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Why the First and Second Halves of the Florida State / Alabama Game Will Be Different

As usual with Nick Saban, you can expect night and day differences between the beginning and later stages of a big game. Read why and see if you agree.

Nick Saban likes to start with the basics and work from there. (Photo-TDA Magazine)

Why the First and Second Halves of the Florida State / Alabama Game Will Be Different

By: Larry Burton

Every game is different and even Nick Saban can be different from time to time, but there are some constants that seem harder for Saban to vary from and that is why the first half of the big Alabama / FSU game will be so different. Saban is very predictable and a few three and outs won’t diminish his faith in his offense, his game plan or the win. As long as his defense is likewise getting stops on the opposing defense. Saban has never opened a big game with a double reverse halfback pass, never opened a game with a cross field pass on the opening kickoff or ever started a game with an onside kick. That would be something very unlikely for Saban to do and something totally out of character.

I’ll explain.

In big games, and Alabama won’t be in a bigger one than this one for a while, Nick Saban opens the game cautiously. He does this for two big reasons. First of all, he wants his team to get into the rhythm of the game without and wild or trick plays because the last thing he wants is sometime to backfire, have the other team suddenly gain momentum, catch fire and get all confident.

The other is he wants to test his team’s muscle against the other team’s muscle. He’ll test for weaknesses to exploit later and try and show the other team what they’ll be facing for the next few quarters as far as mano a mano and Saban hopes to start discouraging an opponent and forcing them into trying something a little riskier or unusual than perhaps they wanted to do in their initial game plan. In other words, Saban will want to force them into a mistake.

In the first half of the game Alabama’s quarterback Jalen Hurts won’t try a lot risky passes, Saban will want him to try and throw some safe passes that will help establish his confidence and also establish some rhythm. They’ll lull the opposing defense into safe passes and running plays and in the second half or late in the first half, they’ll let Hurts test the deep ball and see if he can catch them flat footed.

On defense, Alabama will try and stop FSU with a lot of base defense. Like the offense, they may not start with a lot of blitzing because a lucky play can burn a blitzing team. But like the offense, they’ll change that strategy late in the first half or early in the second half.

Alabama knows and respects the FSU defense and their formidable capabilities but they also know the deficiencies in the Seminole offense line. Saban believes he not only has superior athletes at most key positions, but far superior depth. Like a heavy weight boxer, he believes he can lean on this Seminole team and simply wear them out over time and that time will primarily happen in the second half. Saban is content to win a war of attrition, of diminishing strength of the opponent and through muscle against muscle. But when he sees an exploitable weakness, and he misses very few of them such as the famous “Pooch Onside Kick” against Clemson in the 2015 championship game, he’ll take advantage of it.

Therefore if the safeties inch up to support the run once the defense is tired, he’ll exploit it with a deep ball.

So the first half will be interesting in that it will pit a lot base offenses and defenses and let you see just how teams match up muscle to muscle and the second half you will really see a different game.

FSU will undoubtedly come to see their limitations on offense when they try and run against this Alabama defensive front and where they go from there will make the second half a lively contest. This could be one of the best Alabama secondaries in many years and given what is thought to be a shaky offensive line, FSU’s quarterback Deondre Francois will have to make a lot of snap throws or designed roll outs to avoid what may become a withering Alabama rush. If he can do that, FSU may keep the game close into the fourth quarter. That is if the FSU defense can make Alabama beat them with Hurt’s arm and he’s having a bad night.

But unlike the quarterback who seemed unable to throw a nickle in a wishing well for much of the second half of the last national championship game, news from Tuscaloosa is that Hurts looks crisper and more accurate in his throws and if he gets he deep and intermediate game going then it could be “Katy bar the door” in the second half and FSU would try and keep up with a track meet kind of game with a much less potent offensive line. That won’t bode well for them.

If it’s a blowout game, and Las Vegas doesn’t see it that way, it could only be an Alabama team that wins a blowout because of these factors. FSU’s worst nightmare scenario is that in the first half that Alabama gets the running game going and the Seminoles are unable to stop just the basic Alabama offense. Playing from behind becomes even more dangerous for FSU and the Alabama defense starts piling on points too. Saban mercifully calls off the dogs and Alabama wins by 24 or more.

Alabama’s worst case scenario is that the offense has turnovers early on that put them behind and shake the confidence of the running backs, receivers or quarterback that caused those turnovers. The game then goes on close far into the fourth quarter, Alabama is unable to put the game away and FSU pulls off a last second win as Francois drives the team to a last minute score and win.

What at least this writer thinks will happen is that we’ll see punts from both teams in the first quarter as both teams feel each other out. FSU is unconvinced that Hurts has the ability to beat them with his arm and they’ll focus on stopping the run first, containing him in the pocket with a spy and taking their chances on one on one against Hurts and Alabama’s fine receivers. That proves to be a mistake. Alabama opens up the Seminole defense with a balanced two pronged attack that proves successful while FSU struggles to establish any long term success in drives and their only bright spots are intermittent good plays and some occasional first downs.

The first half could be close, but Alabama’s depth on both sides of the ball leads to pull away in the second half as Alabama wins by 17 points.

But I also caution the Alabama faithful who see this as the same outcome should they meet again in the playoffs later again in the year. FSU’s offensive line may be in disarray and not in sync in this first game, but by season’s end, they will be a different group playing as a cohesive unit with a season’s worth of experience and confidence as expect them to rebound from this loss and go undefeated until playoff time and the game could very well be different than this one. But that’s another story for another day.

Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter

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