TUSCALOOSA- In a game where Colorado State entered as nearly 30-point underdogs, the Rams went into Bryant-Denny Stadium and competed with No. 1 Alabama for four quarters, but the Crimson Tide lived up to the hype, handily defeating CSU 41-23 Saturday.
“Really proud of our football team for the effort that they gave tonight,” head coach Mike Bobo said. “I think we started the game slow. I think the mystique of playing Alabama and who we were playing, we were on our heals. That’s something that we have got to correct.”
The third-year head coach explained that in the two of the biggest games of the season so far, the team has come out of the gate flat in the first quarter on both sides of the football and that has ultimately been the biggest difference in the outcome of the games.
CSU had moments where they looked like they may actually be able to run with the big boys, breaking off multiple big plays in the game. The depth and speed of the Crimson Tide proved to be too much though, as Alabama was able to respond to every CSU punch with a counter of their own.
Trailing 17-0 in the second quarter, the Rams responded with two crucial drives, quickly cutting the deficit to seven. During the comeback effort, true freshman wide receiver Warren Jackson recorded his first career touchdown reception, a 4-yard fade in the back of the end zone. Jackson would add his second career touchdown reception later in the fourth quarter.
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The momentum boost was short lived though. On just the third play of the ensuing Alabama offensive series, the Crimson Tide capitalized on a broken play when sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts was able to connect with Robert Foster for a 52-yard touchdown reception with 1:00 remaining in the first half.
“Got a chance to go into halftime down one score and we give up the explosive play right before the half, which is not good,” Bobo said. “We cannot give those athletes that much space.”
Despite giving up the big play to close the half, the Rams came out aggressive in the second half and actually began the final 30 minutes with three consecutive plays for first downs. A pair of third quarter interceptions from senior quarterback Nick Stevens proved to be the final dagger though, ultimately leading to 14 points for Alabama.
“The first two possessions we drove down the field and turned the ball over, which really killed us,” Bobo said. “You cannot turn the ball over against a good football team and expect to win. This football team makes you beat them week in and week out. They don’t make mistakes, they make you earn everything. Especially offensively. There’s no loose coverage, there’s no easy throws. “
In the game, Hurts led the way for the UA offense, finishing 12-of-17 for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air. On the ground, Hurts was equally impressive, rushing the ball 11 times for 101 yards and a single touchdown.
Stevens finished 21-of-38 for 247 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Tonight’s start marks the first time in 2017 that the senior quarterback did not throw for at least 300 yards. Stevens also did his best Hurts impression, adding five carries for 26 yards and a rushing touchdown.
“Like coach (Bobo) said, no moral victories. We came here to win and did not get it done,” Stevens said. “I’m definitely proud of how the offense handled themselves and did not give up to the end. The O-line had a great game. Wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, I think everybody played really well. We just need to limit those two turnovers on my behalf.”
Stevens’ No. 1 target Michael Gallup finished with five receptions for 81 yards. Other than Gallup, it was really the running backs that were able to make the majority of the plays.
Senior Dalyn Dawkins led the team in rushing with 10 carries for 59 yards and also added three receptions for 41 yards. Izzy Matthews also worked his way into the mix, carrying the ball 16 times for 57 yards. Additionally, Matthews totaled three receptions for 47 yards.
“They have a really good offensive scheme, and they’ve got good offensive players,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said.
CSU has a bye week next Saturday, but the Rams will look to get back on track against the University of Hawaii on Sept. 30. The contest with the Warriors will be the first of conference-play for Bobo’s Rams.
With two weeks to prepare, Bobo will give the team an off day on Monday, before resuming practice Tuesday-Thursday. Heading into conference-play, both players and coaches are extremely confident in this team’s ability to compete for the Mountain West.
“We’re feeling great about ourselves,” cornerback Kevin Nutt said. “We came out and competed with every team that we faced…I’m very confident on offense, defense and special teams that we’re going to get the job done and compete with every team that we step on the field with.”
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.