Alabama and Florida State were mostly even when it came to talent, but no college team has as much big game experience as the Crimson Tide and in the third quarter the pressure got to Florida State as they more or less took themselves out of the game. It may sound like a gift but Alabama earned the victory with outstanding defense and special teams and didn’t turn the ball over on offense. The Victory however came at a price.
Offensively the first thing that disappointed everyone was the total lack of production and variation from last years season ending train wreck. Granted at first glance it looked like that but here is the issue, Florida State was better up front than Alabama could handle. Most everything Alabama wanted to do offensively was virtually moot because of the situation. Still statistically Hurts last year would have not had as good a game against such overwhelming talent as he had Saturday so there is improvement, it’s just hard to see. What we did see was Hurts hit Ridley in stride for a 53 yard touchdown. He would not have completed that throw last season in my opinion. He had Ridley for another long touchdown later on but the beaten Florida State defensive back smartly just tackled Ridley and took a penalty. The move payed off as the drive stalled after that. He was possibly an inch too long on a beautiful fade to freshman Henry Ruggs as well. Alabama never had a chance to work their tight ends but did get the ball to Damien Harris once which hopefully is a taste of things to come. Hurts will take criticism for his performance but what he didn’t do is throw two interceptions which the Florida State Quarterback most certainly did.
Another area of improvement is a healthy Damien Harris who proved once again he is Alabama’s best back. Harris averaged an incredible 8.1 yards per carry. Some might think they needed to go to him more but with Alabama’s stable of backs it’s not a good long term strategy to put too much mileage on those legs just yet. Bo Scarborough averaged a paltry 2.7 yards per carry but he was in damage and clock killer mode for much of the second half and against Florida State it was doubtful he was going to see any daylight. Freshman Najee Harris only had a few carries but was notably on the field in pass protection for the long touchdown pass to Ridley.
The offensive line just got beat especially with the outside rush. They are just going to have to get better. The offensive line tends to take several weeks to jell and drawing a ticket like this so early is often going to lead to a loss. Alabama’s right tackle from last year Jonah Williams switched to the left side and predictably found the rush from that side more challenging. I feel confident Williams will adjust in time. Right tackle might be another matter however. Matt Womack started and played every snap there but look for them to fast track freshman JedRick Willis to take over starting next week. On the interior it was tough sledding but against the Florida State defense I felt like they did well enough. There was also little pressure that came up the middle.
Defensively however it was another case entirely. DC Jeremy Pruitt came into this game with a different strategy than we have seen in the past. Alabama played several waves of players at all three levels early and often. The game unfortunately devastated Alabama’s linebacking corps. Two of Alabama’s best outside rush linebackers were lost for the season, A third and one inside starter were lost for a portion. Alabama will have to completely reinvent itself in this area. The only good thing is that Alabama has signed a lot of linebackers in the last two years and there is talent available that we have not seen on the field. How far behind the starters that were lost will reveal itself in time. Middle linebacker Rashaan Evans may be gone for a number of weeks and his loss is acute because he had experience at inside and outside and had the speed to play outside so until he gets back to 100% Alabama is literally going to have to experiment on the field to find out who can provide pressure. If the experiment does not go well Alabama may not have the personnel to stop high powered passing attacks.
Now for some backups who showed out:
Inside Linebacker Mack Wilson: The true sophomore took over in the second half when starter Rashaan Evans went down with a groin injury and performed admirably. He also came up with an amazing diving interception which helped turn the Tide in the game. Wilson may be called on for multiple weeks depending on how badly Evans is hurt.
Inside Linebacker Keith Holcombe: Played in relief as well and had one critical stop on third down.
Cornerback Levi Wallace: The former walkon player (now on scholarship) has become a feel good story for the Crimson Tide. Although the long term goal is to turn super talented Trevon Diggs into a corner back it became evident in the first half that he was not quite ready for a team like Florida State. Out trots the senior Levi Wallace who proceeds to lock them down for the second half and even baits the Florida State QB into throwing into his coverage where he picked the ball off for another critical turnover. Alabama is going to continue to develop Diggs because he is the future but Wallace may have earned the start in the short term.
Defensive Lineman Josh Frazier: the journeyman lineman didn’t record any sacks but played in place of injured starter Raekwon Davis and got into the head of Florida State Quarterbacks Deondre Francois by getting his big mits in the way. He batted some passes and was waving his hands in his face when he threw the interception to Mack Brown.
Another former walkon (now on Scholarship) outside linebacker James Mosley came on the second half when starter Anfernee Jennings went down with injury and held up well.
In all three outside linebackers and one inside went down in this game. Alabama has some talented freshman linebackers that did not play in this game for obvious reasons. Depending on the nature of those injuries we may see some of those freshmen on the field next week in preparation for longer term duty. Alabama does have more depth at linebacker than usual this year so thankfully this should not be a large issue, assuming the starters do come back. Evans however is critical. If he is not able to come back it could cause long term issues on the defense.
Special teams was a mixed bag. The kicking was predictably horrible. Alabama essentially has no kicker. This remains one of college footballs greatest mysteries. Why the nations best program can’t find a kicker. Punting was great except for the one shank. JK Scott is good for a few of those during the year and they are disturbingly against the best teams we face. Alabama was excellent, in fact lethal on coverage units. They forced a fumble and blocked a punt.
Alabama will next play Fresno State, a team not known for winning. Hopefully we will get to see if they can at least “run” the offense and get a look at how they begin the process of rebuilding the linebacking corps.