ATLANTA — In a college football world where Maryland beats Texas and it isn’t even really an upset, an SEC team (well, kinda) gives up 43 points and 492 yards to an FCS team and Michigan wears Halloween costumes that could only be safely viewed with eclipse glasses, it’s comforting to know at least one constant remains.
Well, comforting if you’re an Alabama fan. It has to be pretty depressing for the rest of college football.
It remains to be seen whether the Crimson Tide’s offense and quarterback Jalen Hurts still have a lot of improving to do or if Florida State’s defense is just that good.
One thing does seem certain, though. Alabama is still Alabama. We may have a lot of new names to learn on defense. But the Crimson Tide served notice in their win Saturday night over Florida State that everybody else in college football is playing for the other three playoff spots.
Even the final score, 24-7, had familiar feel to it. That was the score in Bama’s last trip to Atlanta, when the Crimson Tide methodically wore down Washington in the playoff semifinal.
The game might not have lived up to its billing as The Greatest Opener of All Time, either competitively or artistically. And maybe Alabama wasn’t as thoroughly dominating as it was in last year’s season opener, a 52-6 romp over a ridiculously hyped Southern Cal team. But you can attribute much of that to Florida State’s defense, one of the few that actually looks like Alabama’s athletic equal.
The Crimson Tide won despite gaining only 269 yards and 13 first downs, converting only three of 16 third-down attempts (although they were 2-for-2 on fourth down) and missing two very makeable field goal attempts.
In other words, a typical Alabama win.
“You can always pick out a few things that were really ugly,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “But I’m really proud of the way they competed. They played really hard in the game. Hopefully we’ll focus on improving from here on out to try to get better as a team. We certainly know where we’re at right now.”
So does everybody else in college football. If Ohio State and Florida State are indeed the second and third best teams in the country, as the preseason polls stated, then the best anybody can hope for is that complacency and arrogance will infect the Alabama locker room. Don’t bet on that.
If this were anybody else, it would be shocking how the Crimson Tide won. They were already replacing seven defensive starters who have moved on to the NFL.
That alone would be more than most teams could handle. But they also had to deal with in-game attrition. By the second half they were playing without three of their starting linebackers (Anfernee Jennings, Christian Miller and Rashaan Evans) and one of their top reserves (Terrell Lewis). From all appearances, though, it looked like they still had Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson on the field.
“It was a physical game,” Saban said. “We had a lot of guys banged up at halftime and we had some other guys step up and do a good job for us, so I was really proud of the will to win, the will to hang in there, the perseverance the players showed, especially in the second half.”
Break down Florida State’s offensive numbers. The Seminoles finished with un-FSU-like numbers – 250 yards on 60 plays. Nearly 51 percent of their production – 127 yards – came on their first two possessions. Bama held FSU to 123 yards on 42 plays – a meager 2.9 yards per play – the rest of the game.
Florida State’s final 12 possessions produced seven punts, a blocked field goal attempt, one lost fumble, two interceptions and three meaningless plays as the clock mercifully ran out.
Brand new building, same old results. This was Bama’s 10th consecutive win in Atlanta since losing to Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship Game.
“I think this Mercedes Benz Stadium is a fantastic venue to play in.,” Saban said. “It was a great experience for our players to have the opportunity to play here, and we played a really good team. So, a lot of good things. But it’s one game. We have a long season. We’re going to have to get other players ready to compete at a high level but don’t have as much experience if we’re going to improve as a team. That’s the focus that we have right now – what’s ahead, not what’s behind us.”
Indeed, a long season ahead – both for Saban’s eternal quest for perfection and for the rest of college football.