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No. 1 Alabama overwhelms No. 3 Florida State to win biggest opener ever

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It’s insanely difficult to get it done, but a blueprint to beat Alabama exists. You have to score. A lot. If you score and keep scoring, eventually the Tide will buckle. No matter how good your defense is, you have to score and keep scoring.

Florida State’s defense was quite good on Saturday night, but it wasn’t near enough to beat Alabama as the top-ranked Crimson Tide handled the 3rd-ranked Seminoles 24-7 in the biggest opening game in college football history.

The final score matches that of the last time Alabama played in Atlanta, a 24-7 win over Washington in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl. And like that game on New Year’s Eve, the Seminoles actually reached the end zone first.

After Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, Florida State strung together by far its best drive of the night, moving 90 yards in 11 plays capped by a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate to give the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

But Alabama immediately answered with its own best drive of the night, an 85-yard blitzkrieg in five plays that ended on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley to put Alabama on top at 10-7. That score would hold through the end of the first half, through what would prove to be the pivotal moment of the night, when Francois fired into the end zone to Nyqwan Murray and Tony Brown got away with a clear pass interference.

Florida State was forced to settle for a field goal try, which was blocked.

After a punt to open the second half, Florida State entered a stretch when its offense and special teams quite literally could not hold onto the ball. First, running back Damien Harris blocked a Florida State punt, which turned into an Alabama field goal. The ‘Noles fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Harris again capitalized by racing in for an 11-yard touchdown dash. A 2-point pass from Hurts to Ridley staked Alabama to a 21-7 lead with 1:41 to play in the third quarter.

Needing two scores to tie the game, the Florida State offense took its turn unraveling. Alabama intercepted two consecutive Francois passes, threatening the Florida State offense to the point where the ‘Noles next two possessions — two three-and-outs, two yards gained combined — felt like small accomplishments simply by getting the punt team on the field. Francois was sacked by Ronnie Harrison and came down holding his left knee; he had to be helped from the field and did not return.

Francois finished the night hitting 19-of-33 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while the Seminoles scratched out only 25 yards on 24 credited carries.

Alabama posted modest numbers offensively: 96 passing yards, 173 on the ground on 42 carries. But when the defense and special teams are as predictably and unflinchingly dominant as they were, 24 points by Alabama feels like 50 by anyone else.

The win pushed Alabama (1-0) to 14-1 in Atlanta, 8-0 in neutral site openers and 11-0 against former Nick Saban assistants. Florida State (0-1) will look to become the first team since Miami in 1983 to win a national championship after losing its opener.

Alabama leading Florida State through one half in Atlanta

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Through one half in Atlanta, Florida State-Alabama is exactly the game we thought it would be: a track meet/boxing match combination where each team struggles to maintain offense against the other. A game where Alabama has been slightly better than Florida State, as the Tide holds a 10-7 advantage at the break.

Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, but Florida State immediately responded with its best drive of the night, an 11-play, 90-yard march that ended on a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate, giving the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

Alabama rebounded with a long drive of its own, moving 85 yards in only five snaps, closing on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley.

Each team also had its share of missed opportunities. Florida State’s first possession ended on a turnover on downs at the Alabama 34 when Francois didn’t see a wide open receiver streaking down the middle of the field. Alabama’s first touch concluded with a 42-yard missed field goal.

Hurts has completed 7-of-12 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with seven carries for 43 yards. Damien Harris leads all runners with 47 yards on five carries, though 34 came on one rush — the first play of the game. Alabama’s final three possessions after the touchdown drive all ended in 3-and-outs.

The ‘Noles had a chance to tie the game just before the half, but Ricky Aguayo‘s 37-yard field goal try was blocked. Jimbo Fisher and company will have a gripe after the game, as Alabama got away with what appeared to be a textbook pass interference penalty on Alabama’s Tony Brown inside the Tide end zone that went uncalled. Francois has completed 14-of-22 passes for 161 yards and a score, but FSU has mustered only 24 yards on 13 carries.

Florida State will receive to open the second half.

Alabama trio officially rolls early from Crimson Tide to NFL draft

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Not surprisingly, Alabama is losing handful of underclassmen to the NFL — albeit a smaller handful than some had projected.

At the schools annual press conference for junior NFL announcements, a trio of Crimson Tide football players — cornerback Marlon Humphrey, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (pictured) — confirmed that they will be leaving Tuscaloosa and make themselves available for the April NFL draft.

Robinson has been an All-American the past two seasons after earning Freshman All-American as a true freshman in 2014.  He was a consensus All-American this season.  Humphrey was also a Freshman All-American his redshirt season in 2015 before joining Robinson this season as an All-American.

This season, Stewart led the Tide in receiving yards (864), receiving touchdowns (eight) and yards per catch (16).  His 54 receptions were second on the national title runners-up.  The 6-1, 204-pound receiver finishes his ‘Bama career with 129 catches, 1,713 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Both Robinson and Humphrey were given first-round grades from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee.  Stewart received an “other” grade.

There was some good news on the early-entry front as defensive backs Anthony Averett and Tony Brown, who both had considered leaving early, ultimately decided to return to Tuscaloosa for another season.

VIDEO: Another questionable missed targeting on Alabama knocks Mike Williams out (briefly)

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Clemson had a bit of an injury scare in the firsts quarter when wide receiver Mike Williams was knocked out of the game following a helmet-to-helmet hit, but a sideline report from ESPN’s broadcast says he has been cleared to return to the game.

Williams was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit with Alabama’s Tony Brown, who came in late on a tackle effort. There was no foul called on the play for the hit, which was arguably a missed targeting call.

The hit occurred in the first quarter of the game, and was the second questionable targeting incident of the quarter by Alabama. Reuben Foster was flagged for a late hit on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson on an earlier Tigers possession, but was not called for targeting. No review was called from the booth for targeting either.

Alabama appealing indefinite NCAA suspension for DB Tony Brown

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A relatively quiet offseason for the defending national champions has suddenly gotten a little louder.

According to the Tuscaloosa News, Alabama defensive back Tony Brown has been indefinitely suspended by the NCAA. “The university has appealed and is awaiting a decision,” the News writes.

There is no official word on the reason or reasons behind the suspension, although the speculation is that it pertains to some sort of impermissible benefits/contacts.

In December of last year, Brown was sent home from the Cotton Bowl for a violation of team rules.  It was subsequently reported that Brown had started a fight with a teammate during the College Football Playoff semifinal and the Tide’s leadership council decided to send him home.  That incident also led Brown to miss the win over Clemson in the national championship game.

Brown, a five-star 2014 signee, was arrested in mid-January of last year on charges of failure to obey and resisting arrest, although he managed to escape Nick Saban’s doghouse that time and tie for the lead in special teams tackles in the regular season.  Provided he can get past this latest hurdle, Brown’s expected to compete for a starting job.

For what it’s worth, Brown has participated throughout the first half of the Tide’s spring practice sessions.