Nick Saban and the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide face the Colorado State Rams on Saturday. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/UPI
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Many of Alabama’s nonconference games have a similar theme: The Crimson Tide try to compliment a lesser opponent while not coming off overly confident, while the lesser opponent gushes over Alabama but tries to show it isn’t afraid of the task at hand.
No. 1 Alabama vs. Colorado State is no different.
The Crimson Tide hosts the Rams on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium at 7 p.m. ET.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama coach Nick Saban’s goal is to make sure his players respect every opponent.
"I think Mike Bobo has done a really good job there. These guys play hard, they’re physical, they’re very aggressive in their style. They can run the ball; they can throw the ball. They’ve got a good quarterback. They’ve got a lot of balance in what they do."
Meanwhile in Colorado, Rams coach Mike Bobo assessed the Crimson Tide’s defensive front by saying it looks like "an NFL front four."
"The more tape you watch, the scarier it gets," Bobo said in his Monday press conference.
Bobo made sure to stress that his team wouldn’t back down from the challenge of facing the No. 1 team in the country. Bobo, a former assistant coach at Georgia — including as offensive coordinator — has seen Alabama up close during the Saban era.
"It’s a great, great program," Bobo said.
"It always has been a great program. Everybody says that they get the best players in the country, and they do get a lot of the best players in the country. But 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."
Colorado State (2-1) provides Alabama (2-0) with its final tune-up before SEC play. Alabama downed Florida State in a physical opener before pounding Fresno State in its home opener last Saturday. Due to injuries, Alabama is piecing together parts of its defense — especially at linebacker — on the fly.
Young players and freshmen who likely would have redshirted have been thrust into key roles. Linebacker Keith Holcombe got his first career start Saturday with Rashaan Evans out. Holcombe, who has eight tackles and two pass break-ups, could get his second start this Saturday as Evans was considered questionable early in the week due to a groin injury.
Alabama has lost two outside linebackers to season-ending injuries, and another, Anfernee Jennings, is questionable because of an ankle problem. Jamey Mosley, a former walk-on and the brother of former Tide standout linebacker C.J. Mosley, earned his first start against Fresno State.
There isn’t much time left before the competition ramps up, so Saban has stressed the importance of individual improvement.
"The one thing if you’re any player and you ask yourself, ‘If I was a stock, has my stock gone up based on the way I’ve played in the first two games or are there things I need to work on to get better?’" Saban said.
"I think that hopefully most of the players would say at this point we need to be working to get better. And that’s certainly how I feel as a coach and what I would like our players to try to do."
On offense, the big numbers haven’t been there for quarterback Jalen Hurts, but the sophomore has shown improvement as a passer this season. Hurts has thrown for two touchdowns, completing 24 of 36 passes for 224 yards. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley has, not surprisingly, been Hurts favorite target with 12 catches.
Alabama’s running game features a four-head monster with running backs Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and freshman Najee Harris, plus Hurts, who has a team-high 209 yards on the ground. Scarbrough was thought to be a preseason Heisman candidate, but he has just 21 carries for 76 yards in the crowded backfield.
Colorado State comes in on the heels of a 38-10 win over Abilene Christian. The Rams opened with a 58-27 victory over Oregon State but fell to Colorado, 17-3, in their other game against a Pac-12 foe.
Rams quarterback Nick Stevens is 14th nationally with 328.3 passing yards per game. Wide receiver Michael Gallup is a real threat, rated fifth among senior wideouts by NFLDraftScout.com. Gallup has 26 catches for 309 yards in three games.
"We’re at a good place right now as a football team," Bobo said. "I feel like we’re where we’re supposed to be."
Alabama is 29-1 in nonconference home games under Saban, who is in his 11th season with the Tide. The only loss came back in 2007 against Louisiana-Monroe.