Alabama-Florida State a dud as only one team showed glimmer of a title contender
ATLANTA — Alabama Crimson Tide and Florida State Seminoles both still have three months to clean up some of the slop you saw Saturday night.
But for only one of those teams can you speak about the future with a straight face.
Yup, once again, the Crimson Tide were no joke.
You better believe the overhyped G.O.A.T. — Greatest Opener (of) All Time! — was largely a donkey. The first-ever season opening meeting between a pair of top-three ranked teams in the preseason AP Top 25 resulted in three missed field goals, a blocked punt and a fumbled kickoff. And neither could run the ball efficiently.
But there’s one elemental question coming out No. 1 Alabama’s 24-7 win: Which one of these teams would you bet your rented seat cushion on mopping up some of Saturday’s spills in time for the College Football Playoff seedings in December?
The answer came in a brief assessment from Tide safety Ronnie Harrison .
“Bama is back, you know?” he said on the floor of the spectacular new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Dude, when did y’all ever leave? A 26-game winning streak ended in January with one second to go against Clemson Tigers . Some of the names have changed, but the defense looked a lot like the one that may have been the best of the Saban era last season.
For the 51st consecutive game that defense held an opponent under 300 yards, Alabama won.
For the 14th time in 15 games in this city, Saban won.
For the 11th time a former Saban assistant dared take on his former boss, that assistant lost. None have won.
In this case, it was Jimbo Fisher whose team had not only an off night but may have had the trajectory of its season altered. Late in the game, star quarterback Deondre Francois was carted off the field with a brace on his left knee.
He was hurt when Harrison tracked him down from behind on a blitz and rolled over his leg.
A 17-point loss turns into a net win if Francois isn’t knocked out for an extended period of time. Against everyone but Alabama, FSU looks like a team that could average 40 points per game the rest of the way.
“I’ve learned to wait until [the doctors] see,” Fisher said of his quarterback’s diagnosis. “Unfortunately, he’s hurt.”
Fisher still has an elite defense, just one that finished in second on place on Saturday.
In fact, we may just be speaking about two teams in the stratosphere above everyone else. If there is a defense that can match Alabama’s speed, it’s the one FSU put on the field.
Take away Jalen Hurts ‘ 53-yard scoring pass to Calvin Ridley , and the rest of his day consisted of nine completions in 17 attempts for 43 yards.
At one point, Alabama went 15 straight rushes with runs of four yards or less. The Tide couldn’t break away until the defense provided room.
Four times Alabama started a drive in Florida State territory in the second half. Three times it scored.
Alabama did what it was usually does, what it couldn’t do against Clemson: It dictated the terms of surrender.
FSU’s new Dalvin Cook — freshman Cam Akers — contributed 30 yards in his debut. The Noles averaged 1.5 yards on the ground.
Francois threw two interceptions to guys named Mack Wilson and Levi Wallace . You don’t know them now, but you will. Remember, it’s early.
“I think this defense is pretty good,” Harrison said. “We have similar parts. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I definitely think we’re on our way.”
A close 10-7 game at halftime turned when Alabama tailback Damien Harris blocked a third-quarter punt setting up a field goal. What was Bama’s starting tailback doing on the punt block team?
“I don’t know,” Harris said.
That’s the beauty of Saban constantly finding hidden points with his special teams. Florida State’s Keith Gavin then fumbled the kickoff. Fresh from his punt block, Harris took advantage of some blocks for an 11-yard touchdown run.
“I don’t think we ever left,” said All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick . “I think we established our identity. A lot of people had a lot of questions about us going into this game. We erased those question marks.”
So if those question marks are erased, what does that say about the remaining 11 regular-season games?
“We think [we're back],” Harris said. “After last year, we weren’t the same team. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to. We took the full ownership for that.
“We took it upon ourselves to kind of get that macho back, finish it — imposing our will on teams, wearing them out as the course of the game goes on.”
The beauty of this Daytona 500 of a season opener is a rematch possibility. There was every expectation that the loser could use the next three months to get back into playoff contention.
That is if you believe college football, like NASCAR, staged its biggest event on opening day. These were the only two teams to play in five straight BCS/New Year’s Six games.
Saban and Fisher are two of only two of 11 active head coaches with winning records against AP Top 25-ranked teams.
It would be a shame if this game were for nothing more than CFP seeding. Or worse if you like some healthy competition: Alabama should be penciled into one of the four spots already.
Florida State needs Francois to be healthy. It still has to go to Clemson. Alabama must fix its running game and stop missing field goals. New kicker Andy Pappanastos went 3 for 5. Good if you’re batting, bad if you’re kicking.
Usually reliable punter JK Scott contributed a 9-yarder. Typically, FSU did nothing with it.
“We proved we’re worthy of the No. 1 spot,” Harrison said. “This is a new team, but we’ve got good chemistry and we’re back.”
A flawed G.O.A.T. proved it.