ATLANTA — It didn’t happen quickly. Florida State had too many athletes to be beaten out of the chute quite like that. Rather, No. 1-ranked Alabama kept chipping away until all that was left was the familiar sight of a broken opponent and the inevitable conclusion that a Nick Saban-coached team wasn’t going to lose a game of this magnitude to start the season.
It was vintage Saban: defense, special teams, ball control. It was slow, methodical and brutally physical at times. Four of Alabama’s linebackers were knocked out of the game with injuries in the second half, but so too was Florida State star quarterback Deondre Francois, who left the field on crutches late in the fourth quarter. The only thing pretty about the game was the final score: a 24-7 win over the No. 3-ranked team in the country.
As Saban said afterward, “It took everything that we had in all facets of the game.”
Florida State might have had success limiting Alabama’s offense, but it couldn’t stop the avalanche from coming for it eventually.
Late in the third quarter, Saban sent Tony Brown on a blitz from his spot at nickelback. Brown sprinted into the backfield untouched, got a free shot on Francois and didn’t miss, decleating the redshirt sophomore on third down. Then Damien Harris broke through untouched and blocked the punt, setting up a chip-shot field goal.
Florida State then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, Alabama took over on the 11-yard line, and Harris scampered into the end zone for a touchdown. Then Francois started pressing and threw interceptions on each of the next two drives.
For the 11th season in a row, Saban led Alabama to a season-opening win. And for the 11th time in a row, he beat a former pupil, knocking off his former offensive coordinator, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.
It was a statement win for Alabama. Even after a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Clemson in the national championship game, Saban and the Crimson Tide showed that they didn’t lose a step during the offseason.
“They deserved to win the football game,” Fisher said. “They made the plays. They got the momentum changed in the second half.”
In the end, Florida State managed only 40 yards rushing. Alabama, on the other hand, netted 173 yards on the ground.
But, as Saban explained, “It’s one game.”
Never mind the convincing win on a national stage. Saban focused on the missed opportunities to start the season, particularly the poor execution on offense, which converted just three of 16 third-down attempts and managed fewer than 300 total yards.
Sure, the blocked punt was nice, Saban said, but he noted that Dylan Moses “should have scooped it and scored instead of falling on it.”
“Sometimes freshmen are freshmen,” he said.
Alabama will develop, and so too will Florida State.
If the season opener in Atlanta was a tale of two halves, then don’t discount the first half the Seminoles put together, which led to a three-point game at intermission. Their team speed, especially on defense, gave Alabama fits at times. When Francois had a clean pocket, he showed good touch with the football, and freshman tailback Cam Akers showed real promise.
Alabama might have run away with the final score, but in terms of sheer talent, the game was much closer than that.
“They’ll have a great year,” Fisher said of Alabama. “We just need to rebound, get back and fix the things that we did wrong. I still think we have a good football team.”
If Fisher can guide his team through the ACC undefeated, a spot in the College Football Playoff isn’t out of the question.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll get a rematch down the road.
The goal for both teams remains the same: the national championship game back here in Atlanta on Jan. 8.