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Vanderbilt coach Clark Lee was approaching his third birthday, President Ronald Reagan had just ordered sanctions against South Africa, and Pete Rose had set the Major League Baseball career hit record in September 1985.
It was also the last time Vanderbilt beat Alabama.
The Crimson Tide roll out the welcome mat for the Commodores on Saturday afternoon as No. 2 Alabama aims for a 4-0 start and its 23rd straight win over Vandy, one of five FBS teams with two road wins this season.
Of course, Alabama coach Nick Saban wants nothing to do with what’s behind the Crimson Tide. He insists that his team is focused on the task at hand.
“It’s an SEC game. Vanderbilt is 3-1,” Saban said. “The team is much, much improved from last year. They have 14 starters, but they’re scoring 42 points a game and playing two guards. They’re both very, very capable. Very good athletes. . . . It’s a good all-around team, and it will be a difficult game for us.”
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Coming into Alabama and leaving happy is a steep climb for any team, but perhaps an even bigger rise is being asked of freshman quarterback AJ Swan. In what will be just his second career start — the first was last week at Northern Illinois — Swann really has the momentum going in his favor. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 255 yards while becoming the first SEC freshman quarterback to throw for at least four touchdowns in his first career start since 2002.
“There’s no stage too big (for Swann),” Lea said Tuesday. “He showed it from the day he stepped on campus, from the first practice, from the first practice. He’s going to learn a lot and he’s going to have to grow a lot and mistakes are going to be made because every time you play, a freshman … you’re expected to learn as you go. But I’m happy for him. I know he’s excited to be the starting quarterback here.”
Vanderbilt swept Elon last week, defeated NIU in a tight game in DeKalb, Ill., and opened the season with a win at Hawaii. Saban or most SEC coaches aren’t that skinny, but the Commodores aren’t better than 6-7 since James Franklin left in 2013. Leo went 0-8 in the SEC last season, and Vandy has one league win in its last 24 chances over three seasons (2019-2021).
“I think he changed the whole culture of the program. Their players play very hard. They play with confidence,” Saban said of Leo, who had never faced Alabama. “I think they believe in what they’re doing offensively, defensively, special teams and the culture is the most important thing you try to establish in a program.”
Alabama, by comparison, is 25-3 against SEC opponents over the past three seasons, and Saban enters Saturday from a position of definite strength due to the program’s superior talent and depth.
It’s worth noting that Wendy’s offense has been in the red zone with scores on all 17 drives this season. That includes 15 touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide have been working on a more up-tempo offense this week, and Saban didn’t waver, but he didn’t discount the advantage Alabama gets when it’s up-tempo.
Saban is 18-2 in SEC openers at Alabama.