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Alabama Crimson Tide

3 things to watch when Alabama plays Colorado State

Alabama defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne tackles Fresno State wide receiver KeeSean Johnson in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Brynn Anderson/AP photo

Alabama has one more tune-up before SEC play as Colorado State visits Tuscaloosa this weekend. Here are the major points of interest for the matchup.

Mike Bobo returns: Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo is as “SEC” as they come. He spent all but one of his years between high school and Fort Collins as either a player or coach for Georgia.

This game marks his first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium since his Bulldogs won a 26-23 overtime thriller over the Crimson Tide in 2007. He faced Nick Saban‘s defenses twice more as an offensive coordinator. One was Bama’s 41-30 plastering of UGA in 2008 in which most of the Dogs’ scoring came well into garbage time. The other was the classic 2012 SEC Championship Game, when Georgia came five yards short of upsetting Alabama in a 32-28 finish.

If Colorado State can have a decent showing, it’ll make a good audition for Bobo. At least one SEC job will be open this winter thanks to Ole Miss, and more could be on the way given some slow starts in the West Division.

Tightening up the defense: Fresno State was never a threat to win last week, and seldom was it a threat to score. The Tide defense held the Bulldogs to only 3-11 on third down, killing a lot of drives when it counted.

However, Fresno was reasonably efficient on first and second down. Jeff Tedford was able to find a modicum of success with a quick passing game, despite a scattershot quarterback and underwhelming receivers.

Colorado State has a much better offense, one that clocked in at 21st nationally in S&P+ a year ago. Quarterback Nick Stevens is much more accomplished than Chason Virgil of Fresno State is. Saban even called Stevens “maybe the most efficient guy we’ve played against so far this year.”

The Crimson Tide defense had a few growing pains last week dealing with four linebackers being out hurt. After having that game as a chance for the defense to find its feet, this week presents a larger test. If the unit can make this week like the last one — where the opponent clearly doesn’t have a shot at scoring more than once or twice — we’ll know it has made some progress.

Finding passing down success: Football Outsiders defines passing downs as second down with eight or more yards to go and third or fourth down with five or more yards to go. They’re situations where most teams—setting aside outliers like the triple-option offenses—should and usually do throw the ball to make up yardage.

So far this year, Alabama has been bad on passing downs. Its success rate on such plays against Florida State was a paltry five percent, while the Seminoles had a success rate of 26 percent and the national average is 33 percent. Last week the Tide got up to only a 25 percent success rate on passing downs prior to garbage time. Given the opponent and the offense’s high efficiency on standard (non-passing) downs, is it a troubling sign?

For one thing, the Tide had only four passing downs before the game went completely out of reach. Two of them came on Tua Tagovailoa’s first-half drive after he was sacked. The two when Jalen Hurts was in the game involved a Hurts carry for four yards on 2nd and 8 and him leaving the pocket on a called pass, running for 17 yards on 3rd and 10. Only the latter qualifies as a success via the formula for success rate, though there are many worse outcomes than setting up 3rd and 4.

Avoiding passing downs is a sign of an efficient offense, so doing that again will be a good thing. The Rams’ defense is probably better than Fresno’s, but not by a lot. If the Tide does happen to encounter a larger number of passing downs, it would be good to see more efficiency on them.

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