By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 16, 2017
As time ran down on Alabama’s 41-23 win over Colorado State, Nick Saban ordered his first team re-inserted into the game to run the clock out. It was a curious decision, but not accidental. Nothing Nick Saban does is accidental.
Some enterprising reporter – who either has a death wish, believes he is Don Quixote, or is as oblivious as a concrete bunker facing a hurricane – is going to ask Saban why it was done. Whatever Saban’s answer will be to the question almost doesn’t matter, because it’s as clear as a diamond from here: Alabama, against Colorado State, had failed to live up to Saban’s celebrated “standard.”
When Alabama wanted to go pedal-down on the Rams, it could, and did. Alabama ran out to a 17-0 lead, then let Colorado State get it back to 17-10. Alabama’s next stop was 41-10; Colorado State scored twice at the end to make things look a bit prettier.
Nothing gets Saban’s vitriol dispenser working in overdrive like complacency, and Alabama managed to be complacent twice in the same game, and that means get Nike on the horn because the whole team is going to wear out the stadium steps or their shoes this week, one or the other.
Colorado State is not a bad team at all, mind you: Jim McElwain turned this program into a winner, and Mike Bobo has brought Georgia Lite right in behind him. Fullbacks, tight ends running drag routes, running off tackle, snaps under center, all of it. The only difference between Colorado State and Bobo’s Georgia teams is the number of stars next to a rating of each player’s talent.
And Alabama was set up to fail against such a team from the get-go. Colorado State exposed some flaws in the Alabama defense that Fresno State couldn’t, and Florida State didn’t bother to try. The after-effects of multiple injuries suffered against the Seminoles continue to be felt, and then there were a handful of nice individual plays – mostly from CSU’s receiver corps, which TideFans.com talked about extensively in the game preview.
Thus, it was sort of that typical Week 3 game for Alabama, following up a big win at a neutral site (check) and then a patsy in Week 2 (check) just before the start of SEC play (check).
But with that first SEC opponent being a Vanderbilt team that looks a whole lot on offense like Colorado State – and is parsecs better on defense than the Rams – and is coming off its first win over a ranked non-conference opponent since Studebaker and Packard were still selling automobiles, Saban’s message was a timely one: W-a-k-e … u-p.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Colorado State:
- Alabama’s injury issues at linebacker showed up in a big way … Jamey Mosley did a good job against Fresno State of playing the hybrid OLB/DE position known as the Jack, but against a team like Colorado State, that position is more about setting the edge and holding the point of attack against the run, and Mosley got moved around quite a bit. So did Christopher Allen, but Allen’s superior athleticism allowed him to make a couple of hero plays that Mosley could not. For all the talk of using LaBryan Ray as an outside linebacker, it didn’t happen; Jamar King again played more of a hybrid tackle/end/situational OLB in this game. Alabama used Joshua McMillon as a backup outside linebacker rather than Mekhi Brown, who didn’t play until late in the game. It’s unclear how many of these names will continue to be regulars once Rashaan Evans returns next week (and potentially Anfernee Jennings as well), but there was a lot of confusion, missed assignments and missed opportunities from this group Saturday.
- … and where is that pass rush, anyway? This is both a linebacker problem and a defensive line problem. Isaiah Buggs was the only lineman who got consistently decent penetration (at least until Johnny Dwight got in the game late and, for the second week in a row, lived in the opponent’s backfield). The losses of Terrell Lewis and Christian Miller were clearly felt here, as Alabama had to resort to edge blitzes to get Colorado State QB Nick Stevens feeling the heat. Stevens, though, had been well-coached by Bobo to throw into the direction of blitzes and break on middle draws when he felt that heat. There are probably a quarter-dozen SEC teams right now who would take Stevens in a heartbeat. Were it not for a couple of turnovers – one coming on a Hootie Jones interception that will haunt Stevens for weeks – it’s hard to say how close to victory he could have gotten his team. Stevens never lost poise, and Alabama should be able to make all small-school QBs lose their poise as a matter of regular course.
- Kicking situation has either improved, or unlike The Who, we’re about to get fooled again. Andy Pappanastos may have had a small issue in the opener, but he loves Bryant-Denny Stadium dating back to his Ole Miss days and hit two 40+ yard field goals in this game, with room to spare on both. J.K. Scott missed an attempt from beyond 50, but it had plenty of giddy-up, just barely scraped by the right upright, and gave Bama fans hope that if a long kick is needed at some point in the year, Alabama at least has the option. It doesn’t hurt that Pappanastos’ story has some feel-good elements to it about returning home to kick for the Crimson Tide, but what is most important is that Alabama – for now – may have solved this puzzle.
- Defense may have had issues, but the offense is starting to jell. Jalen Hurts had yet another effective game – his third of those this year – and his second game as a dominating playmaker. Hurts proved he could be effective going downfield, and his ability to confound defenses with his scrambling ability is something that will carry over into SEC play. Damien Harris continues to open eyes at running back, and it was nice to see Robert Foster not only get involved in the offense, but help break the game open with a stellar catch-and-run of 52 yards for a touchdown. The offensive line also got a bit of a reprieve after doing a far better job blocking in the running game this week than it had against Fresno State. For that matter, pass protection was more than adequate and most of Hurts’ scrambles came because Colorado State simply left too many wide-open running lanes in the middle of the field. If the defense was playing as well as the offense, this would be like Xbox with the cheat codes enabled.
- (Former?) Role players continue to turn in key performances. It will be interesting to see how much LB Keith Holcombe plays going forward now that Rashaan Evans is due back on the field, but he has proven his value tenfold since getting the opportunity to play more. Holcombe probably won’t sit – Alabama seemed committed to a true linebacker rotation against Florida State, which included both Holcombe and Evans, as well as Mack Wilson and Shaun Dion Hamilton – but he won’t be on the field as much as he has in recent weeks, unless Evans is shipped outside to take over at Jack or strongside linebacker. Holcombe has been especially notable in pass coverage, as he has shown a knack for breaking up passes. His emergence also calms fears arising from the impending loss of Evans and Hamilton to graduation after 2017.
At cornerback, Levi Wallace again turned in a solid performance. Matched up against the best receiver Colorado State has – an SEC-level talent, Michael Gallup – Wallace held Gallup largely in check; Gallup caught 4 passes over Wallace, with only one a big play, and he was held scoreless. Wallace’s two biggest plays, though, were pass break-ups, one of which triggered an interception by Ronnie Harrison off a deflection.
Unfortunately, a third reserve – TE Miller Forristall – might be on his way to a medical-exception redshirt after injuring his knee following his first catch of the season. If Forristall is out, Alabama will have to rethink the tight end rotation a bit; the multi-position Ronnie Clark will have to get ready to play H-back, and the redshirt might come off in-line tight end Kedrick James. Irv Smith Jr. can play either Y or H, but Alabama will need depth.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN