Wiedmer: Bama again looks ready for CFP title run

Wiedmer: Bama again looks ready for CFP title run

September 3rd, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns
Florida State defensive back Derwin James (3) tackles Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) behind the line of scrimmage during the second half of an NCAA football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Florida State defensive back Derwin James (3) tackles...

Photo by Mike Stewart

ATLANTA — You couldn't play a college football game in a more technologically advanced, 21st century marvel than shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. From the "halo" video screen at the top of the giant structure to the (supposedly) retractable roof — they're still working out the kinks on that one — to wireless wizardry throughout, you half expect each team's plays to be called by a committee of 70,000 or so on their iPhones.

But No. 1 Alabama's 24-7 victory over No. 3 Florida State on Saturday night in the sports world's newest playpen looked as if it would have been much more at home on a muddy grass field, the players donning leather helmets minus facemasks, the opposing coaches wearing tweed sport coats and neckties.

Much like the old days of single wings, single platoons and the flying wedge, this was a win for dominating defense and attention to details on special teams, long the hallmark of Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban.

Not only did Bama block a FSU field-goal attempt to end the first half, but it blocked a Seminoles punt early in the third quarter, then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

Shakily ahead 10-7 at halftime, Bama ended the third quarter with a 21-7 lead and the football. It also screamed to the rest of the country that the Tide do not intend to surrender gently their spot in the College Football Playoff. Alabama has been there in each of the CFP's first three seasons, the only school to have accomplished that feat.

So even if the Bama offense too often looked eerily, and painfully, similar to the one that so often struggled in last January's national championship game loss to Clemson, the Tide defense had that championship look throughout, especially in the final half.

Credit all those No. 1 recruiting classes Saban has accumulated, credit Saban himself for seemingly never growing stale or content or complacent when it comes to winning college football games and championships, but against an FSU team many believe(ed) capable of winning it all, Bama alone looked like a title contender this night.

This isn't to say that the pregame hyping of this Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game as the Greatest Opener of All-Time was exactly false advertising. The crowd of 76,330 saw terrific defense from both teams and arguably the greatest collection of athletes on one field we may witness all season.

Good as the Tide's defense and special teams were, FSU's defense often looked better, especially all those times it was harassing Bama sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts into desperate backward scrambles that often resulted in a pass tossed far out of bounds to avoid a sack.

Let the Seminoles clean up their kicking game and find a way for quarterback Deondre Francois — assuming his late-game left knee injury isn't season-ending — to locate his receivers and FSU might yet be good enough to reach the playoffs.

There were even a few fleeting moments when Florida State seemed to have a slight edge in crowd support, especially at those times the Seminoles supporters launched into their "Tomahawk Chant," as the locals might label the war chant the Atlanta Braves stole/borrowed from FSU decades ago.

A further oddity before the game. Former Alabama Heisman Trophy winner and current Tennessee Titan Derrick Henry — who grew up in Florida — and former FSU Heisman winner Jameis Winston (who grew up in Alabama), joined the captains of their former college teams on the field for the pregame coin toss, which Winston's Seminoles won.

And then, just as advertised, at least for two quarters, this settled into quite an opener. Florida State led 7-3 after one quarter. Bama took a 10-7 lead early in the second on a flawless 53-yard strike to Calvin Ridley from Hurts. The first half ended with that same score, the defenses settling in, as one might expect of two teams overflowing with athletes playing their first game of the season.

One moment from early in the third quarter bears repeating, if only because it involved Alabama's Raekwon Davis, who'd been shot outside a Tuscaloosa, Ala., bar one week ago. The Seminoles in shotgun formation on third down, Francois looking to pass, Davis bolted through the line as if shot from a cannon to flatten the FSU quarterback.

It was also at that moment that the Tide got down to business. Soon after the mistakes began to pile up for the Seminoles, which allowed Bama to pile up enough points to guarantee another Bama win, its 22nd straight regular-season victory.

And no matter where those wins have occurred — indoors, outdoors, under a halo video and retractable roof or beneath the sun or the stars — that's the stuff of a program that just might be led by the college football's coaching GOAT.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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