Leading up to CSU’s football game against Alabama, the Rams head coach downplayed the hype of his return to the place he helped bring two national championships in his four years as offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide.
After Saturday’s 31-6 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, though, a somber Jim McElwain stood quietly at the podium and allowed himself a minute to reflect.
“Yeah, I had to catch myself a little bit,” McElwain said. “Those guys meant a lot to me and I loved them and I’m just so proud of them. They were a big part of my life and I owe a lot to them and I’m proud to be able to say I was their coach at one time.”
McElwain received a warm welcome from his former colleagues and friends upon arrival at his old stomping grounds.
“This is an unbelievable place,” McElwain said. “The outpouring for me personally from so many people that meant so much to myself and my family. The University of Alabama is a classy place and I’m proud of the Rams.”
McElwain was proud of his players for the resilience and fight they showed in a game that many counted the Rams out of before it even began. Thanks to a stout defense that made the Tide beat them through the air, the Rams held Alabama to just 66 yards rushing.
They were able to frustrate a team that was coming off of a big win and a nationally-hyped game against Texas A&M a week ago. The Tide went scoreless in the third quarter.
“You have to give Colorado State a lot of credit,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “Their players played hard and (Coach McElwain) did a great job in terms of having his guys prepared. They did a lot of screens and jump stuff that we hadn’t really prepared for.”
Most of the Rams’ success came from their defense. After an interception by defensive back Bernard Blake, CSU capitalized on the turnover and added their first points to the game off the leg of one of the most reliable players for the Rams, kicker Jared Roberts, who has yet to miss a field goal this year.
CSU struggled in some of the same ways as Alabama. The Rams gained only 51 yards rushing on 26 attempts as converting third downs continued to be a problem for CSU, much like it was in their two previous losses this season. They finished the game having converted on 4-of-15 third down opportunities.
This game was the Rams opportunity to see how they stack up against the best in the league. Though they were able to hang around with the Tide for much of the game, it isn’t enough for the team.
“A loss is a loss and that’s not something we’re happy with,” said center Weston Richburg. “The positive thing you can take away from this is confidence gained playing against the top team in the nation, being able to say we held our own and that’s exciting going into the rest of the season.”
For McElwain, it’s time for the Rams to move on to the next game and begin adding wins to their resume.
“I’ve said from the start and I mean this, our football team might not be the most talented but you know what? I love them,” McElwain said. “They play hard and that’s something as a coach you want to see on film and to see them not hang their heads and say ‘oh here we go,’ but stay in there (and) go toe-to-toe; that tells me something about these guys.”
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.