By John Zenor
It seems like a perfect time to catch Alabama off-guard.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide sweated out a win in a much-hyped game with No. 10 Texas A&M. Now heavy underdog Colorado State (1-2) comes to town Saturday night, with No. 21 Mississippi awaiting for another Southeastern Conference showdown.
“It’s going to be a big week for us to not have a letdown week after a big win, so we’ve to come out and handle business,” Tide quarterback AJ McCarron said.
Rams coach Jim McElwain knows firsthand that scenario doesn’t guarantee Alabama (2-0) will try to sleepwalk through the follow-up game even against a 39-1/2-point underdog. In fact, he thinks it’s highly unlikely.
“One of the things I know from being there is that there is no letdown,” said McElwain, who was the Tide’s offensive coordinator from 2008-11. “People could point out that they just had that huge win over a nationally-ranked team. One of the things that they do as well as anybody in the country does is that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it’s about playing against yourself.
“It’s about how you do every single day, in every single snap to get better.”
Besides, few wins on such a big stage provided more defensive teaching points than that one for Alabama. The Aggies’ 628 yards was the most ever against a Tide defense.
Saban said games like that 49-42 shootout “take years off your life as a coach.” They aren’t much kinder to Saban-coached defensive backs.
He said he gave some younger DBs a shot at earning more playing time this week. A unit vying to become the first to lead the nation in scoring defense three years running has a little extra motivation, too.
“I think they have a lot of pride in their performance and certainly are trying to get better and play better,” Saban said.
It’s the Tide’s home opener after a neutral-site romp over Virginia Tech, an open date and a visit to Texas A&M.
Alabama has won 20 in a row over nonconference opponents and outscored such teams by an average of 27 points under Saban, while going 27-3.
Here are five things to watch when Colorado State plays No. 1 Alabama today:
‰ Alabama’s Defense: The task gets much easier for the Tide a week after giving up all those yards to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Colorado State ranks 85th in total offense, averaging 367.7 yards and 29.3 points per game.
‰ Intimidation Factor: Colorado State has only faced one No. 1 team, the 2004 Southern California group led by stars Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and LenDale White. McElwain isn’t worried about his team playing scared. “The guys who are afraid, I’ll leave them home,” McElwain said. “I’ll see it in their eyes. They’re not getting on the plane.”
‰ Tide Backups: If the game goes as expected, this will be a chance for Alabama to get some youngsters in the game, maybe including freshman tailbacks Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny and a few defensive backs. Backup quarterback Blake Sims has only attempted one pass.
‰ Injuries: Cornerback Deion Belue and receiver Kevin Norwood are questionable while nursing injuries. The Tide has loads of depth at receiver, and Saban listed five defensive backs who could vie to replace Belue or get more snaps, including a couple of freshmen.
‰ Sunseri’s Shot: Safety Vinnie Sunseri has returned interceptions for touchdowns in each of Alabama’s first two games and got lots of attention for putting a move on the Heisman Trophy winner Manziel against the Aggies. Antonio Langham became the only Tide defender to score non-offensive touchdowns in three straight games in 1992, and nobody has done it since.