As Alabama fans returned to their Atlanta hotel rooms early Sunday morning, all asking the front desk attendant the same question — “Do you have any rooms available for the weekend of Dec. 2? And the weekend of Jan. 8? Ah, hell, do y’all have a nice buffet for Thanksgiving? — we wonder: Can Nick Saban shake one of the few nightmarish corners of his coaching history?
No, I don’t mean passing on Drew Brees when he was in charge of the Miami Dolphins in 2006. (He thought Brees’ shoulder wouldn’t hold up. Oops.)
For the fourth time since escaping Miami for Tuscaloosa, Alabama is a preseason No. 1, and it looked the part Saturday night. The Crimson Tide beat Florida State 24-7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, rushing for 173 yards (while holding FSU to 40), forcing three turnovers and wreaking havoc on the Seminoles’ special teams.
Saban said he was “proud” of his players, but this isn’t a man prone to post-game smiles. He was as monotone as ever in his comments: “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 if we’re going to continue to improve as a team. That’s the focus right now — what’s ahead, not what’s behind.”
There is nothing that happened in the game that would preclude one from thinking Alabama will run through the SEC schedule as usual, win the conference title, then return for the college football championship game. It would be the Northside Drive trifiecta.
Except, there’s history: Alabama has been slotted No. 1 six times in the history of the AP rankings. Only once did it go on to win the (mythical) national title, and that came when Bear Bryant was coaching in 1978. Saban? He’s 0-for-3. The Tide entered the 2010, 2013 and 2016 seasons as the nation’s top-ranked team but finished ranked 10th, seventh and second, respectively, losing in the title game to Clemson last season. There hasn’t been a preseason No. 1 win the championship since USC in 2004.
Saban is now 11-0 in openers and, with this knockout of Jimbo Fisher, 11-0 against his former assistant coaches.
But Saban is not about yesterday or tomorrow. He and Alabama clearly have moved on from the loss to Clemson. That’s good, because the level of torment from ACC fans had the Tide lost consecutive games to their conference’s powers, Clemson and Florida State, would’ve been unimaginable.
Not a problem, not even with an occasionally sputtering offense against FSU’s defense. Alabama trailed 7-3 after a three-yard touchdown pass from Florida State’s Deondre Francois to Auden Tate in the second quarter, then scored the next 21 points. (Francois left the game late with an undetermined knee injury of and was on crutches afterward.)
It could have been worse. It should’ve have been worse. Florida State went a run of illogical ugliness after that touchdown. Beginning late in the first half, on successive possessions and/or touches, they had: a blocked field goal, a punt, a blocked punt, a fumbled kickoff return, an interception, then another interception, then two more punts.
Florida State fans are certain to complain about a non-interference call in the second half when the game was close. But, sorry: When a team spontaneously combusts like that, the game doesn’t come down to a referee mistake.
It was a beautiful summer evening, with temperatures in the low 70s at kickoff. By all accounts, every technological thingamabob and doohickey of significance worked in the first major test of the Atlanta’s newest sports venue. Well, everything except the hypothetically retractable roof, of course. It remained closed because it’s not “fully mechanized,” as the spinsters say, or “broken,” as everybody else says.
Falcons owner and building operator Arthur Blank stated before the game: “It’s not a question of does it open and close. It opens and closes. We have to get it down to a time frame that’s tighter, as we envisioned it.”
Blank envisioned 12 minutes. It’s now at a day, plus referee stoppage time. Think of it this way: This miracle of technology was supposed to be an Olympic sprinter. But it’s more like a walker. In the marathon. With a limp.
Roof issues aside, Mercedes-Benz Stadium has been everything it was billed to be, from dazzling video boards to expanded fan viewing areas to upgraded food options.
Please excuse Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher for this slip-up: “I’ll say a special thanks to the Georgia Dome …”
He was still traumatized by his team’s performance.
Alabama certainly looked at home in the new place, much like it did in the old place. Calvin Ridley’s 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave the Tide a 10-7 lead it would never relinquish.
It could be a while before Alabama is challenged. Its next six opponents: Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, a wounded Ole Miss program, Texas A&M and Arkansas. That likely makes them 7-0 going into consecutive games against Tennessee and LSU. But both of those games are at home. The regular season finale at Auburn is the most dangerous game on the schedule.
That’s looking ahead. That’s not the Saban way.
But anybody considering the possibility of renting their home for potential added income in early December and January might want to get the word out to Alabama fans.
Subscribe to the, “We Never Played The Game” podcast with the AJC’s Jeff Schultz and WSB’s Zach Klein on iTunes. Episodes also can be downloaded from on-demand link on WSBRadio.com.
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