Alabama started fast and finished rough to take down a game but overmatched Colorado State team by a score of 41-23. To be sure, this performance wasn’t as dominant as it could have been based on the talent discrepancy, but it is in fact game three with a new offensive coordinator and a banged up defense. As mentioned in the broadcast, the coaching staff was clearly using this game to continue testing some things.
As usual, some Alabama fans focus on every positive play made by the Rams as a harbinger of doom down the road. In reality, the Tide could have essentially named their score had they stuck with a heavy dose of counters, swing passes, and zone reads. One play into the fourth quarter, the score stood at 41-10. Alabama had amassed 460 yards on 54 plays and allowed 234 on 52. While Colorado State was able to find some success with misdirection against the Tide’s young linebackers, this was about as dominant a performance to that point as one could ask for against a decent Colorado State team with a senior quarterback that opened the season by blowing out Oregon State and outgaining Colorado in a competitive loss.
The main criticism in this one will be how the players failed to handle garbage time. The fourth quarter was all Rams. Part of the issue was even younger personnel in some spots playing against CSU’s starters, but the defense in particular appeared to lose focus late. Considering Saban’s mantra for finishing strong, there will likely be some repercussions on Monday for that.
Offensively, Jalen Hurts continued to show improved mechanics in the passing game. Watching him throw the ball this season, it is evident that his feet were an issue in his freshman campaign. He appears to be throwing from a stronger base, leading to better accuracy on the vertical routes. Unfortunately he still doesn’t seem to be going through many progressions, but he has shown a greater penchant for using his checkdowns and has been very accurate when doing so. Still, the Tide will need to use the intermediate area a bit more against better defenses.
The ball was spread around more in this one, which is encouraging. Eight different players caught a pass. Calvin Ridley was the star of the show as expected, but Robert Foster made the play of the night by turning a dig route into a 52 yard catch-and-run to the house. It was the first time we’ve seen Foster’s elite speed in action this season, and hopefully will be the first of many.
The run game was somewhat boom-or-bust in this one, which can be a hallmark of the zone game that we saw for much of the night. We all wondered what the offense would look like under Brian Daboll, and based on what we’ve seen thus far, I’m not sure that even he knew. To his credit, he has shown a willingness to experiment with different concepts in the past two games. It will be interesting to see how the scheme looks next week. The inverted veer and counter have been highly successful plays thus far. Expect to see plenty of those along with the jet sweep that will likely hang around, much to the chagrin of some. If Jalen can continue to hit on about half of the vertical shots and hit his hot reads against the blitz, defenses will have to stop selling out as much. Colorado State was flooding the front side of the zone runs with linebackers and safeties all night.
Defensively, the pass rush took a lot of heat last night, but I have a feeling the rewatch will be a bit kinder. Rams QB Nick Stevens was getting the ball out of his hands quickly and making good use of the screen game, something that head coach Mike Bobo is known for. Rashaan Evans can’t get back soon enough. With Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis out for the season, Evans will likely be counted on to provide some additional explosiveness off the edge, and he has shown a particular knack for sniffing out screens. The Tide will get a boost from Anfernee Jennings as well. True freshman Christopher Allen and former walk-on Jamey Mosley struggled to hold the edge at times, which is Jennings’ specialty.
The secondary also drew some criticism as the Rams managed to make some catches against man coverage, but some credit has to once again go to an offense that made some nice plays. Stevens is a two-time all-conference QB for a reason, and he has several big bodied WRs to create matchup issues. Saban likely won’t be thrilled with allowing them 6.5 yards per attempt, but that is still well below average and the Tide managed two interceptions.
Special teams were a delight. JK Scott boomed a 59 yarder and was a perfect 2-for-2 landing his punts inside the 20. He also barely missed a 52-yard field goal on a very well-struck ball that had the distance for 60. Andy Pappanastos has now made his last four field goal attempts and sits at 78% on the season.
The only injury of note was TE Miller Forristall, but it unfortunately appears that he will be lost for the season with an ACL injury. Enough of that, thank you.
In general, this was a workmanlike if unspectacular win, a familiar refrain in these early season contests. The Tide will be heavily favored on the road next weekend against a surprising Vanderbilt squad. Hopefully they can get some linebackers healthy and start fast again, then maintain it for the full four quarters.