Colorado State vs. Alabama: 10 Things We Learned in Tide's Win

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 22, 2013

Colorado State vs. Alabama: 10 Things We Learned in Tide's Win

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    Alabama survived a sloppy effort before putting away Colorado State in a 31-6 win.
    Alabama survived a sloppy effort before putting away Colorado State in a 31-6 win.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    One week after a grueling victory over Texas A&M, top-ranked Alabama endured a sloppy effort before putting away Colorado State for a 31-6 victory.

    Nick Saban’s club was without several key contributors on both sides of the ball, but it was the offense that was his biggest source of frustration against the Rams.

    Meanwhile, Jim McElwain’s program is clearly still in the rebuilding stages, but his club pushed the two-time defending national champions deep into the fourth quarter.  

    What are the main takeaways from the matchup between Alabama and Colorado State?

10. Rams Defense Hangs Tough

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Colorado State’s defense entered this game facing a big disadvantage against a bigger, stronger and more athletic Alabama offense.

    However, the Rams defense made life miserable for AJ McCarron and Co. Defensive tackle Calvin Tonga, linebacker Aaron Davis and corner Bernard Blake all had strong games against the Tide.

    In particular, Tonga was a part of a defensive line that helped limit Alabama to just 66 yards on the ground.

    If the Rams can stay healthy and play with the type of effort they displayed against the Tide, they have a chance to make some noise entering Mountain West Conference play.

9. O.J. Howard's Role Is Growing

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Freshman tight end O.J. Howard continues to be a major receiving threat just three games into his college career.

    The 6’6”, 237-pound Howard hauled in three passes for 38 yards, and McCarron missed him on another deep route over the middle late in the second quarter.

    Howard’s presence as a receiving threat is another added dimension to an offense loaded with skill talent at wideout and running back.

8. Rams Offense Unable to Capitalize on Scoring Chances

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Down 17-0 entering the third quarter, Colorado State proceeded to dominate the first 15 minutes of the second half.

    Colorado State outgained Alabama 127-47 in the third quarter, but it was unable to find the end zone on two scoring drives that penetrated deep into Tide territory.

    On the first scoring drive, McElwain curiously called for a draw play facing a 3rd-and-long.

    Considering that scoring opportunities are scarce against a team as good as the Tide are on defense, the Rams buried their chances to pull off an upset by settling for field goals.

7. Landon Collins Emerging

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Former 5-star safety Landon Collins was arguably the crown jewel of Alabama’s top-rated 2012 recruiting class, via Rivals.

    After a relatively quiet freshman season, Collins has started the 2013 season with a bang. He’s become a fixture as the Tide’s sixth defensive back in dime sets, and he’s also been a heat-seeking missile on special teams as a gunner.

    Collins entered the game against the Rams as the team’s second-leading tackler behind C.J. Mosley, and he was active all night long, making plays against the run when he was in the box and displaying his range late in the game to record a pair of pass breakups.

    Considering his versatility and his ability to make plays all over the field, expect Collins’ role to grow moving forward.

6. Rams Program Still in Rebuilding Phase

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Despite a showing that was better than most expected, the harsh reality for McElwain is that his program leaves Tuscaloosa sitting at 1-3 on the season.

    His offense is clearly lacking the explosive playmakers he enjoyed during his tenure in Tuscaloosa as the Tide’s offensive coordinator. His defense lacks the depth that it takes to compete with elite programs such as Alabama’s.

    However, with the effort his troops displayed against the nation’s top team, Rams fans have to be encouraged about the future of their program with McElwain in charge.

5. Offensive Line Regresses

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    After a strong effort last week against Texas A&M, Alabama’s offensive line appeared to take a step back against Colorado State.  

    Although the Tide were missing some key contributors at the skill positions, the line was still unable to open holes for the running backs. In fact, take away T.J. Yeldon’s first carry that went for 38 yards, and the Tide’s remaining 20 rushing plays netted just 28 yards.

    Additionally, McCarron was sacked twice—including one play where All-American Cyrus Kouandjio was beaten badly by Rams linebacker Shaquil Barrett.

    Overall, the Tide’s line still has its share of issues to correct moving forward.

4. Defense Rebounds

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    One week after allowing a school-record 628 yards of total offense to Texas A&M, Alabama’s proud defense rebounded by limiting the Rams to 281 yards and holding them without a touchdown.

    In particular, the Tide were able to shut down the Rams running game, holding them to an average of less than two yards per carry on 26 attempts.

    Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson did put together a solid and efficient performance, going 24-of-38 for 228 yards. However, he was never able to spring any big plays.

    In fact, linebacker Trey DePriest’s forced fumble and subsequent recovery early in the fourth quarter was the turning point that allowed the offense to cash in on the turnover one play later, which effectively iced the game. 

3. Third-Down Woes

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama’s two third-down conversions didn’t come until garbage time late in the fourth quarter.

    In fact, Alabama failed to extend drives on its first eight attempts on third down.

    Colorado State’s defense isn’t exactly a nationally elite unit, so the struggles on third down are definitely cause for concern.

    Whether or not that effort was an aberration remains to be seen.

2. Special Delivery

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    Similar to Alabama’s game against Virginia Tech, the special teams unit bailed out the offense by blocking a punt and returning it for a score in the second quarter.

    Dillon Lee’s scoop and score was Alabama’s third touchdown produced by the special teams unit and the fifth non-offensive touchdown the Tide have scored in just three games.

    Alabama may have produced a sloppy all-around effort, but having a dominant special teams unit is a part of what makes it an ideal choice to be considered as the nation’s No. 1 team.

1. Offense Consistently Inconsistent

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    John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

    The offensive line had its issues, but the entire offensive picture seemed to lack a clear focus.

    Although McCarron’s numbers look solid (20-of-26 for 258 yards with a touchdown), he didn’t look as sharp as the statistics suggest.

    He threw a costly interception in the third quarter, and he misfired on a handful of passes that he normally would convert easily.

    Aside from Yeldon’s first carry, none of the rushers were able to generate any momentum on the ground. 

    Overall, after three games, the offense seems to only be consistent in its inconsistency.