By Scott Latta, UA Media Relations
SHREVEPORT, La. Alabama used a 20-point first quarter and relied on a stingy second-half defense to withstand Colorado in the PetroSun Independence Bowl Sunday, gaining 388 total yards in a 30-24 win over the Buffaloes at Independence Stadium.
The win extended Alabama’s NCAA-best bowl wins total to 31.
“I am proud of the way we competed in this game today,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “This was a great win for us and our seniors go out as winners and the young guys played with a lot of resolve today and won a great game for the University of Alabama.”
Alabama (7-6) dominated the first quarter of the game, opening with two field-goal-scoring drives to take a 6-0 lead before an unsuccessful fake punt by Colorado (6-7) led to the Crimson Tide’s first touchdown of the night, a 15-yard pass from junior John Parker Wilson to senior Keith Brown for a 13-0 lead 10 minutes into the game.
After a Colorado punt, Alabama took the ball 63 yards in five plays on its next possession, capping the drive with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to senior Matt Caddell for the 20-0 first-quarter lead.
A blocked punt by Caddell on Colorado’s next possession set up the Tide at its own 35 yard line, and six plays later Wilson hit junior Nikita Stover for his third touchdown pass of the night, a 34-yarder, to extend Alabama’s lead to 27-0 with 12:20 left in the first half.
Wilson completed 13 of his first 15 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns.
“We got off to a great start which means we were well-prepared,” Saban said. “Colorado has a good team and they did a good job of coming back. We made some mistakes in the game and let them come back. We took the challenge and actually competed and showed some great competitive character in the second half to do the things we needed to do to win the game.”
After the first-half offensive outburst, however, it was up to the Alabama defense to withstand Colorado quarterback Cody Hawkins’ passing attack. The Buffaloes got on the scoreboard before halftime off a Wilson interception that was returned to the Alabama 43. Eight plays later, Hawkins found receiver Tyson DeVree in the end zone for a four-yard score to cut the Tide lead to 27-7.
A 25-yard pass from Hawkins to Dusty Sprague with four seconds left cut the Alabama lead to 27-14 at the half.
A third-quarter Colorado field goal cut the Alabama lead to 10, and with the Alabama offense stalled, the Buffaloes got the ball back at the Alabama 20 with 8:25 left in the game and a chance to cut the Tide lead to one possession. But on 2nd-and-8, sophomore Brandon Deaderick tipped a Hawkins pass and senior linebacker Darren Mustin recorded a diving interception to give Alabama the ball on Buffaloes’ 22.
Seven plays later Alabama was able to extend its lead to 30-17 with a 26-yard field goal from sophomore Leigh Tiffin, his third of the night, with 4:36 left in the game. Colorado then went 69 yards in just 45 seconds to cut the Alabama lead to 30-24 with a touchdown pass from Hawkins to DeVree, but Alabama was able to convert two first downs on its next possession, running the clock down to one second before the Buffaloes took over at their own 20.
Colorado’s last second, lateral-filled final play fell short at the Buffaloes’ 45-yard line.
Wilson was 19-of-32 on the night for 256 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. The performance was enough to break the Alabama single-season passing record, previously set by Wilson in 2006, with 2,846 yards on the year.
“It's humbling,” Wilson said. “With everyone who has been here, it's really great. I think this team has a long way to go, but with everything we built this year I am really optimistic. It gives us great momentum heading into the offseason. It can give our guys something to build on and propel us to have a good offseason of work.”
Caddell ended his Alabama career with a four-catch, 76-yard performance and a touchdown to lead the Tide receiving corps. Junior tight end Nick Walker had four catches for 38 yards and senior DJ Hall caught four passes for 58 yards.
Hall’s four catches gave him 66 on the season, breaking the Alabama single-season receptions mark, set by Freddie Milons in 1999.
On the ground, sophomore Glen Coffee had 19 carries for 72 yards and sophomore Roy Upchurch had 12 rushes for 34 yards.
The Alabama defense was led by senior Wallace Gilberry, who recorded five tackles-for-loss in an eight-tackle performance in his final game for the Tide, tying the Alabama single-game record for tackles-for-loss. Junior Rashad Johnson had 13 tackles and Mustin had eight tackles to go with his interception.
“We just kept fighting; kept fighting,” Gilberry said. “We never gave up. Our coaches gave us the master plan...they led us to this victory. It was in front of us, but it was up to us to go take it.”
Sunday’s game was Alabama’s NCAA-best 55th bowl appearance. The win extended Alabama’s all-time bowl record to 31-20-3. The Independence Bowl marked Alabama’s fourth consecutive bowl appearance, the first time Alabama played in four consecutive bowls since the Tide played in 10 straight from 1985-94.