There is no bigger season opener in college football than Alabama vs. Florida State which will take place on September 2, 2017, at the brand new Mercedes-Benz-Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the next 7 days, BamaInsider.com and Warchant.com will preview the #ATLShowdown with a seven-part series. On Monday we provided an overview of this highly anticipated opener (Click here to view), today we look at the Alabama Passing Game vs. the Florida State Pass Defense.
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Alabama vs. Florida State - Seven Part Series Preview
Alabama Passing Game Overview
For Alabama, they return the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in Jalen Hurts at Quarterback. The dual-threat signal caller who will be a sophomore this season passed for 2,780-yards and 23-touchdowns with a completion percentage of 62.8 as a freshman. Hurts is 13-1 as a starter, is very confident in the pocket, and showed signs of improvement during the spring game throwing for 301-yards and two touchdowns. While Alabama does lose Receiver ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard at Tight End, both who were drafted in the NFL, the Crimson Tide return plenty of talent that can stretch the field including Calvin Ridley who caught for 769-yards off 72-receptions as a sophomore in 2016.
Florida State Pass Defense Overview
With the return of All-America candidates Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden and a wealth of experienced talent around them, Florida State will be in the discussion for having the nation’s best defensive backfield this season. The Seminoles are absolutely loaded at safety, with James, Trey Marshall and Nate Andrews all back as longtime starters – they have 45 career starts between them. Marshall will miss the first half against Alabama as a result of his targeting penalty in the Orange Bowl, but the Seminoles have plenty of other experienced options, including senior Ermon Lane and juniors A.J. Westbrook, Marcus Lewis and Calvin Brewton.
FSU also brings back McFadden, who was tied for No. 1 in the nation with eight interceptions last season, at one of the two cornerback positions. The other starter will be determined through a competitive battle headlined by sophomores Kyle Meyers, Carlos Becker and Levonta Taylor.
Alabama Key Players
Over the last two seasons at Alabama, Calvin Ridley who is a 6-foot-1, 188-pound junior out of Coconut Creek, Florida has caught for 161-receptions for 1,814-yards, and 14 touchdowns. Ridley has looked very polished during the spring season and is certainly Alabama’s top receiver coming into 2017. Robert Foster at 6-foot-2, 191-pounds is another name to know at the receiver position and though he has less than 25-receptions over his three-years at Alabama, he caught for 115-yards during the spring game including a touchdown. True Freshman Jerry Jeudy, a five-star signee out of Deerfield Beach, Florida was named the Spring Game MVP. Jeudy caught for 134-yards and two-touchdowns and should be an impact player immediately for Alabama.
Florida State Key Players
James and McFadden are the stars, without question. What’s going to be interesting is seeing how the Seminoles use James this season – whether he plays a traditional safety role, or if defensive coordinator Charles Kelly moves him to a variety of spots to take advantage of his playmaking ability. James has shown he can rush the passer, as well as drop back in coverage and lower the boom in run support. McFadden had some consistency issues early in the year, but he played at a high level for most of the 2016 season.
The wild card for the Seminoles’ secondary, especially with Marshall out for the first half of the opener, will be Nate Andrews. The fifth-year senior has actually started more games than anyone else in the secondary (18) and is only back this year because of a medical hardship last fall. Having him back is a huge bonus for a group that already was going to be a team strength. It also will be interesting to see how senior Ermon Lane looks now that he’s had a full year at the position after making a midseason switch from receiver last fall.
Key Matchups For Alabama
A future NFL matchup on the outside could be Florida State Corner Tarvarus McFadden vs. Alabama Receiver Calvin Ridley. McFadden recorded 8 interceptions last season and also led the team in pass deflections with 6. If Florida State is going to crowd the box to prep for Alabama’s potent ground game, that will present likely one-on-one matchups between McFadden and Ridley on the outside.
Key Matchups For Flordia State
Alabama has some nice weapons in the passing game, most notably big-play wide receiver Calvin Ridley. But the key for FSU’s defense won’t be matching up with any one player – it will be not getting burned by play-action passes if the Tide are able to establish their running game.
FSU has had major trouble containing mobile quarterbacks during Charles Kelly’s tenure, and Jalen Hurts is as mobile as they come. While Hurts hasn’t shown the ability to sit back and beat defenses with his accuracy, he’s plenty capable of doing damage through the air if opposing DBs have to sell out to stop the run. Expect Jimbo Fisher to preach the importance of “eye discipline” in the weeks leading up to this game.
BamaInsider On Who Wins This Matchup
Without question, Florida State returns one of the most dangerous secondary units to college football for the 2017 season. Between McFadden and Derwin James at Safety, you have to give the edge to Florida State on paper. With that said, Alabama’s passing game was very effective during the spring season. This matchup is won by whoever simply rises up with big plays, something that the Florida State secondary is known for.
Warchant On Who Wins This Matchup
Florida State definitely has the weapons to win this battle. The Seminoles are incredibly experienced on the back end, and they have a number of five-star talents throughout the depth chart. They also have the added benefit of playing behind what should be a dynamic pass rush.
The challenge will become daunting for the ‘Noles only if Alabama’s running game gets going. As long as FSU’s front-seven can hang with the Tide on the ground, the pass defense should be fine. The key will not getting beat frequently with misdirection or play-action. Hurts will only beat the Seminoles through the air if receivers are running wide open, and that shouldn’t happen given FSU’s depth of experience.
Tomorrow we preview the Alabama Offensive Line vs. the Florida State Defensive Line.
Alabama vs. Florida State
Saturday, September 2, 7 PM
The Line: -5 1/2 Alabama