Alabama Crimson Tide: Colorado State Rams

States of strength: Texas RBs 

May, 15, 2014
May 15
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When it comes to running backs, the state of Texas is loaded. Ten running backs represent the Lone Star State in the ESPN 300. Of those 10, five are committed. A total of seven running backs in the state have reported FBS commitments.

ESPN 300 RBs from the state:

No. 50 Ronald Jones II: Ranked the nation’s No. 3 running back, Jones is an explosive, game-changing back who -- as scary as it might sound -- will only get better. Jones committed to Oklahoma State on April 6 and finished his junior season with more than 2,400 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.

Ranking Nick Saban's coaching tree

December, 11, 2013
12/11/13
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Nick Saban's name is sure to come up in every high-profile coaching job that opens until he decides to retire.

That's just the nature of the business when you've had the kind of success Saban has had with four national championships in the last 11 years.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAlabama coach Nick Saban has several protégés who are now head coaches, including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, Florida's Will Muschamp and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio.
He won't be playing for a national title this season, but one of his protégés will -- Florida State's Jimbo Fisher.

In fact, it's been an eventful season all the way around for the Saban coaching tree.

Since we're all into power rankings this time of year, let's roll out the power rankings for the Saban coaching tree coming out of this season. In other words, those guys who have coached under Saban at some point in the college ranks and have gone on to be head coaches either in major college football or the NFL.

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State head coach: We'll go with Fisher at No. 1 on this list since he has the No. 1 Seminoles unbeaten and headed to the VIZIO BCS National Championship game to face Auburn. It's their first trip to the national title game since the 2000 season. Fisher is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award. His Seminoles have been dominant this season. They've won all 13 of their games by 14 or more points and 12 of their 13 games by 27 or more points. Fisher was Saban's offensive coordinator at LSU from 2000-04.

2. Mark Dantonio, Michigan State head coach: Another finalist for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, Dantonio has Michigan State in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1988 season and led the Spartans to a school-record 12 wins this season. This will be their seventh straight bowl appearance. Dantonio was Saban's secondary coach at Michigan State from 1995-99.

3. Jim McElwain, Colorado State head coach: In his second season at Colorado State, McElwain has the Rams in a bowl game for the first time since the 2008 season. They will face Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl. McElwain was a part of two national championship teams at Alabama under Saban as the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from 2008-11.

4. Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator: Now in his first season with the Eagles, Shurmur was the Cleveland Browns head coach from 2011-12. He coached under Saban at Michigan State from 1995-97 as the Spartans' tight ends coach.

5. Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots offensive coordinator: This is McDaniels' second season as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. He was the Denver Broncos' head coach from 2009-10 and was a graduate assistant under Saban at Michigan State in 1999.

6. Will Muschamp, Florida head coach: After a breakthrough second season at Florida and a trip to the Sugar Bowl, Muschamp's Gators suffered through a dismal 4-8 season this year that was marred by a litany of injuries. It was Florida's first losing season since 1979. The Gators lost their last seven games, including a home loss to Georgia Southern. It goes without saying that Year No. 4 will be a critical one for Muschamp, whose Gators have struggled on offense. Muschamp coached under Saban at LSU as the linebackers coach in 2001 and defensive coordinator from 2002-04. He was also Saban's assistant head coach with the Miami Dolphins in 2005.

7. Derek Dooley, Dallas Cowboys receivers coach: Now in his first season with the Cowboys, Dooley was the head coach at Tennessee from 2010-12. The Vols suffered through losing seasons all three years and managed just five SEC wins, leading to Dooley's firing. Dooley was the head coach at Louisiana Tech for three years prior to his stint at Tennessee. He coached under Saban at LSU from 2000-04 as tight ends coach and then running backs coach. From there, he went with Saban to the Miami Dolphins and coached tight ends before getting the Louisiana Tech head job in 2007.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron didn't bother to watch Kenyan Drake cross the plane of the end zone. Alabama's veteran quarterback instead turned toward the sideline and threw his hands up in disgust. On fourth-and-inches from the Colorado State 3-yard line, McCarron went to hand the ball off, only to see his sophomore running back had gone left, not right like the play had called for. It worked and Drake scored, but it wasn't perfect.

Beside himself, McCarron fumed as he waited for the touchdown celebration to end.

