KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alabama is a team with two different personalities.
At home, the third-ranked Crimson Tide is as dominant as ever. On the road, Alabama’s a bit more vulnerable.
That pattern nearly ended Saturday when Alabama grabbed a 27-0 lead at Tennessee. Then Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) became too comfortable and allowed Tennessee (3-5, 0-4) to make a game of it before the Tide closed out a 34-20 victory.
“We didn’t play a complete game, in my opinion, in terms of the way we started,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “If you want to be a dangerous team, if you want to be a dominant team, you’ve got to be able to sustain for 60 minutes in the game, and we were not able to do that.”
— Nick Saban, Alabama coach
That’s something the Tide’s been able to do consistently at home.
Alabama has won its four home games by an average margin of 40.3 points. Alabama is 3-1 away from Bryant-Denny Stadium — including a 33-23 neutral-site victory against West Virginia in Atlanta– and one of its road victories was a one-point decision against Arkansas.
Junior cornerback Cyrus Jones can’t explain the difference. “It’s just up to us communicating and being on the same page on both sides of the ball,” he said. “We should have the mental capacity to be able to execute no matter what place we’re playing in, the crowd or anything like that.”
The Tide visit No. 16 LSU on Nov. 8 after an off week. LSU showed how dangerous it can be at home Saturday by winning 10-7 against Mississippi, a result that dropped the Rebels from third to seventh in the top 25.
Alabama believes it’s getting better away from home. Quarterback Blake Sims said the Tide’s communication at Tennessee was much better than in its previous two road games — a 23-17 loss at Mississippi and a 14-13 victory at Arkansas. Alabama was 11 of 15 on third-down conversions against a Tennessee team that entered the game leading the SEC in third-down conversion defense.
“We were very confident when we came into the game,” Sims said. “We had a lot of momentum coming in, and we were very emotional.”
Alabama was coming off a 59-0 rout of Texas A&M and seemed well on its way to a second consecutive blowout when it scored the game’s first 27 points. But it couldn’t dominate from start to finish the way it had a week ago. The mobility of Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs bothered Alabama’s defense and helped Tennessee score 17 consecutive points.
There’s no doubt the Tide is playing better than it did in that two-game stretch against Ole Miss and Arkansas that threatened to derail the Alabama’s playoff hopes. The next step is to put together a complete performance away from home.
“I think we’ve got a team that’s sort of up and down a little bit,” Saban said. “We struggled a little bit at Arkansas. We played great against Texas A&M. We played great at times in this game today, and played so-so in times in this game today. So, I think consistency in performance is what’s going to be the key to being successful down the road.”