TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jim McElwain used to like coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium, but so much this time.
Nick Saban's former offensive coordinator returned to Alabama on Saturday night with Colorado State, only to find out how tough it can really be on the other sideline. Aided by a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown, the opportunistic Crimson Tide shrugged off the potential hangover from the previous week's showdown at Texas A&M, while suffocating the Rams 31-6.
Only it was anything but an inspiring win for No. 1 Alabama in its home opener.
"We want to be able to dictate, with our intensity, sense of urgency, preparation, everything that we have to do to be more dominate and more consistent in the game, and I don't think we did that tonight," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
"We're not satisfied."
Senior quarterback AJ McCarron completed 20-of-26 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown pass, while junior wide receiver Christion Jones topped all receivers with nine receptions for 90 yards.
But it was the defense and special teams that led the win. Colorado State (1-3) did manage a pair of third-quarter field goals, one off a rare McCarron interception, but never got a sniff of the end zone.
Sophomore running back Kenyan Drake's second-quarter blocked punt was recovered and returned for a 15-yard touchdown by linebacker Dillon Lee, for Alabama's fourth non-offensive touchdown of the season (three games).
Meanwhile, after tallying 568 total yards at A&M last week, Alabama's offense seemed to go back into its shell like in its opener against Virginia Tech. With wide receiver Amari Cooper (full game) and running back T.J. Yeldon (one quarter) serving suspensions, it failed to convert any third-down opportunities until the third quarter.
Alabama (3-0) rushed for 66 yards on 21 carries, the fewest rushing yards by the Crimson Tide since it had 36 yards on 29 carries at South Carolina on Oct. 9, 2010.
It did get a break from the defense, though, early in the fourth quarter after replays showed that Colorado State quarterback Garret Grayson fumbled at the Alabama 30, with linebacker Trey DePriest credited with both the force and recovery.
On the subsequent play, Alabama looked to the end zone, where McCarron found DeAndrew White to essentially put the game away.
"That was hard and I kind of let the team down with that one," Grayson said. "I was just trying to make a play. I have to be more secure with the ball and take care of it. I think that hurt us. In situations like that, the offensive coordinator on the other team is going to come out immediately and try to take a shot. They did, and it was a back breaker."
Alabama added a late touchdown after pulling the starters, a 14-yard reception by redshirt freshman Chris Black on his first career catch, from reserve quarterback Blake Sims. Otherwise, there was very little the offense was happy about afterward.
"Communication. We didn't do it," McCarron offered, and little else. "Whole offense."
Alabama hosts SEC West rival Ole Miss next Saturday -- likely its only game against a ranked opponent until facing LSU on Nov 9.
"We'll look on film, because it wasn't only Alabama," said McElwain, who won two national championships while at Alabama (2008-110. "Our guys stood toe-to-toe. We didn't take advantage on offense like I thought we should. What did we learn? We learned that a loss hurts. We have to come back from this and prepare for UTEP."
NOTES: Alabama had a number of different starters out due to injuries, suspensions and the coaching staff trying to different players at cornerback. Running back Jalston Fowler, wide receiver Kenny Bell, guard Kellen Williams, and cornerbacks Eddie Jackson and Brandon Sylve were all inserted for running back T.J. Yeldon (suspended), wide receiver Amari Cooper (toe injury), and guard Anthony Steen (head), who appeared to take a couple of snaps during warm-ups and was subsequently pulled. ... Saturday was the first meeting between the two schools, but wasn't on either team's initial schedule. When Alabama had its original opponent pull out, the Tide paid Colorado Stats $1.5 million to change its schedule and make the trip. ... The last time Alabama held its home opener this late into the calendar was 1982, when it began the season with wins at Georgia Tech and Ole Miss (at Jackson, Miss.), and then hosted Vanderbilt on Sept. 25. The Crimson Tide defeated the Commodores, but the game wasn't a sellout (60,210). The only later home opener during the past 40 years was 1979 (Sept. 22). The only other home opener to be later than Sept. 21 during the past 40 years was 1979 (Sept. 22). Before 1970, the season usually didn't start until the third weekend of September.