On the way back to the sideline, McCarron saddled up to Drake and let him have it. Face mask to face mask, he shouted and wagged his finger like a disappointed father. Alabama had taken the lead, but by mistake. Against a better team, a defender might have broken into the backfield and jarred the ball loose. Who knows? The execution wasn't perfect and that's all that mattered to McCarron, who is a perfectionist to the core.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAJ McCarron might have celebrated a little in Alabama's 31-6 win, but he was far from happy with the Tide's performance.
It went on like that for a while. There were few smiles to be had inside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night, especially on the home sideline. No. 1 Alabama remained undefeated despite a sloppy, disorganized performance against Colorado State. The 31-6 final score wasn't the least bit appeasing for UA head coach Nick Saban, who is nothing if not critical. It can be argued that McCarron got his sense of perfectionism from him.

"We want to be able to go dictate with our intensity, sense of urgency, preparation, everything that we have to do so we can be more dominant and more consistent in the game," Saban said. "And I don't think we did that tonight."

Saban was measured in his postgame comments, clearly frustrated by his team's performance but resolved to correct any and all mistakes. McCarron, by comparison, was mute. Every one-word answer or curt response revealed a deeper and deeper sense of irritation. He said the poor execution came down to poor communication, simple as that. When he was asked to elaborate, he wouldn't budge.

"We just didn't communicate," he said, repeating the same answer regardless of the question. "Communication, we didn't do it."

McCarron said more in his 30-second tirade to Drake in the first quarter than he did in five minutes with the media after the game. When asked what he said on their walk back to the sideline, he again declined to comment, saying, "Nothing. That's between me and him."

Alabama didn't have much in the way of answers Saturday night, either during or after the game. The Crimson Tide struggled against a CSU team it normally would have put away by halftime. The defense missed assignments left and right, allowing prolonged drives to pass the 50-yard line into Alabama territory. McCarron and the offense, meanwhile, couldn't finish them off either, failing to convert on a third-down attempt until the fourth quarter.

The same team that went blow-for-blow with Texas A&M in an instant classic a week ago looked out of breath and hung over against an opponent Alabama had to pay more $1 million just to show up.

"Any time you play in a big game and you come out, you want to respect your opponent and I don't think we did that tonight," right guard Kellen Williams said. "It was just a difficult thing to come off an emotional win and play again. We're kind of young and we have a lot of fundamentals and emotional things to work on."

Williams, who started his first career game Saturday, described the mood of the huddle during the game as "somber."

"I guess toward the end of the game we felt like we left a lot out on the field. Even though it's a win, in our minds we just didn't perform the way we're capable of performing."

"It was a win and you have to give the other team a lot of credit," Saban said. "Their players played with a lot of heart. But I'm not satisfied with where we are as a team. We need to focus on improving and we're going to need to do a lot better job as a football team if we're going to be the kind of team we're capable of being.

C.J. Mosley, Alabama's leader on defense at middle linebacker, echoed his coach's statement, emphasizing the quick turnaround needed to prepare for a tough Ole Miss team that gave UA all it could handle a season ago. The same quick screens and short passes that gave the defense trouble against Colorado State could prove doubly fatal next weekend against an Ole Miss offense that entered Saturday averaging 490 yards per game.

"We knew what they were doing, we game-planned the right way and made all the right adjustments. We just had to execute," Mosley said. "A lot of their plays came from us not getting in the right gaps or not fitting the pulls the right way. It's little things that get you beat."

Mosley added later: "Some of those little things will get us beat next week."

Mosley, Williams and nearly every other player who spoke with the media expressed some optimism about the team's ability to regroup and improve. Everybody but McCarron, who left the room quickly after a tense turn in front of the cameras.

It was a concerning sight for an Alabama team expected to compete for a national championship: Its unquestioned leader showing poor body language while saying next to nothing about an obviously poor performance -- no talk of hope, no talk of working to get better, no nothing. Just the same line about communication.

If communication really is the answer, then he didn't do a good job of communicating that fact. It was, after all, a conflicting statement when put into context. If McCarron was willing to shout at his own teammates during the game, then why couldn't he bear to do the same afterward?

And that, no matter how you slice it, isn't what you want to hear.

Video: Alabama 31, Colorado St. 6

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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Alabama scored 14 points in the fourth quarter and put away Colorado State 31-6 to stay unbeaten.

Five things: Alabama-Colorado State

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's been a while, Tuscaloosa. For the first time this season, Bryant-Denny Stadium will be put to use, as No. 1 Alabama hosts Colorado State for its home opener.

