TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On a surreal September night in 2015, Alabama committed five turnovers and was upset in Bryant-Denny Stadium by Mississippi, 43-37. The Crimson Tide fumbled the opening kickoff, threw three interceptions and saw the Rebels score one touchdown on a certifiable fluke—a bobbled snap, a desperate throw that was nearly picked off, a deflected ball taken 66 yards.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said afterward that his team was blessed by God. Things were never again quite as blessed for Freeze (forced out his job in disgrace in 2017) and the Rebels (served a two-year NCAA postseason ban).
Since that night, Alabama has won every game in that stadium—31 straight, a school record. The Tide’s SEC record since then: 39-1, with the lone loss coming at Auburn in 2017. (‘Bama won the national title that year anyway.) Only three of those 39 wins were by seven points or less. The domination has been utter, spreading Alabama Fatigue across the land.
LSU comes to Bryant-Denny Saturday, presenting the first real threat in four years to the Alabama home winning streak and the Tide’s SEC hegemony. Around the league and around the nation, some people are getting their hopes up: Is this finally a team that can beat ‘Bama in its own backyard, no flukes needed? And if not, when will it ever happen?
The undefeated Tigers, by all accounts, are not exactly tiptoeing into town. The undefeated Crimson Tide, in turn, is doing its best to play a specious underdog role while being favored by 6.5.
“They’re the No. 1 team in the country,” Nick Saban said twice Monday, while failing to mention that his team is also the No. 1 team in the country. LSU is on top of the AP poll, ‘Bama is on top of the coaches’ poll.
Positioning itself to speak softly and carry a big chip on the shoulder, the Tide players feigned ignorance and didn’t respond to LSU receiver Justin Jefferson’s comments about the matchup. “They haven’t seen an offense like ours yet,” Jefferson said. “We’re going to come for their heads. … We’re going to dominate. There’s nothing much to it. We owe them.”
The whole league owes ‘Bama, but nobody has been able to make the Tide pay up.
The current SEC losing streaks vs. Alabama:
Auburn and South Carolina, one game.
Mississippi and Missouri, four games.
Georgia, five games.
Florida and Kentucky, six games.
Texas A&M, seven games.
LSU, eight games.
Mississippi State, 11 games.
Arkansas and Tennessee, 13 games.
Vanderbilt, 22 games.
There are zero SEC programs currently on a winning streak against the Tide.
Nowhere does that fact chafe the way it does in Baton Rouge. Sure, longtime ‘Bama rival Tennessee is good and sick of losing on the third Saturday in October—but the Volunteers have been so far down that winning that game isn’t even realistic at this point.
LSU, which has won a national title within the last 15 years and won 10 or more games eight times since Saban was its coach from 2000-04, has been closer to Alabama’s level. Yet the Tigers have been unable to close the persistent gap.
Until, maybe, now. The Tigers finally entered the 21st century offensively this season; things have changed.
They were basically the last SEC holdout against modern offensive philosophies, stubbornly relying for years on great defense and great athletes accompanied by an antiquated scheme. Even Saban, who won a million games with a similar old-school formula, saw the light and began veering his offense in that direction five years ago.
“We’ve become more of a spread team, they’ve become more of a spread team,” Saban said here Monday. “We’ve done it for a few years now, this is their first opportunity to really open things up, and it’s paid tremendous dividends.
“It’s an indication that when you put these skill players in open positions how much more difficult it is to defend the space. … That’s the way it’s going now. I think most successful teams are playing this way now. It’s much more difficult to make explosive plays when you run the ball.”
Saban offered a few hints of what he’s seen from first-year assistant Joe Brady’s new-look LSU offense that has caused opponents problems while racking up 46.8 points and 536 yards per game.
"They’re a completely different scheme,” he said. “They’ve been in empty (no running backs in the backfield) at least 80% of the time on third down. They like to see what you’re in and then take advantage of it … They’ve been very effective at making the defense declare itself.”
In other words, disguising coverages and hiding blitzes has been difficult to do against LSU. And quarterback Joe Burrow has been able to take advantage of whatever opposing defenses have declared pre-snap.
Jefferson is correct when he says the Tide hasn’t seen an offense like LSU’s yet. But it’s also true that some thoughts might be better left unsaid before a game of this magnitude. When your team is playing Alabama, it might be best to come to town quietly.
The last 31 visitors all have left the same way. If co-No. 1 LSU can’t break this streak of Tide dominance, Nick Saban might keep beating the SEC forever.