Just because college football is a 60-minute game doesn't mean it has to feel like it.
Colorado State entered Bryant-Denny Stadium this past Saturday night as a 40-point underdog to top-ranked Alabama, yet the Rams trailed only 17-6 early in the fourth quarter. The Rams flustered the Crimson Tide by controlling the clock and having success defensively on third down before Alabama scored a couple of late touchdowns to pull away 31-6.
"I'm really proud of how hard our guys played," Colorado State coach Jim McElwain said afterward. "I thought our defense particularly came out and wouldn't take no for an answer. From a plan standpoint, we wanted to keep the ball out of their hands as much as we could and shrink the game a little bit."
By having the ball for more than 31 minutes and by keeping the clock moving, Colorado State limited Alabama to just 48 offensive plays. The Crimson Tide averaged 64 plays a game last season and had 62 in their opening win over Virginia Tech and 66 in last week's fireworks display at Texas A&M.
McElwain obviously had great familiarity with the Crimson Tide, having served as Nick Saban's offensive coordinator from 2008 to '11, and received praise from his former boss. Saban said the Rams ran a lot of screens that his team had not prepared for, and he added that Alabama was often its own worst enemy.
"We couldn't run the ball with any consistency or effectiveness," Saban said after the Tide produced 66 yards on 21 carries. "Even though we did a pretty good job passing, there had to be four or five times when we moved the ball down the field and got just outside the red zone, and we had something happen like throw an interception, miss a field goal, make a field goal or get sacked.
"There were just too many negative plays."
Cade Foster missed a 46-yard field goal to cap Alabama's opening possession, and the Crimson Tide went three-and-out on their second drive. Kenyan Drake culminated the Tide's third possession with a 3-yard touchdown run and then struck again early in the second quarter by blocking a punt that Dillon Lee returned 15 yards for a score.
Alabama led 17-0 at halftime and came out quickly in the third quarter when AJ McCarron connected with Christion Jones for gains of 23, 12 and 11 yards, but McCarron would then be intercepted. The Crimson Tide couldn't do anything with its second possession of the third quarter, and in between the Rams managed lengthy drives that resulted in field goals to pull them within 17-6 entering the fourth.
McCarron completed 20 of 26 passes for 258 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and he was not overly jovial when meeting with the media.
"We didn't do a good job of communicating," he said. "It was an offense thing -- the whole offense. We just didn't communicate tonight. We just didn't have it."
Alabama was without several players, including right guard Anthony Steen (headache) and receiver Amari Cooper (toe), who each had been considered probable. Receiver Kevin Norwood (ankle) also was out, as were defensive backs Nick Perry (shoulder), Jarrick Williams (eye) and Deion Belue (toe).
Saban is expected to provide an injury status update during his weekly news conference today, when he will also preview this week's game against visiting Ole Miss.
"We obviously have a difficult game coming up next week, and we need to get it right," Saban said Saturday. "We didn't do a very good job on third down. We couldn't run the ball and couldn't finish a lot of drives, and consequently, they stayed in the game, and we could never put them away.
"We played about five guys at cornerback and just kind of rotated them in there with the idea of seeing if somebody can play the position with any kind of consistency. That's an area we need to get better at. It would sure be helpful if we can get Deion back."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.