STARKVILLE, Miss. — Familiarity was in the air Saturday night as a bright partial moon shined down on David Wade Stadium at Scott Field.
That was a good thing for Alabama.
There are a few things that one can always count on when visiting here for a football game, like the 50,000-plus cowbell salute on nearly every play.
Sure, the song "Who Let the Dogs Out" was released in 2000, the same year that Saturday Night Live did the "I Gotta Have More Cowbell" skit.
There's a comfort level with both, and the same holds true when the Crimson Tide comes calling.
This isn't to imply that Mississippi State isn't a worthy adversary, or that the Bulldogs don't give their all. If anything they always play with a chip on their shoulders — and this year that went double for Scott Lashley, the former Alabama offensive lineman (6-7, 315 pounds) who finally landed a starting job as the Bulldogs' right tackle.
A couple of years ago, this is where Tua Tagovailoa saw his collegiate career end. Two years prior to that, the game went down to the wire, when a freshman named DeVonta Smith caught the game-winning touchdown.
Back in 1980, Mississippi State upset the No. 1 and two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide 6–3 in Jackson, snapping Alabama's 28-game winning streak.
Those 1980 Bulldogs were introduced midway through the first quarter, when the Bulldogs were still close on the scoreboard.
It didn't change anything.
Neither did the fact that the Crimson Tide entered this game riding a 13-game winning streak over the Bulldogs including last year’s 41-0 win in Tuscaloosa on Halloween night. Or that Nick Saban was 18-1 in his career against Mississippi State.
Coming off the loss at Texas A&M last week, No. 5 Alabama badly needed to find a sense of normalcy here, or at least take an important step in that direction.
"You ever getting humbled?" Saban said. "I think humility is a a great thing for all of us to have. I think sometimes when you have success, it's human nature to think sometimes you don't have to do the things the right way, create the right habits, get sloppy. And then the redemption is not good, which these guys learned last week.
"These guys have a lot of pride."
But we're not talking regular normalcy, though, rather Saban's sense of normalcy.
In this case that meant playing from start to finish. Paying attention to details. Avoiding bad mistakes. Getting the lead and sucking the life out of the opponent. Sending the home crowd home early.
You know, make their you-know-what quit.
That's Saban normalcy.
Alabama did that, really for the first time this season.
The team's improved focus and execution was on display in many ways.
Some were big plays, like the 46-yard touchdown by John Metchie III to open the scoring, and the 75-yard touchdown by Jameson Williams on the first snap of the second half.
On the other side of the ball, there was the pick-six by safety Jordan Battle. Not only was it Alabama's first interception or fumble return for a touchdown this season, but he dropped his shoulder on quarterback Will Rogers for good measure while forcing his way into the end zone.
Rogers didn't have much of a chance to catch his breath following the subsequent kickoff, getting sacked twice over the next three plays including a bone-jarring hit by linebacker Christian Harris.
"We were locked in," said linebacker Will Anderson Jr., who had four of Alabama's seven sacks.
More telling may have been on third-and-1 at the Mississippi State 1 late in the first half, when Alabama initially lined up in a bunch formation left and no one in the backfield.
Saban called time out, brought in the tight ends and Alabama subsequently punched it into the end zone through the left side with Brian Robinson Jr.
It capped a 16-play, 93-yard drive, with sophomore quarterback Bryce Young completing all six of his passes.
"I think personally it was how everyone showed up to the facility every day [this week] to work," wide receiver John Metchie III said about the difference," and getting the most of our of every practice.
With Alabama up 21-3, the home stadium played "September" by Earth Wind & Fire and the music started to bounce off some empty seats. By the time Journey's "Don't Step Believing" blared over the speakers between the third and fourth quarters, the exodus was en masse.
Many missed the Rolling Stones lyric: "You make a grown man cry."
"We call it the Bama standard," Saban said. "I thought we did that. We did it for 60 minutes."
For what this team wants to do, and where Alabama wants to go, this was a good start.
Regardless of the rankings, and with No. 2 Iowa getting thumped by Purdue, the Crimson Tide will move back up into the top four. A showdown with No. 1 Georgia showdown seems all but guaranteed. Maybe even two.
But only one of those two teams consistently played with a relentless edge during the first half of the regular season, and it wasn't Alabama.
The Crimson Tide showed flashes of it, but that's not what leads to championships.
Alabama finally played with a similar attitude during its second-to-last road game of the regular season. It has the next five games to build on it.
Christopher Walsh's column regularly appears on BamaCentral.com