Tide’s Fitz­patrick: ‘Some peo­ple just don’t like us’

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By John Zenor As­so­ci­ated Press Sports Writer File, Vasha Hunt / AL.com via AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama is em­brac­ing a dif­fer­ent role go­ing into these play­offs.

The fourth- ranked Crim­son Tide play­ers can’t tech­ni­cally call them­selves un­der­dogs since they’re ac­tu­ally slight fa­vorites over No. 1 Clem­son in the Sugar Bowl, but they know some view them as in­ter­lop­ers who don’t be­long in the play­offs this time. They had to sweat it out for more than a week be­fore get­ting a post­sea­son re­prieve.

All-Amer­ica safety Minkah Fitz­patrick be­lieves that pe­riod of un­cer­tainty — and con­tentions by Ohio State fans and others that Alabama wasn’t the most wor­thy No. 4 seed — can fuel the Tide.

“Peo­ple were count­ing us out that didn’t want us in there,” Fitz­patrick said. “Some peo­ple just don’t like us. It’s true. But I think it def­i­nitely helped as mo­ti­va­tion and fuel, es­pe­cially if we do what we’re sup­posed to do and get to where we want to be, I think it will help us a lot.”

When you’ve won four na­tional ti­tles in the past nine years, you latch onto what­ever mo­ti­va­tional source you can find. Quar­ter­back Jalen Hurts, asked if Alabama feels like an un­der­dog, pointed out: “They’re the na­tional cham­pi­ons, we’re not. So...”

The Tide (11-1) hasn’t ranked lower than No. 2 in three pre­vi­ous play­off ap­pear­ances, twice hold­ing down the top spot. This Alabama team was a muchde­bated play­off pick af­ter fail­ing to make the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence championship game. The Tide closed the reg­u­lar sea­son with a 26-14 loss at No. 7 Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

Cor­ner­back Levi Wal­lace said the team, which wasn’t chal­lenged all that much the rest of the sea­son, has to learn from that feel­ing af­ter a loss.

“It’s just some­thing in­ter­nally,” Wal­lace said. “We know we didn’t fin­ish the sea­son the way we wanted to and we want to make sure that never hap­pens again. We want to show the younger guys, now you know what it feels like. It’s a dif­fer­ent city af­ter you lose.”

And it left Alabama play­ers in the rare po­si­tion of try­ing to prove they be­long in the play­offs. Line­backer An­fer­nee Jen­nings said they’re “ab­so­lutely” think­ing of them­selves as un­der­dogs.

“I think a lot of peo­ple felt like we didn’t de­serve to be in the play­offs,” Jen­nings said. “But we felt like we should the whole time and we’re ready to go in and dom­i­nate.”

Wal­lace thinks the Tide has an­other role, that of the vil­lain in col­lege foot­ball. He said it doesn’t bother him “even a lit­tle bit” that some peo­ple don’t like ’Bama.

“We’re seen as the vil­lain,” Wal­lace said. “I’m sure a lot of peo­ple don’t like Alabama be­cause we’re al­ways so good each and every year. That’s some­thing Coach (Nick) Sa­ban has in­stilled in us. Try­ing to be the best we can be. Just be­ing the Univer­sity of Alabama, what­ever you guys (the me­dia) say we are, that’s what we are but we’re def­i­nitely the bad guys in col­lege foot­ball.”

This team doesn’t en­ter the play­offs with an im­pec­ca­ble re­sume partly be­cause an open­ing win over No. 3 Florida State lost its lus­ter when the Semi­noles strug­gled the rest of the way.

The Tide’s only other wins over ranked teams came against No. 16 LSU (24-10) and No. 24 Mis­sis­sippi State (31-24).

Now, Alabama gets a re­match against the team that top­pled the Tide in the na­tional championship game, a de­feat that fu­eled them through the off­sea­son.

“Our whole motto was fin­ish­ing, so I think that re­ally helped us in the off­sea­son,” Alabama tail­back Damien Harris said.

“But now, we’re just fo­cused on us and we’re fo­cused on play­ing our best foot­ball. I know we’re play­ing a great team and they’re go­ing pose a lot of chal­lenges to us, but we feel like if we play our best foot­ball, it gives us a good chance to win.”

Alabama run­ning back Damien Harris (34) works through drills dur­ing prac­tice in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

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