After the defensive performance (Christion Jones Show) against Virginia Tech and the shootout victory against Texas A&M, the Alabama Crimson Tide now returns to Tuscaloosa to begin its home opener against the Colorado State Rams on Sat, Sept. 21, 2013.
Alabama will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday night having three things: the No.1 national ranking, a sea of crimson and white in the stands and the opportunity to face former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. Keep in mind; it was the methodical offense of McElwain that delivered the Crimson Tide its 13th national title in 2009 and the first since Paul Bryant and Gene Stallings.
So far this season, Alabama is tied for first in the SEC West with a 2-0 (1-0 in conference) record and has proven that they can win a shootout with a 49-42 victory against the Aggies. Offensively, Alabama is averaging 42.0 points per game. Though the offensive line stepped up big time against Texas A&M, coach Saban wants his team to improve in not just one or two games, but in every game. As far as the Crimson Tide’s defense is concerned, they got carved to pieces against the Aggies last week, giving up 628 yards of total offense.
The difference between this week and last week for Alabama’s defense is they won’t be playing against a quarterback that has the same caliber as Johnny Manziel and deep threat receivers like Mike Evans. Still, the defense must come out ready to play fundamentally sound football against Colorado State. Believe it or not, Alabama’s defense has one thing going for them in this game. On the offensive side of the ball, McElwain brought a lot of things from Alabama to Colorado State.
With this being mentioned Alabama’s defense practices against the first-team offense every day. Having that along with knowing the tendencies of your former offensive coordinator should give the Tide an opportunity to really shut down plays and have a productive game defensively.
For the Colorado State Rams, they will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium tied for third in Mountain West Conference (Mountain Division) with a 1-2 record. The hope for the Rams is just to be able to compete on the same playing field as the Crimson Tide. It’s kind of interesting to see that though Colorado State is 67th in the nation in scoring, they average 29.3 points per game. Along with scoring 29.3 points per game, defensively the Rams surrender 29.3 points per game. This cannot happen Saturday night if Colorado State wants to keep the game close and competitive.
Despite this game being huge for both programs, it packs a little more punch for Colorado State than Alabama. For the Crimson Tide, a win would please the fan base at Bryant-Denny; it would add another step of improvement for the team and prepare them to face a tough SEC schedule. For Colorado State, a win would put their program on the map, place the Mountain West Conference on the map, provide a huge shake up in the rankings and put McElwain in the same position as Western Kentucky’s head coach Bobby Petrino (former Arkansas head coach who defeated Kentucky this season). Let’s take a look at some impact players on both teams and see which ones will step up in this game.
IMPACT PLAYERS: ALABAMA vs. COLORADO STATE
a. AJ McCarron (UA) – After a phenomenal performance against Texas A&M (was named Maxwell National Player of the Week) in College Station last week, McCarron has to show this same leadership and execute well in the home opener. When the offensive line gives him time in the pocket, he can really pick the defense a part with pinpoint accuracy and great decision making. McCarron just has to continue doing the little things right and not try to force anything that isn’t there. Thus far, McCarron is 30-52(57.7 percent of passes completed) passing for 444 yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 157.3 quarterback rating.
b. Garrett Grayson (Colorado St.)- It is a very difficult task having to play on the road in a hostile environment against the two-time national champs, but Grayson has been dealt the order today. In order for him to keep the Rams in the game, Grayson will have to be very smart with the football. Alabama’s defense is talented as it, he can’t help them out with turnovers and negative plays if he wants Colorado State to keep this one close. In just to get comfortable throwing the ball accurately on the road, Grayson may want to start off throwing short passes. Some could be slant routes, hitch routes, drag routes or maybe a few screens to soften the defense up a little and give him some confidence. He can’t afford to take huge sacks and put his team in horrible down and distance situations. If this happens, look for the Tide’s defense to really come after him.
2. Running Backs
a. TJ Yeldon (UA) – Whether it was the unsportsmanlike penalty against Texas A&M or whatever the case may be, Yeldon will be suspended for one quarter of this game. However when he returns, he along with Jalston Fowler, Kenyan Drake and the host of other backs will still be responsible for getting yards on the ground. Having Fowler back healthy is pivotal for Alabama, he provides not only excellent blocking, but he gives the Tide that big back who can pick up a lot of yardage. With Yeldon missing a quarter, it will give Drake an opportunity to really step up and showcase his skills more.
b. Chris Nwoke (Colorado St.)- Like Alabama, Colorado State has a combination of backs and its starts with Nwoke. So far this season, he has 47 carries for 236 yards and a touchdown. For the Rams to keep this game close, they must limit Alabama’s time on the field and its starts with pounding the football getting five or more yards a carry. Nwoke must hit the holes hard and fast in this game. He has to use his vision to help set up the cutback lanes and holes along with following behind his offensive line. At 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, Kapri Bibbs is the change of pace back for the Rams. Bibbs is more of a speedster and can really hurt defenses in space. He has totaled 35 carries for 201 yards and three touchdowns thus far.
a. DeAndrew White (UA) – Look for all the weapons to be unleashed in this game, but it will all start with White. He had a great game against the Aggies with 82 receiving yards and a touchdown. He continues to get up and down the field quickly, run smooth and crisps routes and make plays on the ball. So far, he has six receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell will be targeted a lot in this game. Combined they have five receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns this season. Alabama will look to use Christion Jones in this matchup. He may work the slot position primarily. He’s recorded three receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown (two touchdowns on special teams). Though he hasn’t been targeted a lot thus far, Amari Cooper is still a threat. He can beat you with his speed, he has great hands and he can run great routes. He may have his offensive game against the Rams’ secondary.
b. Rashard Higgins (Colorado St.)- With standout, freshman receiver Jordon Vanden out due to a thigh injury, it will be up to Higgins to lead the receiving core and help out his quarterback. Coming into this game, Higgins has nine receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown. With his height of 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, Higgins is a physical receiver and that is the one thing Alabama’s secondary has had problems with so far. Higgins will have to run good routes and create separation from the defense backs in order to make plays and help Grayson lead this team.
According to the Boys in Vegas, they have Alabama rolling over Colorado State in a 39 point spread. For the Rams to keep the game interesting, they have to control the clock, run the ball well and be smart with the football offensively. Defensively, Colorado State must pressure and sack McCarron multiple times. They need to slow down Alabama’s run game and force some three and outs for the Crimson Tide. If they can do that than the game might be close and this is exactly what Alabama fans don’t want especially at home.
ESPN 2 will be airing the game live Saturday at 6:00pm. The question is will Alabama roll all over Colorado State or will McElwain’s return to title town provide an early spoil?