Colorado State came into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday averaging 80 offensive snaps per game.
Quarterback Nick Stevens was throwing 42 passes per game and averaging more than 325 yards in the air.
It looked like a good spot for the Alabama Crimson Tide defense to test itself against a fast-paced, spread-it-out-and-sling-it-around offense of the type it will see down the road against Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Auburn in SEC play.
Turned out, UA got something completely different.
Colorado State brought a far greater commitment to run the ball than previous Alabama opponents Florida State and Fresno State. The Rams utilized a little bit of hurry-up tempo, but mostly were more methodical in Alabama’s 41-23 victory.
Rather than see how many plays it could run, Colorado State – with former UA player Will Friend at the helm as offensive coordinator – decided to see if it could run against an Alabama defense that was ranked fifth nationally in rushing defense, holding opponents to less than 50 yards per game and right at 2 yards per carry on the ground.
The Rams were able to grind out 144 yards on 40 attempts. Dalyn Dawkins alone tallied more than either FSU, gaining 59 yards on 10 attempts.
Much of the time, Colorado State came right at Alabama like a 1970s Big Ten team, running out of the I-formation with the quarterback under center and a fullback in front of the tailback.
Stevens scored the first rushing touchdown Alabama has yielded all season, and also passed for two scores.
“We pride ourselves on playing the run,” defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne said. “We knew they were going to try to come out and run the ball. I feel like we were playing a little antsy and wasn’t trying to dominate our box.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban said missed assignments and mistakes helped Colorado State out.
“We didn’t execute,” Saban said. “That’s what happened.”
Alabama utilized one or two linebackers at a time and a multitude of defensive backs. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Keith Holcombe, Mack Wilson and freshman Christopher Allen saw most of the action at the linebacker positions.
“We’ve got five linebackers who aren’t playing,” Saban said, referring to injuries. “That hurts you, I don’t care who you are. … But we’ve got to get the guys that we have better.”
Alabama blitzed defensive backs fairly often, especially Anthony Averett and Levi Wallace.
Colorado State put together sustained scoring drives to keep things close late in the first half. The Rams went 55 yards in 12 plays to kick a field goal with just over 10 minutes to go in the half, then drove 85 yards in 11 plays to score on Stevens’ 4-yard pass to Warren Jackson to cut Alabama’s lead to 17-10 with a little over two minutes remaining before intermission.
Alabama ramped up the pressure to force second-half turnovers, but CSU gathered itself to put together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.