McCarron, No. 1 Alabama beat Colorado State 31-6
It was a sputtering, inconsistent, and rather mundane performance for No. 1 Alabama.
Or at least, that's how it seemed a week after a big-game roller coaster ride.
AJ McCarron passed for 258 yards and threw a 30-yard touchdown to DeAndrew White in the fourth quarter to lift Alabama to a 31-6 victory over Colorado State on Saturday night.
Two fourth-quarter touchdowns, one on special teams and another on fourth down, helped keep the final score from being close for the Tide (3-0).
''I felt like as a whole, we didn't really execute to our full abilities,'' Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley said. ''That's not an SEC opponent that we just played and the win really wasn't what it should have been. So I felt like we kind of got away with a win. We didn't dominate that win.''
Offensive lineman Kellen Williams described the postgame mood as ''pretty somber,'' even after the 25-point win.
Kenyan Drake set up one touchdown with a blocked punt returned 15 yards by Dillon Lee and scored on a 3-yard touchdown run for the Tide, which led just 17-6 heading to the fourth. Alabama managed only one offensive touchdown and no third-down conversions in the first three quarters a week after winning a 49-42 shootout over Texas A&M.
Coached by former Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, the Rams (1-3) nursed hopes for a monumental upset into the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns. Trey DePriest stripped the ball from quarterback Garrett Grayson and recovered the fumble early in the quarter.
''We challenged our guys to come in here and go toe-to-toe,'' said McElwain, who was part of two Tide national championship teams from 2008-11. ''I think the guys on the other sideline have earned some respect for Colorado State Rams and how hard we played the game.''
The next play after the fumble, McCarron laced a perfect strike to White in the end zone and restless Alabama fans had something to cheer about.
The Tide was without several key players, including receivers Amari Cooper (toe) and Kevin Norwood, guard Anthony Steen (headache), cornerback Deion Belue (turf toe) and safety Jarrick Williams (eye).
This was a sandwich game between Southeastern Conference showdowns, and the nearly 40-point favorites played like it offensively. No. 21 Mississippi visits Bryant-Denny Stadium next week.
McCarron completed 20 of 26 passes but also was intercepted on an ill-advised throw. T.J. Yeldon ran seven times for 49 yards while Christion Jones caught nine passes for 90 yards.
Yeldon was held out of the first quarter after getting flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct against Texas A&M. He apologized in a statement Monday for making the ''money'' and double throat slash gestures after a touchdown.
He had a 38-yard run on his first carry midway through the second quarter but the running game produced only 66 yards on 21 carries. That was the fewest rushing yards by the Tide since South Carolina held them to 36 yards on Oct. 9, 2010.
''Offensively, we couldn't run the ball with any consistency or effectiveness,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''Even though we did a pretty good job passing, it had to be four or five times that we moved the ball down the field and got just outside the red zone, and we had something happen like throw an interception, miss a field goal, make a field goal, get sacked. Just too many negative plays.''
Grayson completed 24 of 38 passes for 228 yards for the Rams, who managed just 51 yards on the ground. Rashard Higgins had seven catches for 71 yards and Joe Hansley gained 82 on six receptions.
Alabama failed on all six third-down attempts through three quarters and finished 2 of 10.
The Tide outgained Colorado State 338-279 in total yards after running up 568 yards a week ago. Alabama continued to find other ways to score.
Lee's return early in the second quarter was the Tide's fifth non-offensive touchdown.
Alabama backup quarterback Blake Sims hit Chris Black for a 14-yard touchdown pass to add to the lead with 1:13 left. It was Black's first career catch. McCarron was in for most of the series against a team led by his former position coach and Saban assistant.
McElwain's Rams didn't reach Alabama territory until midway through the third quarter and then did it two straight drives.
The Tide defense did come up with stops both times. Jared Roberts kicked field goals of 45 and 31 yards to cut the Tide's lead to 17-6.
Landon Collins pulled Grayson down on a keeper on third down to force the second kick.