Here's what we'll be watching when the Crimson Tide kick off on campus.

Secondary seeking answers: They've heard the criticism all week after getting their doors blown off by Texas A&M this past weekend. The Aggies cut through the UA secondary like hot butter as Johnny Manziel bought time in and out of the pocket before inevitably finding a receiver downfield for a big gain. Mike Evans, by himself, amassed more than 250 yards receiving against a carousel of cornerbacks. In response, Alabama coach Nick Saban called for something of an open competition at defensive back with youngsters like Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Smith and possibly Eddie Jackson getting looks against CSU. The Rams aren't near the passing threat of Texas A&M, but they're nonetheless the next challenge and the next opportunity to right the ship.

Running back rotation: We might have to wait until the second quarter to see UA starting tailback T.J. Yeldon, who will reportedly be suspended for a quarter for the unsportsmanlike penalty he received last week against Texas A&M. But even so, the timing couldn't be better as Alabama looks to sort out its running back rotation. Saban said in the offseason that he wanted a five- or six-deep group of backs, and so far we've seen plenty of Yeldon and lead backup Jalston Fowler, but the rest of the backfield hasn't been showcased much. Dee Hart should get some carries, and we'll likely see true freshmen Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry get their chances against CSU as well. But how the carries are distributed and whether fellow rookie tailback Tyren Jones sees the field remains to be seen.

Is Amari Cooper in a slump? He's dealt with a number of nagging injuries this year, but he hasn't missed any games because of it. And, according to Saban, defenses aren't do anything different to keep him in check. So why exactly is Alabama's top receiver suddenly not himself? The former Freshman All-SEC selection hasn't had the impact on the game we became accustomed to last year and he hasn't been as sure-handed either, dropping a number of passes against Virginia Tech and Texas A&M. He's tied for the team lead with six receptions, but he's only racked up 72 yards and no touchdowns in the process. Getting Cooper back on track in time for the meat of the SEC schedule will be vital for Alabama's offense.

Continuing progress on the O-line: Alabama's offensive line responded in a big way this past weekend after being abused by Virginia Tech in the season opener. Cyrus Kouandjio and Co. helped open big holes in the running game and protected AJ McCarron beautifully against Texas A&M, enforcing its will much in the same way we saw from Alabama's line a year ago. But will it continue? We'll see against the Rams, who admittedly don't offer much in the way of All-American defenders. Keeping last week's momentum going might be difficult, though, if starting right guard Anthony Steen is unable to play after injuring himself against the Aggies. Kellen Williams, who filled in admirably in his absence, could be called on to give Steen a rest early if the pain he experienced last weekend returns.

Championship fatigue: It's been written about a good deal -- Alabama fans getting tired of winning. After three championships in four season, would anyone blame them? Alabama winning football games has become something of a ho-hum affair of late. Setting aside the time and money to see the Tide play in Bryant-Denny Stadium isn't quite as appealing when you know the outcome of the game ahead of time. Heck, some students would rather stay home and watch the game on TV with the luxury of being able to channel surf when the score inevitably gets out of hand. If fans truly are getting tired of going to games, we'll see the effect in the bleachers against nonconference cupcakes like Colorado State.
Colorado State coach Jim McElwain doesn't waste any time before pointing out his team's poor job of finishing games. In fact, it's the first words out of his mouth. Pleasantries were quickly dispensed in a call with ESPN.com on the Wednesday before his team is scheduled to face No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

"We have [struggled late], and yet part of that is we're at least in games," he said. "I couldn't have said that a year ago. We're getting better."

[+] EnlargeJim McElwain
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiColorado State coach Jim McElwain, who was Alabama's offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2011, takes his team to Tuscaloosa this weekend.
The former Alabama offensive coordinator who left coach Nick Saban's staff following the 2011 season for Fort Collins, Colo., sees something of a silver lining to the Rams' 1-2 start, but he's nonetheless worried about the challenge that awaits.

"Right now the University of Alabama is complete, if you know what I mean," he said later on in the Q&A. "They're great in all phases."

McElwain was kind enough to spend a few minutes previewing the game against Alabama. Here's what he had to say:

A.S.: What has it felt like preparing for Alabama?

J.M.: When the reality hits and you start to put a game plan together, you start to think, 'What was I thinking?' Having been removed you kind of forget about how good the players are and the system is on both sides of the ball. Plus, Bobby [Williams] is doing a great job on special teams. They really have some parts that are playing hard there. Those things, I just hope they don't throw me in jail for throwing these guys to the wolves.

