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.