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  • Alabama pulled away late to secure another season-opening win over a high-profile opponent the way they know best: turnovers.
By Andy Staples
September 02, 2017

ATLANTA — The most hyped season-opener in years turned on two critical third-quarter special teams plays, creating a final score far more lopsided than the game actually was. Here are three thoughts from Alabama’s 24–7 win over Florida State:

1. Two days before his team faced Alabama, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher pointed out the moment that usually erases an opponent’s chance to beat the Crimson Tide. Watching video of Alabama from last season, Fisher noticed how Alabama’s opponents usually could not bounce back after making a critical mistake that led to a change of possession and quick Alabama points. Think Ryan Anderson’s interception return for a touchdown in the Peach Bowl against Washington, or Da’Ron Payne’s fumble recovery for a touchdown against Ole Miss. Those plays turned those games. Fisher said he hoped his team had practiced well enough to understand that the only way to overcome such mistakes is to forget about them and keep playing.

“Play the next play,” Fisher said Thursday. “Learn from it. Move on. Don’t let one mistake become two. Don’t let one become three. Don’t dwell on things. That’s a mental toughness thing.”

Unfortunately, the Seminoles couldn’t follow their coach’s advice. One mistake did become two, and suddenly a tight game was out of reach.

Florida State trailed 10–7 midway through the third quarter when Alabama’s Damien Harris blocked Logan Tyler’s punt and Tide freshman linebacker Dylan Moses recovered to give Alabama the ball on the Florida State six-yard line. The Seminoles’ defense held the Tide to a field goal, which should have been a small victory. But on the ensuing kickoff, Moses knocked the ball from the grasp of returner Keith Gavin. Alabama’s Keith Holcombe recovered on the Florida State 11-yard line. On the next play, Harris squirted through an otherwise stingy FSU defense for a touchdown. The Tide’s defense did the rest, intercepting Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois on Florida State’s next two possessions.

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2.  Francois took a lot of hits last season and always got up. He took a lot Saturday, but he didn’t get up after one fourth-quarter hit. Francois went down holding his left knee after getting his legs twisted while being sacked by Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison with 5:41 remaining. Francois had to be helped off the field by trainers and could not put any weight on his left leg. He eventually was taken to the locker room on a cart and left on crutches.

True freshman James Blackman replaced Francois for Florida State’s final drive.

3. It may not show on the stat sheet, but Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts looked much more confident throwing the ball than he did at the end of last season. 

One factor to consider when evaluating both offenses is that these were not normal defenses. It’s possible that neither team will play against a better defense all season, so the plays that didn’t work Saturday likely will in the coming weeks. 

In the case of Hurts, that’s probably terrible news for Alabama’s opponents. Though he only completed 10 of 18 passes for 96 yards, he seemed far more poised in the pocket than he did against Washington and Clemson in last year’s College Football Playoff. Though Florida State ends Josh Sweat and Brian Burns—who are going to be a huge problem for ACC offensive lines—were in his face much of the night, Hurts didn’t try to force balls into coverage and didn’t miss easy checkdown throws.

His best throw of the night was a 53-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Calvin Ridley that was set up by a fake jet sweep and a fake handoff to freshman Najee Harris. Ridley popped open running a post against single coverage, and Hurts hit him in stride.

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