The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide handled No.3 Florida State in prime time on Saturday and would seem to have one foot in the College Football Playoff already after this resume building win. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: B
The Alabama rushing offense wasn’t off the charts effective against Florida State, but the Crimson Tide still rushed for 173 yards against what should be the best defense it will face for a couple of months at least.
Nick Saban was smart with how he used his running back rotation, being sure to give plenty of carries each to Bo Scarbrough (15) and Damien Harris (9). Saban also has a quarterback in Jalen Hurts (15 carries) who is not afraid to call his own number and make something out of nothing or run hard on a designed quarterback keeper. It was Harris that was the most effective back on the day as he went for 73 yards and a touchdown, but the best aspect of this rushing attack is that each of the backs (and Hurts) each brings something a little different to the table for a defense to focus on.
Passing Offense: C-
The passing offense is going to go down as something of a work in progress at this point. It was interesting how quickly offensive coordinator Brian Daboll went away from the pass and how often Hurts would bail from the pocket under the slightest pressure rather than sitting in and waiting for something to open up.
It was also interesting how much the Crimson Tide relied on wide receiver Calvin Ridley. It was Ridley that Hurts hit on a 53-yard play-action pass for the only Alabama passing touchdown on the day. Ridley caught seven passes in all and he was the only wide receiver to register a catch as the other complete passes went to running backs. The hope is that the Daboll offense was just kept simple this week against an outstanding first up opponent. If not, then the Crimson Tide is in trouble.
Rushing Defense: A
The fun thing for Saban is that he knows entering a season that while his offense will take some time to heat up, his defense will come roaring out of the gate and win him games. That is exactly what happened here.
The Seminoles may have lost superstar running back Dalvin Cook to the NFL, but this is still a rushing attack that is supposed to be a huge part of the offense. The Crimson Tide defense though stopped this in its tracks, holding Cam Akers (10 carries 30 yards), Jacques Patrick (16 carries 17 yards) and crew to just 40 yards total on 27 carries. Shuan Dion Hamilton had a monster game where he accounted for eight tackles, one sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss, as the Crimson Tide smashed Florida State in the mouth early and never let up.
Passing Defense: B
The passing defense was right there with the rushing unit in terms of stopping Florida State in its tracks. Quarterback Deondre Francois – sadly lost for the season with a knee injury sustained in this game – entered the game as a player many expected to see near the top of the ACC in passing this fall. ‘Bama held Francois to just 19-of-33 through the air, with 210 yards and two interceptions to his one touchdown pass.
Francois was brave in the pocket against a terrific Crimson Tide pass rush but in the end, the pressure was too much. Florida State totaled just 65 yards in the second half when chasing the game as the Alabama defense turned it pressure to the highest level.
Special Teams: A+
It is the finest margin that wins games at the elite college level and this contest was turned around in the Crimson Tide’s favor by outstanding special teams play. A blocked field goal at the end of the first half had already put the Alabama special teams on top in this one, before a seven play sequence at the back end of the third quarter solidified this grade.
A Logan Tyler punt at his own 25-yard line was eaten up by Damien Harris on the punt block, giving the Crimson Tide the ball as the FSU 6-yard line. The Seminoles defense tightened, forcing a made field goal to make the game 13-7. On the ensuing kickoff, a Dylan Moses hit forced FSU returner Keith Gavin to fumble the ball and it was recovered at the Seminoles’ 11-yard line. This time – and after immense pressure – their defense buckled as Harris ran in an 11-yard score on the next play from scrimmage.
Three huge special teams’ plays will always result in the highest possible grade.
It was a win against the No. 3 ranked team in the country when the Alabama defense looked dominant, the special teams were outstanding and the offense flickered signs of improvement. Again, the feeling is that there is a lot more to come from this team as the kinks are worked out and as different ideas are tested against weaker opponents. This contest was never going to be about looking good – it is Week 1 of the season after all – but Saban and Alabama won, just like they usually do.