INSTANT ANALYSIS: Alabama's defense steps up in 24-7 win over FSU
ATLANTA — Led by a dominating defensive performance, Alabama took down Florida State 24-7 Saturday night. While Alabama's offense struggled to finish drives, its defense and special teams were able to step up. Here's how the Crimson Tide was able to pull off the win:
Alabama's defense came up big when it counted
While Alabama’s offense struggled to finish for most of the first half, its defense came ready to play. Despite a strong performance from Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, who torched the Tide for 161 yards and a touchdown on 14 of 22 passes in the first half, Alabama was able to step up when it mattered.
With Alabama leading 10-7 late in the second quarter, a rare shanked punt from JK Scott gifted Florida State with excellent field position. Despite starting at the Alabama 31-yard line, the Seminoles were not able to capitalize.
Terrell Lewis broke into the backfield to stop Florida State’s George Campbell for a 4-yard loss on first down. Rashaan Evans then deflected a ball on second down before Levi Wallace blanketed Keith Gavin for a 1-yard loss on third down to force a punt.
Following a three-and-out by Alabama, the Tide’s defense came up big again. A pass-interference penalty by Anthony Averett gave Florida State a first-and-10 at the Alabama 20-yard line with 20 seconds remaining in the half. However, the Tide stopped the Seminoles on three consecutive plays before Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt from Ricky Aguayo to preserve a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Alabama’s defense would continue to clamp down in the second half, figuring out a way to frustrate Francois for the rest of the game. Coming in for starter Trevon Diggs in the second half, former walk-on Levi Wallace put on a solid performance, finishing the game with an interception and a pass breakup while adding two tackles, including .5 for a loss. Linebacker Mack Wilson would add another interception in the fourth quarter.
Shaun Dion Hamilton led Alabama with eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss, including a sack of Deondre Francois on fourth down in the first quarter.
Special teams turn the Tide
It was the start Alabama fans were dreading, but by the end of the game, the Tide’s special teams proved to be the spark it needed to pull past the Seminoles.
After moving the ball into scoring territory on its first drive, Alabama’s offense sputtered, setting up a field goal attempt from walk-on kicker Andy Pappanastos. After struggling in the kicking game all offseason, the Tide’s special teams was delivered a haunting omen as the senior's kick was pulled wide right. More bad news followed as normally reliable punter JK Scott later shanked a punt nine yards to set the Seminoles up in scoring position in the second quarter.
However, from there, the non-kicking portion of Alabama’s special teams unit picked up its specialist. Following Fitzpatrick's field goal block to end the half, Alabama continued to wreak havoc. Running back Damien Harris continued the block party in the third quarter when he got his hands on a punt which Dylan Moses recovered at the Florida State 6-yard line. The play set up a 25-yard field goal from Pappanastos to put Alabama up 13-7 with 1:54 left in the third quarter.
Alabama struck again on the ensuing kickoff as Moses forced a fumble from Florida State receiver Keith Gavin which was recovered by Keith Holcombe at the Seminoles 11-yard line. Harris capitalized on the field position one play later, running in an 11-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion from quarterback Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley gave Alabama a commanding 21-7 lead with 1:41 left in the third quarter.
Despite the solid performance, Alabama still appears to need help in the kicking game. Pappanastos finished the night 3 of 5, connecting on kicks of 35, 33 and 25 yards while missing from 42 and 41 yards.
Hurts does enough to get the win
The arm band reading “Pray 4 Houston” made it clear this one meant a little more for Hurts. The Houston native stated earlier this week that he would be playing for his hometown which was hit hard by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. While Saturday night proved to be an up-and-down performance for the sophomore, Hurts did enough to help Alabama begin the season 1-0.
Hurts finished the day 10 of 18 passing for 96 yards with and a touchdown. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound quarterback also added 55 yards on 15 carries.
Entering the season there were many questions raised over whether or not the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year could improve on his downfield passing. Hurts answered those doubters in the second quarter when he hit receiver Calvin Ridley in stride for a 53-yard touchdown pass.
While Alabama will look for a better performance in the passing game moving forward, it’s worth noting Hurts was going up against a secondary which featured two preseason All-Americans in Derwin James and Tavarus McFadden. The next two games should allow Hurts to develop more as a passer. Alabama returns home to Bryant-Denny Stadium next week for its home-opener against Fresno State. After that, the Tide will host Colorado State on Sept. 16.
Ridley once again comes up big
Coming back as Alabama’s leading receiver, Ridley was once again Hurts' favorite option. The junior led Alabama in receiving with 82 yards and a touchdown on seven catches on the night.
Ridley’s 53-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter is the 15th of his career, moving him into a tie for fifth place all-time at Alabama with Joey Jones and Julio Jones. His 82 receiving yards give him 1,896 career receiving yards, good enough for fifth best all-time at Alabama.
Four Alabama linebackers injured on the night
Despite coming away with the win, Alabama’s defense took a beating Saturday night, as four of the Tide’s linebackers went down with injuries. Rashaan Evans, Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings were all forced to leave the game and did not return.
“Rashaan Evans has a groin. They’ll have to check it out,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said Saturday night. “He couldn’t play in the second half. Terrell Lewis has an elbow injury. His status is very questionable. Christian Miller has a biceps injury, very questionable, and Anfernee Jennings has a sprained ankle and could not play in the second half. So, we had four linebackers, three outside backers and an inside backer that didn’t play much in the second half.”
Evans, who didn’t play in the second half, finished the game with five tackles and a pass breakup. Lewis, also tallied five tackles, including one for a loss. Miller finished with three tackles, including one for a loss, while Jennings didn’t record a tackle on the night.
With so many linebackers down, junior Keith Holcombe and sophomore Mack Wilson received extended playing time. Wilson finished with three tackles and an interception, while Holcombe tallied a tackle and a pass breakup.
As the quartet of injured linebackers remains in question for next week’s game against Fresno State inside Bryant-Denny Stadium, another player to watch is freshman Dylan Moses. The five-star signee forced a fumble and recovered a fumble on special teams as part of a solid debut performance.
- Alabama 3, FSU 0 - Andy Pappanastos 35-yard FG, 9-plays, 44-yards, 3:18
- FSU 7, Alabama 3 - Deondre Francois to Auden Tate for 3-yard TD pass, 11-plays for 90-yards, 5:49
- Alabama 10, FSU 7 - Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley for 53-yard TD pass, 5 plays for 85-yards, 2:13
- Alabama 13, FSU 7 - Andy Pappanastos with 25-yard FG, 9-plays, 44-yards, 3:18
- Alabama 21, FSU 7 - Damien Harris 11-yard TD Run (Hurts to Ridley 2PT), 1-play 11-yards
- Alabama 24, FSU 7 - Andy Pappanastos with 33-yard FG, 6 plays, 16-yards, 2:57