championships.

Roll Tide



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