Florida State looked worthy in first half, but Alabama clearly No. 1 in second half
Florida State had a chance to tie Alabama at 10 right before the end of the first half. A 30-minute draw would’ve pleased Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher.
But FSU kicker Ricky Aguayo had his field-goal attempt blocked, which allowed the Crimson Tide to go to the locker room with a 3-point lead. It ended up being just the first of several key plays on special teams that proved to be the difference.
In the second half, not only did ‘Bama block a punt, but the ‘Noles also fumbled a kickoff return. For a while there, Fisher and Co. looked worthy of their No. 3 preseason ranking and hung with the No. 1 team in America both offensively and defensively — especially on defense. However, failings in the third phase were their Achilles heel in Atlanta.
In the end, Alabama heads back to Tuscaloosa a 24-7 winner, although you could argue that Florida State showed itself to be superior to the rest of the SEC.
This wasn’t the game to settle any “what’s the best conference in the country?” arguments, though. South Carolina certainly helped earlier Saturday by beating N.C. State from the ACC. On the other hand, Florida was drubbed by Michigan from the Big Ten.
What the Crimson Tide did was solidify themselves as the premier team in the land — still the program all the others are chasing for a national championship. It wasn’t a dominant performance by any stretch of the imagination. The offense was ordinary. The defense gave up some big plays. New kicker Andy Pappanastos missed two field goals, too.
Still, this was a loaded Seminoles squad that fell apart in the second half and couldn’t mount any sort of comeback in crunch time.
‘Bama quarterback Jalen Hurts was fairly well contained by an FSU defense that deserves a lot of credit. The league’s reigning offensive player of the year accounted for just 151 yards, plus he was responsible for only one touchdown.
Leading rusher Damien Harris broke off a 34-yard run on his first carry — he’s the one who blocked the punt, as well — but aside from that he was relatively quiet. Bo Scarbrough wasn’t much of a factor, and neither was fabulous freshman Najee Harris. While the Tide ran for 173 yards, they only averaged 4.1 yards per attempt.
Fortunately, all the big plays on special teams allowed them to keep taking possession on the positive side of the 50-yard line.
In the passing game, receiver Calvin Ridley was electrifying with 82 yards and a TD on 7 receptions, as no defender could run with him. Nevertheless, Alabama didn’t get a single catch from another wideout or tight end. The departed ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard were missed.
On the other side of the ball, ‘Noles QB Deondre Francois was very productive prior to halftime and spread the ball around quite capably — we still don’t know how well the Crimson Tide can cover — to a handful of targets. Eventually, he lost his touch and threw a pair of interceptions before leaving with what looked like a serious knee injury.
As is usually the case, ‘Bama fans have nothing to worry about defending the run. Florida State never broke one longer than 9 yards and finished with just 40 on 27 tries.
Even when the Tide started to pull away in the second half, the Seminoles appeared to be as talented at just about every position on the field. The recruiting rankings don’t lie. Fisher isn’t far behind Alabama coach Nick Saban (above) in that regard.
That being said, the Crimson Tide didn’t make nearly as many mistakes and were obviously used to being on such a big stage. Were they razor sharp? No, they weren’t. But they avoided the catastrophic errors that were FSU’s undoing in the third quarter — that points to coaching. Saban seemed to be more prepared than his former protégé.
While a rematch in the College Football Playoff may have been a welcome sight, that won’t happen if Francois is lost for the season.
Because he wasn’t afforded the opportunity to play any preseason games like they do in the NFL, Saban knew he was taking a risk just by scheduling this one. The weaker FSU (Fresno State) visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in Week 2.
As a result, Hurts was less than effective. The ground assault was good but not great. A revamped offensive line has some work to do. The receiving corps desperately needs second and third options to emerge beyond Ridley — what he managed to do in the opener without much help was all the more impressive. Defending the pass must be examined, as well.
Yet ‘Bama still brushed aside the No. 3 team in the nation by three scores on a neutral site. Not bad for a so-so performance.
There’s reason to believe that Hurts will be better going forward. The backfield remains one of the deepest and most dangerous you’ll find. The offensive line won’t have to block a better opponent all year long. The younger pass catchers will step up soon.
As for the defense — only 250 total yards surrendered, by the way — it’s simply more of the same for this Saban-coached unit. Even with all those losses to the draft, this is another reloading situation. The depth chart has too much 4- and 5-star talent to ever reach rebuilding status. The ‘Noles put together just one drive of consequence on the evening.
More the likely, the Tide have already played the team that can most closely match them on the field in terms of pure skill.
And they passed the test with flying colors. While Alabama heads back home with a 1-0 record and even more confidence, if that’s possible at this point, Florida State’s 2017 campaign could already be over before it ever got started.