|FSU Run Game vs Alabama Defense
Simply put, Florida State lost it’s most prolific runner in school history in Dalvin Cook and that is an impossible task to replace. That, however, is not to say that the Florida State run game won’t be good this year, it may in fact, be really good. Outside of Alabama or possibly Georgia, there isn’t a team in the county that can tout the stable of running backs that the Noles have with multiple 5* and 4* athletes waiting to get the ball. Jacques Patrick (6’3″ 231) leads the bunch as a bruiser that has played well when called on in his first two years. Amir Rasul (5’11” 196) is the burner of the bunch, but he isn’t exactly a one dimensional scat back. Throw in freshman 5* backs Cam Akers (5’11” 213) and Khalan Laborn (5’11” 199) and Jimbo Fisher is in a good position no matter who is in the game. Running backs are going nowhere with out a decent line, though, and that’s where the questions start (and end, honestly) with the 2017 Seminoles. Up the middle I think the Noles will be just fine with a healthy Alec Eberle (6’4″ 294) and two maulers in Landon Dickerson (6’6″ 310) and Cole Minshew (6’5″ 338). The tackles are a bigger question, but both Rick Leonard (6’7″ 306) and Derrick Kelly (6’5″ 323) have experience and size. I’d be remiss in not mentioning the effect that Deondre Francois can have in the running game, too. While not a strong suite, Francois is a more than capable runner who Jimbo Fisher has relied on in the past to use his legs and can make opposing coaches have to respect and scheme to stop it if Fisher is willing to call the quarterback designed runs.
Alabama has been dominant against the run in recent years, and last season was just insane as the gave up just 63.93 yards per game and 2.01 yards per rush, far and away the best numbers in the nation. They lost some of the front seven from last year, most notably linebacker Reuben Foster and defensive end Jonathan Allen, but they return a good nucleus from that group and are set to replace studs with future studs. Shaun Dion Hamilton (6’0″ 235) and Rashaan Evans (6’3″ 234) are the next great linebacking names you’ll probably know from Alabama and Da’Ron Payne (6’2″ 308) and Da’Shawn Hand (6’4″ 288) will anchor another defensive line that will be among the nation’s best. One big question mark heading into Saturday’s showdown will be the availability of massive end, Raekwon Davis (6’7″ 306), who suffered a minor gunshot wound last weekend.
I like what the Noles running game could potentially be this year and think they’ll have great success despite the loss of Dalvin Cook in 2017. However, the Florida State offensive line going against this Alabama front seven is not the place to showcase what they might be and Alabama has the advantage in this matchup. The key for FSU will be can they at least do enough on the ground to make the Alabama defense respect it and allow the Noles to have balance on offense.
|FSU Passing Game vs Alabama Defense
Deondre Francois (6’2″ 205) burst on the scene last season with a 400+ yd passing performance against Ole Miss in the opener. While he had some ups and downs through the season, he progressed as the year went by and has, reportedly, made strides in his understanding and comfortability in the offense. Gone are most of his weapons from the majority of the season, but returning are a couple players that came on toward the end of the season in Nyqwan Murray (5’11” 176) and Auden Tate (6’5″ 225). Those guys, combined with tight end Ryan Izzo (6’5″ 245), make up the nucleus of a group of pass catchers who the Noles should have a lot of confidence in. Reports from fall camp are that Keith Gavin (6’3″ 225) has had a great offseason and Fisher was quick to praise the sophomore wideout for his physical play and toughness. Gavin in particular can be a physical mismatch for defenders with his body type and body control. The x-factor is what, if anything, FSU can get from young wideout Tamorrion Terry (6’4″ 208) who was impressive in the open practice this fall. This is all again predicated on the Florida State offensive line keeping Francois upright and giving him time to deliver the ball. Florida State was 108th in the nation last year in sacks allowed with 36 given up and countless other times where Francois was hit and pressured. They must be better this year for Florida State to have the year that desire and have a chance against this Alabama defense.
The Alabama secondary will have a bit of a different look this year with the losses of Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson, but stud safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (6’1″ 202) returns along with his counterpart Ronnie Harrison (6’3″ 214). Anthony Averett (6’0″ 185) is a top NFL prospect at one corner, but the other corner is where the Alabama secondary is unproven with Trevon Diggs (6’2″ 195) looking to get the start there. Alabama got after the quarterback big time in 2016, leading the nation with 54 sacks, but they lost their top 4 sack artists that accounted for 33.5 of those sacks. The Crimson Tide will still look to put pressure on the Francois and that will come from scheme more in ’17 than it relied on individual pass rushing prowess in ’16.
