ATLANTA – They didn’t close the streets around the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Saturday’s season-opening matchup between No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide and third-Florida State, but Alabama turned it into a block party anyway.
Minkah Fitzpatrick blocked a field goal to preserve a slim Alabama lead on the final play of the first half and Damien Harris blocked a punt to turn momentum UA’s way in the third quarter, propelling the Crimson Tide to a decisive 24-7 victory in front of a crowd of 76,330 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
The game was billed as ‘The Greatest Opener of All Time,’ owing to the teams’ high preseason rankings, but it turned out to be just another dominant display of defense by Alabama with a few key plays to provide the scoring punch to back it up.
UA led 10-7 at intermission after Fitzpatrick blocked an FSU field goal attempt that could have tied it. Harris’ blocked punt deep in Seminole territory late in the third period led to an Andy Pappanastos field goal that extended the lead to 13-7, and UA took command after another big special teams play on the ensuing kickoff. Freshman linebacker Dylan Moses caused a fumble and Keith Holcombe, a former Hillcrest High player, recovered to set up Alabama again within striking distance.
“Those,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said, “were big, critical plays.”
Harris crashed into the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown run on the following snap and Alabama was up 21-7 with less than two minutes to go in the third period.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts threw to Calvin Ridley for a 2-point conversion, and Alabama was ahead 21-7 in the waning moments of the third quarter.
Alabama’s defense did the rest, with Levi Wallace and Mack Wilson intercepting passes, and Pappanastos tacking on another field goal in the final period.
The first half was a tug-of-war between two staunch defenses. Hurts passed to Ridley for a 21-yard gain to set up a 35-yard field goal for a 3-0 Alabama lead with 4:30 to go in the first quarter.
Florida State marched 90 yards to reply with a 3-yard Deondre Francois-to-Auden Tate touchdown pass to take a 7-3 lead early in the second period.
On Alabama’s next series, Hurts heaved a 53-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Ridley to put UA back on top, 10-7, with 11:28 remaining before intermission.
Ridley caught seven passes for 82 yards, with Hurts completing 10 of 18 attempts for 96 yards. Harris ran for 73 yards on nine carries, with Hurts adding 55 yards on 15 attempts. UA gained only 269 total yards.
“First game of the season you can always have a few things that were a little ugly, but I’m really proud of the way they competed and played hard in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “It was a tough, physical game.”
FSU was held to 250 total yards, with Francois going 19 for 33 for 210 yards before he left the game in the fourth quarter with an injury, and the Seminoles gaining just 40 rushing yards on 27 carries.
Four UA linebackers were injured: Rashaan Evans (groin), Terrell Lewis (elbow), Christian Miller (biceps) and Anfernee Jennings (ankle). Saban said Lewis, Miller and Jennings are “questionable.”
Alabama will host Fresno State next Saturday in its home opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.