Florida State passing game vs. Alabama pass defense
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 the Florida State passing game vs. the Alabama pass defense.
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Alabama Pass Defense Overview
Alabama is looking to rebound off a dismal performance in the national championship game where it allowed Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to complete 36 of 56 passes (64 percent) for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Concerns over the secondary only amplified after the Crimson Tide gave up a combined 661 yards and five touchdowns through the air during its A-Day scrimmage.
Alabama loses first-round pick Marlon Humphrey but returns the rest of its starting defensive backs from late in the season. The real question is whether or not the Tide will be able to generate the same pass rush that saw it lead the nation with 54 sacks last year. The Tide will be without its top four sacks leaders in Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster, a quartet that combined for 33.5 sacks last season.
Florida State Passing Game Overview
It might sound naive to suggest that a college football team’s passing attack might improve after losing its three most productive wide receivers from the year before, but it’s a realistic possibility for the Seminoles this season. While Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield had tons of experience, none of the three proved to be consistent downfield weapons during their Florida State careers.
Rising junior Nyqwan “Noonie” Murray showed in the second half of the 2016 season that he definitely has that potential, and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher publicly challenged Murray this spring to step up into that consistent No. 1 receiver role. Murray will be joined by a slew of other dangerous weapons at receiver and tight end – it’s a group that should be the most dynamic since Jameis Winston was throwing to Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Nick O’Leary in 2013. Now that sophomore Deondre Francois is entering his second full year as the starting quarterback, he should be fully equipped to take advantage of that wealth of talent.
Alabama Key Players
Entering his junior year, Minkah Fitzpatrick figures to be the glue that will hold the Tide’s defense together. The versatile defensive back earned All-American honors last season, leading the Tide with six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Fitzpatrick should be back at strong safety after filling in for Eddie Jackson midway through the season last year. That means he will make the calls on defense and will be the Tide’s last line of defense against a Seminole team that averaged 264.1 yards per game through the air last season.
Disrupting the passer will also be key. Replacing Allen will be former five-star recruit Da’Shawn Hand, who is finally stepping into a starting role heading into his senior season. The former No. 1 overall recruit in 2014, tallied two sacks and five quarterback hurries last season and is expected to have a breakout year. Against a weak Florida State offensive line, his presence will be key.
Florida State Key Players
Noonie Murray, Auden Tate and Keith Gavin will provide the foundation at wide receiver, and FSU fans should be very excited about the possibilities. Murray and Tate both averaged more than 16 yards per reception last season, and they combined for 11 touchdowns despite somewhat limited playing time.
The key for Murray will be improving the quality of his play when the ball isn’t in his hands or he’s not the primary receiver. Tate and Gavin also have areas they need to improve on, but their size automatically will give them an edge on most defensive backs – Tate is listed at 6-5 and 225 pounds, and Gavin is 6-3, 225. Gavin didn’t get many opportunities at receiver as a true freshman in 2016, but he came on strong in practice at the end of the year and was reportedly dominant in spring practice before sustaining a minor ankle injury.
The Seminoles also are loaded at tight end and will look to create mismatch problems with big, athletic targets Ryan Izzo and Mavin Saunders. They will become bigger factors as Francois gains a better feel for the entire offense
Key Matchups For Alabama
Florida State receivers against Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs. If the Seminoles are looking for a possible chink in the Tide’s armor, Diggs might be that spot. After playing primarily at wide receiver during his freshman season last year, Diggs switched to cornerback this spring. While he looks to have a promising career at the position, the young defensive back is still susceptible to giving up big plays through the air as he did during Alabama’s A-Day game. Look for Florida State to test Diggs early and often in the opener.
Key Matchups For Florida State
FSU has the weapons in the passing game to exploit a somewhat questionable Alabama secondary, but the Seminoles only will be able to do that if the pass protection is much improved from a year ago. Everyone knows how many times Deondre Francois was sacked last season – not to mention all of the devastating hits he took after releasing the ball. Some of that was on Francois not processing information quick enough and getting rid of the ball, but there were also far too many breakdowns up front.
FSU loves young linemen like Landon Dickerson, Jauan Williams, Josh Ball, Baveon Johnson and Andrew Boselli – and two or three of those second-year players will likely be starting this fall – but it will be a challenge for them to handle Alabama’s pass rush in the first game of the year. If the pass protection is at least decent, Francois and the receivers could have a big day.
BamaInsider On Who Wins This Matchup
Despite Alabama’s lack of depth in the secondary, the Tide’s first-team unit is pretty strong. Pair that with a pass rush which should be able to dominate a shaky Florida State offensive line and Alabama is in good shape heading into the matchup. Assuming the Tide makes it out of fall camp healthy, it will have a slight advantage over the Seminoles.
Warchant On Who Wins This Matchup
Because it’s the first game of the year – and only because it’s the first game – Alabama might have a slight edge here. As Jimbo Fisher always says, it’s easier to build continuity on defense than it is on offense, and the Seminoles have so many new pieces to fit together this fall. They’re not only replacing three veteran receivers, but also their top tailback and fullback, as well as their left tackle and left guard. It’s a lot to ask a group with that many new faces to execute cleanly against a Nick Saban defense.
If these two teams meet again later in the year, perhaps in the College Football Playoff, FSU would almost certainly have the edge. But Week 1 will be tough
Tomorrow we preview the FSU Offensive Line vs. the Alabama Defensive Line
Alabama vs. Florida State
Saturday, September 2, 7 PM
The Line: -5 1/2 Alabama