Alabama vs. Florida State Preview -Containing both quarterbacks
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 few remaining days, BamaInsider.com and Warchant.com will continue to preview the #ATLShowdown with a seven-part series. Today we look at containing both quarterbacks.
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Alabama's Jalen Hurts
All eyes will be on Jalen Hurts as the opener will provide a good indication of how the Alabama quarterback progressed in the passing game entering his sophomore season. However, don’t expect Alabama to abandon Hurts’ ability to affect the game with his feet. Last season, Hurts finished second on the team with 954 rushing yards and a team-high 13 touchdowns on the ground. That being said, the Crimson Tide might prefer to lean on its deep stable of running backs in the running game in order to protect the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year from injury.
Protecting Hurts by limiting his workload is one thing, but Alabama will also need to provide him with some protection in the pocket as well. While the dual-threat quarterback is able to escape trouble with his feet, he will be even deadlier if he can keep the Seminoles honest in the passing game as well. Jonah Williams will slide over to left tackle to protect Hurts’ blindside. The big question for Alabama will be figuring out who mans the right side of the line, an area the Tide struggled with during the spring.
Florida State's Deondre Francois
Although his rushing statistics were diminished by his large number of sacks and tackles for loss, Deondre Francois showed strong signs of his athletic ability in 2016. If not for the 328 yards in losses – Francois was sacked 34 times – he actually would have been the Seminoles’ second-leading rusher with 526 yards on the ground. He also finished second on the team with five rushing touchdowns.
With Dalvin Cook moving on to the NFL and Francois now being the unquestioned leader of the offense, it would stand to reason that designed quarterback runs will become a larger focus of the offense. Fans always worry about the extra physical toll that could put on a signal-caller, but Jimbo Fisher is a proponent of running his quarterbacks because it gives the offense a numbers advantage against the defense. He also believes quarterbacks are more often injured when standing prone in the pocket than they are when looking for running room.
Key Matchup For Alabama
Hurts vs. Florida State safety Derwin James. Hurts could go up against James in more ways than one, as the elite safety might be called upon to spy on the quarterback at times. If Hurts is able to get the passing game going early, it should force James back into coverage, giving the quarterback more room to make plays on the ground. If that doesn’t work, expect some interesting one-on-one battles between the best two athletes on the field.
Key Matchup For Florida State
Nick Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher – Few people know Fisher’s offense better than Saban, and the same could be said about Fisher’s knowledge of the Saban defense. The two coaches together for years and have maintained a close personal and professional relationship.
Both coaches will be designing game plans not just to attack specific personnel but also weaknesses in each other’s schemes. Fisher undoubtedly will see what Clemson was able to do with Deshaun Watson as a runner and passer in the national championship game, and Saban will be working on schemes to confuse Francois. Both coaches undoubtedly will come in with sound plans to attack the other; the key to whether Francois can have a big game likely will depend upon Fisher’s ability to make in-game adjustments and the offensive line’s ability to execute that plan.
BamaInsider - Can Alabama establish momentum early in the game?
Much of Alabama’s approach with Hurts will depend on how the game starts. During his freshman season, there were times when the young quarterback struggled to get into a rhythm early. As stated above, Alabama would ideally like to establish itself with its running backs and allow the passing game to open up for Hurts while also setting up a few designed quarterback runs. If Florida State is able to shut down the Tide early on, it could frustrate Hurts and force him to make mistakes in the pocket.
Alabama on defense: Alabama’s last meeting against a dual-threat quarterback proved to be a nightmare, as Clemson’s Deshaun Watson gashed the Tide for 420 yards and three touchdowns through the air and 43 yards and another score on the ground. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois is no Watson, but he has the capable tools to hurt Alabama in both facets of the game.
Look for Alabama to use its “nickel rabbits” package at times, which puts its outside linebackers at defensive end along with two defensive tackles. Alabama would also blitz either Rashaan Evan or Shaun Dion Hamilton, leaving the other to spy Francois. That would leave five defensive backs to help out in coverage while also offering a speedy pass rush to keep up with Francois. The formation is something that worked against dual-threat quarterbacks last season, as the Tide limited Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs and Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight.
Warchant - Florida State's Defense has to limit big plays by Hurts
Jalen Hurts’ running ability likely will be among the top concerns for FSU defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. The Seminoles were embarrassed by Louisville dual-threat quarterback Lamar Jackson early in 2016, and they have had trouble with others in recent years. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, USF’s Quinton Flowers and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly all had impressive performances against the ‘Noles last season, and FSU was hurt the year before by Watson and Houston’s Greg Ward Jr.
Of course, it must be noted that FSU didn’t have Derwin James in the games last fall against USF and Clemson. If the Seminoles are going to stop Hurts, one would expect that James will have to be a large part of the equation. FSU also will need much more disciplined play from the front seven; that was a huge part of the problem in the debacle at Louisville.
Tomorrow we provide our final take and game prediction
Alabama vs. Florida State
Saturday, September 2, 7 PM
The Line: -5 1/2 Alabama