A.S.: You are getting paid a pretty penny for it, though. But it will be a good experience for your players, right?

J.M.: You said it. What we're building here has a lot to do with culture, and that culture doesn't just begin and end with the football team. That's everyone in the organization not accepting mediocrity no matter what their job is. For our people to go see a place where so many -- where people may think they have an insignificant role -- but they do it at such a high level. It doesn't matter what they do, they do it to the best of their ability.

A.S.: What stands out to you about the Alabama team you'll face this season?

J.M.: First, I talk about them on offense. The maturity and growth level is, I knew it would happen. [Doug Nussmeier] is doing a fantastic job with AJ [McCarron] and how he's utilizing all the different parts, all the different weapons. He's got true command of everything, getting them into good plays and out of bad plays. I mean this now, there's not a guy that's played better on bigger stages. When you look at how he takes care of the football and what he does for that team offensively, in my opinion that's the best player in college football.

A.S.: You think so?

J.M.: I really do. People are going to say, well, maybe this, maybe that. Well, look at what he's done with his full body of work. Look at what he does in the biggest moments. I can't tell you how proud I am to see him play the way he is, and with that the collective group around him, it's like they want to match his intensity level, his knowledge level.

A.S.: And what about Alabama's defense?

J.M.: It's a Coach Saban, Kirby Smart defense. People are going to say whatever about the Texas A&M yardage but there's going to be a lot of people who give yardage up to that guy. Yet they were in position numerous times, right? So I truly believe that was simply a little blip on the radar.

A.S.: What do your players need to do to have a puncher's chance Saturday?

J.M.: We need to stay on the field a little bit, which against their defense, shoot, I don't think anyone in the last freaking six years has done that. Yeah, you can say a game or two. But we've got to maintain possession of the ball, No. 1. These guys pride themselves in takeaways and we have to be sound on that part of it. We have to try to create any form of matchup we can with the playmakers we have to allow them the opportunity to get open in the pass game. And you know no one runs the ball on them and sometimes you have to understand that maybe a hard, 2- or 3-yard run is good.

And our defense, explosive plays, the speed factor is what scares me to death. Our guys have never played against anything like that. Not allowing those quick scores and those quick strikes and trying to make them earn that a little bit and not just giving them cheap ones.

A.S.: When we talked a while back you spoke about gathering a blueprint from Saban about how to run your program. How far along are you in implementing that now?

J.M.: I've seen a thought process change here dramatically over the past year and a half where our guys are starting to understand the accountability for their actions. I've seen guys invest in their own lives where, shoot, there's a direct reflection that when I got here the G.P.A. was horrible and now it's the same guys who understand that's a part of their life, that's a part of making themselves great. And those are all carryovers when you get out on the practice field.

A.S.: When you're in the locker room before the game Saturday, what are you going to tell your players to get ready for the environment?

J.M.: It's an opportunity to measure yourself. It's an opportunity that not many people get to play the No. 1 team in the country, to play in a place such as Bryant-Denny Stadium. Relish the moment. Don't be scared or afraid of the moment but rather take the challenge every single down, don't look at the scoreboard and go out and win this play and play as hard as you can so when you walk back in that locker room you know that you gave it your all.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jim McElwain was searching for the right word to describe it.

"It" being the way the offense is run at the University of Alabama. It was clear in talking with those around the program that the overarching direction of the offense is determined by head coach Nick Saban, whose meticulous, controlling nature has been well documented.

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
UA Athletic PhotographyOC Doug Nussmeier has continued to build on Alabama's success on offense. The Crimson Tide's offensive style under Nussmeier has changed very little, if at all, from previous seasons.
But calling the offense Saban's alone was too wide of a stretch for McElwain, who served as his offensive coordinator from 2008-11 and winning two national championships before leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State.

"Back when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to coach there, we sat down and he kind of gave me kind of a philosophy, if that makes sense, a thought process, or a vision, I guess, maybe," he said on the eve of his team's trip to face the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide on Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

"The big thing was to figure out what you had and then put it together based upon what team you have," McElwain said.

Unlike many teams in college football that are strictly ground-and-pound or run-and-gun depending upon who is calling the plays, Alabama's offense has been more adaptive, more fluid based upon the strengths of its roster. There's never been an "Air Raid" type of offense under Saban, and there's never been much of a "three yards and a cloud of dust" attack, either, no matter what the national perception has been in the past.

