Game Time: Saturday, September 16, 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT
Radio: Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Network || Mountain West Network
Odds: Alabama (-29), -7500 (Alabama Moneyline), +3250 (CSU Moneyline), 54 (O/U)
The purpose for Alabama and Colorado State is as such: get as much out of this game as you can.
Without casting aspersions upon Mike Bobo’s 2017 Rams team, Alabama has one more game to test out its younger players at depleted positions before conference play begins.
Colorado State gets to show their stuff on national television against the No. 1 team in the country and get a hefty paycheck for it, too.
This is not to say that the Rams can’t make it difficult for Alabama. If recent CFB history has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. That being said, a Saban-coached Alabama team hasn’t lost a game to an unranked team since 2007.
Even with a much-improved offense and an experienced defense, the Rams offense going to have a helluva time trying break that particular streak.
Still, you have to like the Rams’ chances of at least putting a dent in Alabama’s defensive numbers with third-year starter Nick Stevens at quarterback and a host of really good wideouts to which to throw.
Below are some match-ups and variables that might make this game more interesting than you think.
Nick Stevens Versus the Tide Secondary
Stevens has one more game under his belt than most of the other quarterbacks in the country. That shouldn’t take away from the fact that the senior has more passing yards through his first games than any other quarterback in the nation.
980 to be exact.
In Bobo and CSU offensive coordinator Will Friend’s prolific system, the third-year starter has a collection of receivers that can stretch the field and give any member of the opposing secondary nightmares.
In his first game of the season against Oregon State, he threw for 334 yards, 3 touchdowns and one interception. On the day, he had a completion percentage of 66.7 percent with a QB rating of 159.
And Bobo and Friend aren’t afraid to let him sling it, either. Each game he’s attempted at the very least 39 passes. In CSU’s loss to Colorado, he threw it 47 times.
Alabama starting quarterback Jalen Hurts has thrown it 36 times through two games.
Stevens’ primary weapons have been Michael Gallup, Olabisi Johnson and Detrich Clark and together they’ve accounted for 70% of Stevens’ passing yards this season and 50% of his touchdown passes.
Colorado State’s willingness to throw it often should concern a Tide secondary that hasn’t played poorly, but currently sits at 65th in the country in passing defense giving up 213 yards a game.
Now, Stevens and company haven’t gone up against an elite defense like ‘Bama’s to this point. You can bet, however, that Bobo and Friend aren’t going to be frightened by going after the Tide’s defensive backs.
Besides, it’s almost written by now that running against Alabama’s defensive front is a fool’s errand for any team.
No, this one’s going to be about CSU’s passing game and ‘Bama’s defense of it.
Improvement Along the Alabama Offensive Line
Over the last decade, this is the one position group that tends to take the longest to gel.
Last year, the Tide played USC and WKU. In the latter game, they rushed for a paltry 124 yards on 39 attempts. Against USC, they managed 242 yards on 45 attempts. But one of those rushes went for 73 yards. Take away that one play, and the Tide backs managed 3.8 yards a carry.
It wasn’t until their third game against Ole Miss that the line caught fire. They rushed for 334 yards on 48 attempts for an 7.0 yards per carry average.
With the third game on the horizon, they’re hoping to have the same kind of luck in 2017.
So far, the offense has mustered 239 rushing yards per game, but much of that has been on the legs of Hurts, whose game as a passer is still taking shape. And this is not a totally inexperienced offensive line, either. Coming into the season, they had a total of 65 starts among them and a bevy of recruiting stars to their names. Still, it seems that defenses are aware enough of the run threat that they’re effectively daring Hurts to pass.
Just as Clemson did in the championship game.
As of right now, they are 22nd in the country in tackles for loss allowed with 4.0 a game. Based on the average size of this line, Saban and Bama OC Brian Daboll would still like the number to be less. Can the magic third game cause a breakthrough? We shall see.
Playing Up to a Standard
Saban talks about it all the time and the players are the ones who have to execute it.
There’s always going to be a standard, unfair or not, at Alabama and even in the “money games”, the Tide is supposed to assert their will on its opponent.
Through two games, that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Sure you’d be hard pressed to find another team who could compete with them, but they don’t look infallible.
The passing game needs to continue to improve (with more attempts than 18 per game) and the younger players on defense absolutely have to prove their mettle with conference play coming up in a week.
These are all things you tend to see Saban’s teams continue to improve upon as the year progresses and against a team like Colorado State, it’s an opportunity to make sure the team is headed in the right direction.
Saban never likes running up the score when he doesn’t have to. Especially in money games. If his team underperforms this weekend to the standard set, you may see one or two SEC teams down the road may capitalize.
So, What Happens?
This one’s pretty simple. The line isn’t ridiculous for a lot of games of this ilk, but it’s big enough that either Colorado State plays way above themselves to cover or Alabama locates its edge on both sides of the ball and destroys said line by 10 points.
For the sake of Mountain West fans everywhere, I’ll say the former. But just barely.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Colorado State 10