Nick Saban is pleased today.
No, not because his starting quarterback had a rating of 232 and certainly not because his defense looked porous at times.
No, Saban is likely privately pleased because his team earned a 41-23 victory over Colorado State on Saturday evening at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a game that featured enough positives to prove to him the team is growing, and at the same time revealed enough miscues to help him frame a message that it has a long way to go.
Questions were answered about the offense, which hadn’t overtly shown an identity in its two previous games. That came into focus through about three-and-a-half quarters. Jalen Hurts is the identity of this offense — at least through three games.
Hurts put on a masterful running and throwing performance. His final stat line featured 248 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 70.5 percent of his attempts and running for 103 yards and a touchdown with a 9.4 yards-per-carry average.
Three of the offense’s touchdowns came via explosive plays, starting on the first drive with a 27-yard Hurts touchdown run. Hurts then found Calvin Ridley for a 78-yard slant route for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Hurts hit Robert Foster for a 52-yard score.
“I think this is probably one of the better jobs of executing (in explosive plays),” Hurts said.
As it did a week before, the UA offense started fast, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives. It added a third score on an Andy Pappanastos 46-yard field goal in the first quarter to give UA a 17-0 lead.
Alabama out-gained Colorado State 216 to 11 in the first quarter.
But there was an ugly side to the game, too, and too often it starred the defense, which allowed nearly 400 yards of total offense. The Rams threw for 247 yards and rushed for 144 more.
The 18-point margin of victory for Alabama after scoring 41 points wasn’t nearly as troublesome as how it occurred defensively. Colorado State possessed the ball for nearly 34 minutes and converted 58.8 percent of its third downs (10 of 17).
“That was just pathetic,” senior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “We (were) on the field entirely too long. We’re going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting on Monday.”
For the second week in a row, the defense played without two of its best linebackers in Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings. Evans dressed out for the game, showing he’s one step closer to returning, while Jennings wore street clothes on the sideline. The defense was without a total of five linebackers (Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller, Evans, Jennings and Dylan Moses).
The secondary did contribute with interceptions by safeties Ronnie Harrison and Hootie Jones, with Jones’ 65-yard return setting up a Damien Harris third-quarter touchdown run.
Overall Saban saw a strong offensive performance and a defense that needs work.
“Not stopping the run. Not getting off the field on third down. Didn’t play well in the red zone. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Saban said. “Made a lot of mental errors. The continuity and togetherness is not what it needs to be on that side of the ball.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.