It's been productive, averaging 30 or more points per game in each of the past five seasons. What Saban insists upon is balance and limiting turnovers, according to McElwain.

Though the coaches running the offense have changed multiple times (seven coaching changes to be exact, including three different coordinators), the offense itself has never shifted dramatically. As Saban said upon hiring current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, "this is Alabama's offense" and that means a power running game, controlling the clock and passing enough to keep the defense honest.

"Are we wholesale changing our offense and going to a whole new system, a whole new terminology?" Saban asked shortly after Nussmeier was hired. "Everybody in the building's got to learn a whole new system because one guy's changed? We're not doing that."

Nussmeier was only half-kidding when he said he wouldn't do anything new at all from the year before, just "change the order we ran them." But the truth is that from Major Applewhite to Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier, the style of the offense has changed very little, if at all. Saban's been the one holdover, a known commodity as a defensive mastermind but an unknown in his ability to form an offensive identity. He just happens to look at it from a different perspective.

"What he does is he has a great knack of looking at film, which is what he does, looking at film of the opponent's defense, and really helping you kind of understand what they're trying to take away based on what they're doing," McElwain said. "Inevitably the pieces he brings in, saying you may want to look at something in this design or something like that, they work."

Under Saban, Alabama has never thrown the ball more than its passed. Sixty-three percent of plays were runs in 2008, and that number barely changed over the years to where last season the Tide ran 63.5 percent of the time. The only time UA ever broke the 250 passing yards per game mark was in 2010 when the Tide started off the season as title favorites only to lose three games and wind up in the Capital One Bowl.

There's the idea that Alabama's offense has opened up dramatically and become more explosive in recent seasons, but the numbers show that to be untrue. Instead, it's been same old, same old, as the offense actually had fewer plays of at least 20 yards per game last season than it did the year before (5.43 to 5.46). Points per game went up, but only slightly (38.7 from 34.8 the year before).

"They made the transition very smooth," former UA center Barrett Jones recalled, saying later that it was hard to see McElwain leave going into his senior season. "They did a really good job of letting Coach Nuss bring in some new ideas, but not changing too much because, honestly, it wasn't really broken. We kept a lot of our same verbiage, our same calls, same principals, and just added a few new things, a few wrinkles. … You hardly had to learn any new stuff."

Said McElwain: "I can see the plays and probably what they were called within the system. I think the system is sound fundamentally. I think you pick your places to take your shots. The thing I see is maybe more explosive playmakers on the outside from a collective group than there were before.

"Yet you always have that dynamic that if you're going to load the box, you're going to have guys out there that will make it hurt. And then if you cover those guys, you've got those runners in the backfield with a dominant offensive line, which really helps. I mean, pick your poison."

It's the same offense McElwain would like to run at Colorado State, though he admittedly doesn't quite have the parts to do it. He had to laugh at the talent Saban's assembled through back-to-back top-ranked recruiting classes, saying, "If you've got any [running backs] you want to send our way, I'll take them."

McElwain would love to use Saban's blueprint at CSU, but at the same time, he knows that won't be easy, saying, "The one thing I know is that I can't be him -- no one can."

The continuity Saban's been able to establish at Alabama has been second to none, never missing a beat when coaches leave or star players are drafted into the NFL. The production on offense has remained as steady as the tide. McElwain credited that to his unwavering vision, which extends to both sides of the football.

There's a plan in Saban's mind, and it's never changed in seven years at Alabama.

"To me, he's the whole package," McElwain said. "He's hired great coaches who understand what he wants and then go out and execute it."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama coach Nick Saban slipped into another soap-box moment this week when he took to the podium to describe how his secondary had played so poorly against Texas A&M.

"The players have to do what the coaches do, and that's the point," he said before launching into a narrative about civil disobedience, wrapped around what's becoming a borderline obsession with dog owners failing to keep their pets on a leash (he used the same "Nobody wants to be obedient now" rant the week before the game as well).

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/David J. PhillipNick Saban is hoping his players got the message after Alabama's defense struggled to stop Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M last Saturday.
What Saban's argument boiled down to was a four-word sentence nobody wants to hear: I told you so.

“No matter how many times you tell someone, ‘Look, son. Don’t touch the stove. It’s hot,’ ” he said, lamenting the fact that they always have to see for themselves. “Once they touch it and get burned, then they start saying, ‘Huh, maybe I’ll listen to this guy. Maybe Dad knows what he’s talking about.’ So, I think a lot of lessons were learned in this game.

