September 23, 2013 9:19:15 AM
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama's special teams and defense are providing a nice bailout whenever the offense isn't scoring.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide has scored just about every way this season -- returning a punt, a kick, a blocked punt, and two interceptions for touchdowns.
That knack helped Alabama (3-0) beat No. 10 Texas A&M and create more lopsided scores against Virginia Tech and Colorado State, games when the offense stalled at times.
Alabama managed its fifth non-offensive touchdown when Kenyan Drake smothered a punt Saturday night against Colorado State and Dillon Lee scooped and scored from 15 yards with Alabama leading 7-0 early in the second quarter. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns helped Alabama earn a 31-6 victory.
"We always want to make big plays on special teams," Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "That was a big momentum changer. It put points on the board. And we went back out on defense and executed. At the end of the day, we want our special teams to make plays and put points on the board."
Alabama's offense put up big numbers against Texas A&M, but it had more modest success in the other two games, including 338 yards against Colorado State.
Alabama is last in the Southeastern Conference in rushing, averaging 132.0 yards per game, and 13th in total offense (370.7).
Next up is No. 21 Mississippi at 5:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
"We have a difficult game coming up, and we need to get it right," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We didn't do a very good job on third down. We couldn't run the ball, couldn't finish a lot of drives, and consequently they stayed in the game."
The non-offensive touchdowns have accounted for 35 points and Alabama holds a 57-point edge against opponents. The Tide defense and special teams accounted for three touchdowns in 14 games last season. It has produced 33 in Saban's six-plus seasons.
Against Colorado State, Alabama's offense got limited action from tailback T.J. Yeldon and was without top receiver Amari Cooper and guard Anthony Steen, who were held out to get healthy for Ole Miss. The running game never got going. That made the play by Drake and Lee a big pick-me-up.
"It's fantastic. It's a momentum booster, the offense gets a momentum booster," said safety Landon Collins, who has been a top player on Alabama's coverage teams. "They just know that they can push the ball harder next time."
Collins was also involved in the punt block.
"We were coming off the edge, me, Kenyan to my right, Dillon to my left, coming off the edge," he said. "I pushed the man that was to my side and freed up Kenyan Drake and he just came in clean for the punt. The ball just bounced up and Dillon picked it up.
"I thought he was going to drop it. So I put my hands there, he thought I was trying to strip it. And he kind of jacked it away and we just pushed him all the way to the end zone."
This trend started in the opener with Virginia Tech. Christion Jones returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns and Vinnie Sunseri returned an interception the distance. Sunseri did it again in a 49-42 victory against Texas A&M.
The offense, which produced 568 yards against the Aggies, converted 2 of 10 third-down attempts and was held to 66 yards rushing.
Guard Kellen Williams, who started in Steen's place, said the mood in the locker room after the Colorado State game wasn't festive.
"We didn't perform as well offensively as we're capable of," he said. "Toward the end of the game we felt like we left a lot out on the field. Even though it's a win, in our minds it's just we didn't perform the way we're capable of performing."