How experience in Gainesville has Alabama football better prepared for Texas A&M

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

If there’s one element that stands out the most from Alabama football's trip to Gainesville in September, it's the crowd noise. 

The Swamp rattled and ears rang throughout. It made such an impression that Alabama coach Nick Saban said he wanted Bryant-Denny Stadium to be that tough for Ole Miss this past week.

The Crimson Tide overcame the literal noise against Florida, but there are still improvements to be made and lessons to learn. That experience in Gainesville will serve as a valuable teaching tool for what is expected to be another loud environment on tap this week as No. 1 Alabama (5-0, 2-0 SEC) faces Texas A&M (3-2, 0-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday in College Station, Texas, on CBS.

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“Since the Florida game, we’ve been better at communicating in loud environments,” defensive back Malachi Moore said. “That’s been an emphasis in practice. And I just think we have to continue to play for four quarters. We really haven't done that this year, but I feel like that’s our main goal, and to communicate better in a tough environment. We go to Texas A&M this week, and we know their fanbase is gonna be rocking and it’s gonna be crazy in there, so we just have to handle the noise better and get everybody the call.”

That all starts in practice for Alabama.

On Thursdays, the Crimson Tide practices with crowd noise, Moore said. That helps expose some of the gaps in communication on defense, almost like a pre-test before the game.

“If we don’t communicate and nobody’s gonna get the call, we’re not gonna be on the same page,” Moore said.

Noise makes communication just as difficult, if not more difficult, for the offense. The cadence the offense operates off can’t be used in the way it can at a home game with a quieter environment. Against Florida, Alabama had problems in this area, which led to false-start penalties.

Offensive tackle Chris Owens said in environments with intense crowd noise, verbal communication all but disappears.

“You’ve got to be able to use hand signals and you’ve got to know what’s the deal and especially you’ve got to anticipate the snap count,” Owens said. “We know we won’t be able to hear anything, there won’t be much communication between us and Bryce unless he comes right up to the line of scrimmage.”

Preparation is key, Owens added, because the less questions a player has in a loud environment, the better. It’s tough to get answers to questions when you can’t hear the person next to you.

The best antidote to crowd noise is a fast start and an early, big lead. But that crowd noise can quickly return if the home team jumps back in the game.

That might have been the most important lesson Alabama learned from the trip to Gainesville.

“We’ve got to be able to not only deal with the noise but also be able to finish the game so we can eliminate the home crowd,” Owens said, “because they are a really good team and we know them coming off two straight losses they are going to be hungry, ready to play a really good team in us and want to get back on track.”

Contact Alabama reporter Nick Kelly: nkelly@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @_NickKelly