"So now, when you say, 'Don't drop your hands when you're playing bump and run,' and the guy does it 15 times in a game against me, now you'll see why you were telling him. If you've told a guy 100 times to get in the middle of the field and he doesn't get there, now you can see what happens when he doesn't get there. No different than touching the stove. Same old thing."

Alabama ought to have learned its lesson against Texas A&M. The memory should be seared into every player's skull by now. If the game didn't do it, then surely the film review did.

Though Johnny Manziel and the Aggies are certainly one of the best offenses in the country, that does little to explain the staggering inefficiency of the defense as whole. The same defense that allowed the fewest plays of 10 or more yards per game (8.42) and the fewest passing touchdowns (eight) a season ago was gashed for five passing touchdowns and 20 plays of 10 or more yards as Texas A&M racked up the most total yards allowed by an Alabama defense in school history (628).

The Manziel-to-Mike Evans combination couldn't be stopped. "It's a combination of both guys' strengths that make a difficult matchup," Saban tried to explain, citing Manziel's speed and Evans' overwhelming size. Saban used at least three different defensive backs on Evans, not counting the double coverage over the top, and still, the 6-foot-5 sophomore racked up a career high 279 yards receiving. Manziel was Manziel again, evading the grasp of pass-rushers left and right while exploiting every hole in the secondary to throw for a career-high 464 yards.

And that was supposed to be the game Alabama's defense had figured out, aided by an offseason of study and an extra bye week to prepare.

Instead, the Crimson Tide were torched on national television and sent back to the drawing board in search of answers.

"We've tried to play the more experienced guys," Saban said, "especially in these first two games, because they're tough games. Everybody's had an opportunity.

"Now, we're just going to ... need to compete better. And it's not just the corners now, the safeties weren't where they were supposed to be in the game some, too."

With starting cornerback Deion Belue questionable to play against Colorado State this weekend, the competition is wide open. Saban said two freshmen are in position to see the field more, and based on practice, it looks like Maurice Smith and Eddie Jackson are the two in line for an early opportunity. Bradley Sylve, a redshirt sophomore, has been mentioned as another possible replacement in the cornerback rotation as well.

Geno Smith, who started at nickel as a freshman late last season, was supposed to be a part of that mix, but after being arrested for a DUI during the preseason, suspended for a game and sent to the bottom of the depth chart, even he's fighting to get back into the mix. For now, veteran Jarrick Williams is holding down his spot just fine.

"Geno's got to beat somebody out. He lost his job," Saban said. "Jarrick's played really well. So, I mean, nobody has a rite of passage here just because you played in two games last year, 'I'm guaranteed my job.' If you do the right things and you play well, nobody gets your job."

In fact, Williams might be the only bright spot in the Alabama secondary after last week's game. He held down the slot receiver well and had it not been for his tipped pass, Vinnie Sunseri's interception return for a touchdown never would have happened.

"He's been unbelievable," Sunseri said. "Jarrick has done exactly what we've asked him to do. He's had great coverage, been really physical at the point of attack and just been a real sound defensive player at that star position. I can't express how happy I am for him to get the opportunity and take advantage of it like he's been able to."

Williams, for his part, tried to stay positive about the game, saying that the mental errors and mistakes against Texas A&M were "nothing we can't fix." Asked whether the game was a letdown, he said simply, "No, sir."

"I think we're just going to get on there and keep on fighting."

Saban may still be fuming over the coverage breakdowns and big plays, but the players seemed to have moved on.

CSU coach Jim McElwain has, too. The former Alabama offensive coordinator went up against Saban's defense in practice from 2008-11, and he's not buying any theory of a downward trend. In his mind, Texas A&M was merely an outlier.

"People are going to say whatever about the Texas A&M yardage, but there's going to be a lot of people who give yardage up to that guy," he said, citing the one they call Johnny Football. "Yet, they were in position numerous times, right? So I truly believe that was simply a little blip on the radar."

Planning for success: Alabama

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Don't exhale too much after No. 1 Alabama's thrilling win over No. 10 Texas A&M this past weekend. The Crimson Tide get right back at it against an eager Colorado State team at home on Saturday night:

The Crimson Tide will win if …

If Alabama plays like it did against Texas A&M last weekend, this game will be over by the end of the first quarter. Against the Aggies, UA rediscovered its offensive identity -- between-the-tackles running, play-action passing -- and a reenergized offensive line deserves the bulk of credit for that. Though Texas A&M's defense was porous, Colorado State's won't be much better, if at all. The Rams gave up 41 points to Colorado in their season opener and followed that up with a 30-point performance against Tulsa. So long as Alabama's defense doesn't encounter another Mike Evans-Johnny Manziel type combination in Colorado State, it should be fine.

