Colorado St.-Alabama Previst
Colorado State coach Jim McElwain knows former boss Nick Saban well enough to expect Alabama to be highly motivated to improve on its disappointing defensive performance of last weekend.
Saban's former offensive coordinator brings the Rams to Tuscaloosa on Saturday night with the daunting task of facing the top-ranked Crimson Tide, who are eager to get back on track defensively in their home opener.
McElwain guided Alabama's offense from 2008-11, helping to win two national championships while getting an up-close look at one of the nation's top defensive programs. That's why the second-year Colorado State coach is well aware that the Tide (2-0) expect to rebound in a big way from last Saturday, when they allowed a school-record 628 yards in a 49-42 road win over Johnny Manziel and then-No. 6 Texas A&M.
"I'm sure the numbers there put up by A&M and by that quarterback, they'll use that motivation to come back this week and try to shut us out," McElwain said.
"Getting ready to play this game, one of the things I know from being there is that there is no letdown. People could point out that they just had that huge win over a nationally-ranked team. One of the things that they do as anybody in the country does is that it doesn't matter who you're playing, it's about playing against yourself."
Though Alabama hung on last weekend, a program that allowed an average of 9.6 points while winning BCS national titles in the previous two seasons gave up more than 40 for the first time since 2007.
Safety Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception 73 yards for a touchdown to give Alabama a 35-14 third quarter-lead, but Manziel threw for a career-high 464 yards and five touchdowns. Aggies sophomore Mike Evans had a school-record 279 receiving yards on seven catches, including a 95-yard TD.
"Too many big plays, too many missed assignments, too much lack of technique, guys doing what they're coached to do on a consistent basis,'' Saban said. "When you don't do that and you play against good players, you usually get exposed."
Saban's approach to get better appears simple enough.
"I think focus needs to be on improving as a team," he said. "There's no question I don't feel like we are where we need to be as a team. I think the most important part of that is going to be players having the discipline to trust and believe in doing the things the way we want them done.
"Without that improvement, we're not going to get where we want to go. We're not going to become the team that we could be.''
While that might be a long-term concern, for the time being it would seem Alabama is in good position to bounce back in its first meeting with Colorado State (1-2).
Coming off a 34-17 victory over FCS school Cal Poly last Saturday, the Rams have dropped 14 in a row against Top 25 opponents. Alabama has allowed an average of 5.5 points during a 15-game non-conference home winning streak.
"We tell our guys it isn't about the mystique, about the history, or about the tradition; it's about an opportunity to measure yourself against the best," McElwain said.
It also means trying to stop an offense McElwain should be familiar with, and one that totaled 568 yards last week after being held to 206 in the season-opening 35-10 win over Virginia Tech.
AJ McCarron was named SEC player of the week after throwing for a career-high 334 yards and four touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon rushed for 149 and a TD on 25 carries.
"They're a pretty balanced team," said McElwain, whose squad allowed 71 points in losses to Colorado and Tulsa before handling Cal Poly.
Colorado State's Chris Nwoke has rushed for 230 yards on 41 carries in the two games since he was held to six on six carries in a 41-27 loss to the Buffaloes.