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September 21, 2013

ALABAMA FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: DePriest's heads-up play helps Tide pull away from Rams

TUSCALOOSA — All Alabama needed was a helping hand from Trey DePriest — and the replay booth.

With Colorado State stealing the momentum and threatening to close the deficit to a single score early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, the linebacker caught Ram quarterback Garre Grayson on a run, poked the ball out and recovered it himself.

The referees initially ruled Grayson was down before coughing up the pigskin, but the officials upstairs eventually overturned the call, setting up the top-ranked Tide at Colorado State's 30.

One play was all it took for AJ McCarron and Alabama to right the ship from there. The senior signal-caller proceeded to throw a 30-yard touchdown over the middle to a wide-open DeAndrew White, giving the Tide a much-more manageable cushion and easier route to a closer-than-it-looks 31-6 victory.

One week after allowing the most yardage (626) in program history, Alabama's defense fared quite a bit better against former coordinator Jim McElwain's Colorado State offense than it did against Texas A&M's. Without three starters in the secondary — Deion Belue, Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry — or not, however, the performance of the Tide's top unit was still a far cry from what was expected versus a lower-tier Mountain West Conference opponent.

The Rams couldn't crack the 50-yard line until there was 9:18 left in the third quarter, but once they did, it sparked a six-point stretch where Grayson dinked and dunked his way down the field with ease.

He finished 24 of 38 with 228 yards, ultimately falling victim to DePriest's heads-up play and the pair of  touchdown passes — the one by McCarron and another by Blake Sims — that followed.

While Colorado State did have success through the air, mostly on short crossing routes and screen passes, it wasn't nearly as fruitful in the ground game, gaining only 51 rushing yards on 26 carries.

% On the non-offensive: Alabama has been on the non-offensive this season — and though it might not sound like it, that's a good thing.

With Kenyan Drake's blocked punt and Dillon Lee's subsequent 15-yard scoop and score early in the second quarter, the Tide now have five non-offensive touchdowns through just three games.

Christion Jones reached the end zone on a kickoff and punt return versus Virginia Tech, and Vinnie Sunseri had pick-sixes in each of Alabama's first two contests.

Non-offensive touchdowns have been commonplace for Alabama since coach Nick Saban came to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Over that time, the Tide have 33 non-offensive scores — 14 interception returns, eight punt returns, five kickoff returns, three fumble returns and three blocked punt returns.

Drake also scored from three yards out in the first quarter and hauled in a 22-yard pass in the final frame.

% Sharing the love: McCarron didn't play favorites in a hum-drum performance on Saturday, spreading his 20 completions in 26 attempts among seven different receivers.

Jones was by far the senior signal-caller's hottest target, grabbing nine catches for 90 yards. Freshman tight end O.J. Howard continued his quick progression with an early 23-yard reception, wrapping up with three catches for 38 yards. DeAndrew White led a cast of characters with two receptions each — Kenny Bell and Brian Vogler were the others — with 65 yards and the touchdown, while Drake and T.J. Yeldon both had a catch apiece.

Sims, McCarron's backup, was a perfect 1 of 1 with a 14-yard scoring strike to Chris Black.

After throwing just three picks in all of 2012, McCarron has two in three games of the 2013 campaign. His second came Saturday on a heavily underthrown pass in the third quarter, leading to Colorado State's first of two field goals.

% Better late than never: After sitting out the first quarter as punishment for drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct call last week against Texas A&M, Yeldon made the most of his first carry versus the Rams.

With 8:19 left in the second quarter, the sophomore took the handoff, headed right and somehow eluded two defenders, stepping out of a tackle and sprinting 38 yards down the sideline.

Yeldon didn't prove to be much of a factor the rest of the night, garnering 49 yards on seven carries.

While Yeldon's short absence was expected, Amari Cooper's inactivity for the entire ballgame was not.

The sophomore wide receiver, who was surprisingly ineffective in the Tide's first two games, dressed out but did not see the field because of a toe injury.

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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