The Rams will win if ...

Jim McElwain's Rams catch Alabama sleeping, which isn't out of the realm of possibility after a difficult, draining game on the road the previous week. With Ole Miss to follow, this might be something of a trap game. A quick score and a few turnovers could put Colorado State in the driver's seat early. That said, it's hard to imagine UA coach Nick Saban won't have his players ready for this game. Alabama might have escaped Kyle Field with a win, but it also learned a lot about its own flaws. Because of that, the Tide should come out with something to prove, especially on defense.

Colorado State players to watch

QB Garrett Grayson: The junior quarterback had one of the best games of his career last week, throwing for 297 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-17 win over Cal Poly at home.

WR Chris Higgins and Jordan Vaden: Alabama's secondary was exposed by a tall wide receiver in Evans a week ago. This time UA must face a pair of sizable receivers in 6-foot-2 Rashard Higgins and 6-foot-3 Jordan Vaden. The two have combined for 17 receptions for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

LB Shaquil Barrett: The senior All-Mountain West linebacker is fourth on the team in tackles (21), but he's been the best at getting into the backfield with seven tackles for loss and two sacks.

Alabama players to watch

CB Cyrus Jones: His first foray into meaningful action at cornerback had its good and bad last weekend. He struggled to stop Evans -- so did everyone else who tried -- but his end zone interception was arguably the turning point in the game. With Deion Belue banged up and Alabama in search of answers in the secondary, Jones could cement his place in the rotation, if not the starting lineup.

WR Amari Cooper: Through the first two games of the season, it's fair to call 2013 a sophomore slump of sorts for Cooper. The former All-SEC wideout has just six receptions and no touchdowns, but it's the drops that are bothersome. Injuries are likely partly to blame, but he's missed on some very catchable balls.

Running back corps: We heard all offseason and preseason that the running back corps would go five or even six deep, but so far we haven't seen much of that depth play itself out. The Texas A&M and Virginia Tech games didn't provide much of a venue to use everyone effectively, but Colorado State should be that opportunity to see how the back end of the rotation will work. Will Altee Tenpenny continue to be the leader of the freshmen backs? Or will Derrick Henry take the reins? And let's not forget Tyren Jones, who could play a part as well.

Key stats

6.3: The difference between Game 1 and 2 for Alabama's offensive line was like night and day. After averaging 3.5 yards per rush against Virginia Tech, Alabama came back against Texas A&M and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Yards before contact improved as well, shooting up from an average of 1.1 yards to 3.9.

12.9: An improved running game brought back Alabama's play-action attack as AJ McCarron went from completing 3 of 8 such passes for an average of 2.6 yards per attempt against the Hokies to completing 7 of 10 play-action attempts for two touchdowns and an average of 12.9 yards per attempt.

20: Alabama has won an impressive 20 games in a row against nonconference opponents. During Saban's tenure, the Tide is 27-3 in nonconference games, outscoring those opponents 1,145-333.

Information from ESPN Stats & Information was used in this article.

Bama to play Colorado St. at high cost 

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
4:17
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama called on its connection with former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain to round out its 2013 football schedule, agreeing to face Colorado State on Sept. 21 in Tuscaloosa, in McElwain's second season leading the Rams.

The second of the two-game series will be played at some point during the 2015 or 2017 season, at an undetermined location.

Colorado State, which finished 4-8 this season, will earn $1.5 million per game, according to CSU.

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Bama, UT eyeing Watch List WR Samples 

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
9:58
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Forgive ESPNU Watch List wide receiver Ra’Shaad Samples (Dallas, Texas/Skyline) if he is smiling a little brighter after Wednesday.

Samples, a junior that entered the week with nine FBS scholarship offers, learned of heavy interest from two power schools in Alabama and Texas. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior, Samples had a late-morning visit with Alabama and then met with Texas later in the day on the Skyline campus.

“It was a real good recruiting day for me,” said Samples, one of the premier receivers in his class and the leading receiver statistically on a very talented Skyline roster. “It was definitely in my top two or three days.”

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