If Francois has time, I like the matchup of he and the FSU receivers and tight ends against the Alabama secondary, but this isn’t seven on seven. The FSU offensive line is going to have a tough time protecting Francois consistently all game and while I do think the Noles will get their shots and have some success, the pressure Alabama can bring gives Alabama the edge here.
|Alabama Run Game vs FSU Defense
Alabama’s bread and butter is running the ball and I don’t expect that to change this season. It does look a bit different than your older brother’s version of the Bama running game with quarterback Jalen Hurts (6’2″ 218) being a much larger part of the ground game, but the Tide has the usual studs in the backfield, too. New Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll is more of a pro style offensive mind, but with Hurts talent I can’t imagine the Crimson Tide offense will stray too far from what was successful last season. The Crimson Tide boast a bevy of talented running backs starting with Bo Scarbrough (6’2″ 235) and Damien Harris (5’11” 221). Scarbrough is the big physical back that will wear opposing defenses down and Harris is a speedster with good size, too. Behind those two, Josh Jacobs (5’10” 212), and 5 star freshman Najee Harris (6’2″ 227) are ready and able. The Crimson Tide return 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line. Jonah Williams (6’5″ 301) moves from right tackle to left tackle with the loss of Cam Robinson, but the interior of the line remains the same with Ross Pierschbacher (6’4″ 303), Bradley Bozeman (6’5″ 314), and Lester Cotton (6’4″ 324). Matt Womack (6’7″ 324) enters the lineup at the right tackle spot to round out the starters. It’s a big group that is experienced.
Florida State gave up 36% of their rushing yards for the season in 2016 over a two game stretch in late September. Outside of those two games when the FSU defense was reeling from injury, lack of confidence, and, most unsettling, a lack of effort, the FSU defense was outstanding against the run. Derrick Nnadi (6’1″ 312) returns to anchor a defensive line that should be among the best in the nation. He is the strongest player on the Florida State roster and an excellent player in the middle. Demarcus Christmas (6’4″ 308) is also a very good player in the interior and give the Noles a solid interior. Josh Sweat (6’5″ 250) has continued to put on good weight and will anchor one of the end spots. The question on the line, at least when it come to run defense, is Brian Burns (6’5″ 232). Burns was a pass rushing specialist as a freshman, but will be expected to be more of an every down player this season. Jalen Wilkerson (6’4″ 273) brings great size as a backup at the end spot if needed. The Florida State linebackers are solid, but the weakest area on the FSU defense. Matthew Thomas (6’4″ 227) is going to play, but the senior has missed the last three weeks while having an eligibility issue cleared. Derwin James (6’3″ 211) and Trey Marshall (6’0″ 210) are both excellent in run support from the safety position.
Alabama is going to be committed to the run and the Crimson Tide will get some yards, but I think to be successful on offense against Florida State, Bama is going to have to have a big day on the ground. Florida State will do a good job containing the Bama run game in a fairly even matchup here.
|Alabama Passing Game vs FSU Defense
Jalen Hurts had a very nice freshman season completing almost 63% of his passes, but Hurts wasn’t asked to push the field down the field all that much and struggled to do so against better defenses. In fact, Alabama had by far the highest percentage of passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2016. Leading receiver Calvin Ridley (6’1″ 190) returns and he’s a dangerous threat, but Alabama will look to unproven upperclassman in Robert Foster (6’2″ 194) and Cam Sims (6’5″ 214) outside of that. They have some talented freshman in Henry Ruggs (6’0″ 175) and Devonta Smith (6’1″ 165), however, that are really unknowns yet. Stud tight end OJ Howard is now in the NFL, too, so Bama will need for multiple players to step up in 2017.
Florida State’s pass defense is projected to be a strength of the team in 2017. Tarvarus McFadden (6’2″ 198) returns after leading the nation in interceptions last season. The previously mentioned James is one of the top safeties and defenders in the county, and the Noles have a load of talented and experienced defenders that will fill different spots depending on situations and personnel. Most notably, Levonta Taylor (5’10” 186) and Kyle Myers (6’0″ 168) will have expanded roles after playing well down the stretch in more extensive action. The Noles were #2 in sacks last year, and while leading sacker DeMarcus Walker is gone, defensive ends Burns and Sweat combined for 16.5 sacks and the defense as a whole return players that totaled 35 sacks.
Florida State has the advantage here and if they can prevent breakdowns and not allow big plays, they should be able to shut down the Bama passing game. Bama will take shots downfield and they have the ability to hit big plays. If Florida State avoids those big plays, Bama can become one dimensional.
Both defenses have the advantage going into this game, but both offenses have playmakers and talent that is hard to shut down for extended periods of time.
Barring big turnover or special teams swings, I think these two heavyweights trade punches for the majority of the game with Bama able to squeak out two more scoring drives that lead to field goals and makes the difference in this game, which very well could be just Round One.