Balancing tempo on offense key against No. 1 Alabama

Colin Barnard

mike bobo and players running onto field
Mike Bobo runs onto the field leading the team before they face off against Abilene Christian. (Joe Oakman | Collegian)

After defeating Abilene Christian for its second win of the season, the Colorado State football team turns its attention to the most daunting task in college football: traveling to Tuscaloosa to square off against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Year in and year out, the Tide consistently field one of the best teams in the nation, evidenced by winning four of the last eight national championships. What’s more, CSU head coach Mike Bobo believes that this year’s team could be even better.

“When you watch this team on tape, offensively, defensively and special teams, it’s probably the best-coached football team that I’ve seen in a long time,” Bobo said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us, one that we’re excited about and looking forward to. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s going to be a huge challenge.”

In addition to the Hall of Fame pedigree of head coach Nick Saban, Alabama’s abundance of playmakers on both sides of the ball makes game planning that much more difficult. On defense, Bobo compared Alabama’s front four to that of an NFL team. He also called safety Mincah Fitzpatrick one of the best players he has seen on tape.

To this point in the season, CSU has experienced some success running an up-tempo offense. When they have done so, the speed and athleticism from many skill players is used to hurt opposing defense. However, running that style of offense against such a strong defense can be detrimental for the Rams if they are unable to convert. Giving the ball back to an offense of Alabama’s caliber in such short time makes the conundrum even more pressing. 

Wide Receiver Olabisi Johnson makes a catch over an Abilene Christian defender on Sept 8. The Rams defeated the Wildcats 38-10. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)
Wide Receiver Olabisi Johnson makes a catch over an Abilene Christian defender on Sept 8. The Rams defeated the Wildcats 38-10. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

“You’ve got a chance when you go fast to get guys on their heels, where their cleats are not screwed into the grass and they’re not coming down hill against you,” Bobo said. “But on the flip side of that, if you’re going so fast and things aren’t going well, you’re giving the ball back to their offense in a hurry. If you go really fast and don’t get first downs and don’t convert, you’re putting the defense in a bad situation.”

While the Rams may like to play up-tempo at times, lack of depth may hinder their ability to do so. Already battered on the offensive line, the Rams may be without right tackle Ben Knox and guard Colby Meeks against Alabama. Wide receiver Trey Smith is also expected to miss multiple weeks. Finding a way to play fast while balancing the depth will be another key for Bobo come Saturday evening.

“We’ve gone fast at times, but we’re not very deep at receiver,” Bobo said. “We haven’t been able to sustain that tempo…and (have) had to slow it down at times. It’s a long season and there are times in the game where I have to slow down offensively just to take care of our skill guys where we’re a little bit thin. When we slow down sometimes, it gets us out of our rhythm. We’re better when we go fast, but at the same time we don’t have a lot of depth so it’s kind of a catch-22 for us.”

Bobo will return to his Southeastern Conference roots for the first time since coming to CSU in 2015, as the Rams face the Crimson Tide on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 5 p.m. MT. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 and is streamable through the WatchESPN app. 

Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.