Alabama Football: If you stopped fearing the Tide, you should start again

ATLANTA — These things, all true, might’ve lulled college football into a false sense of safety from the devastation that has been Alabama football in a decade under Nick Saban: Clemson did finally dethrone the Crimson Tide, who did subsequently lose seven NFL draft picks on defense, and the ACC (among others) has shown signs of rising up to challenge the SEC.

Put it that way and it was not unreasonable to enter the 2017 season wondering whether the Tuscaloosa Nuclear Program can be disarmed — and if the league it has bombed into oblivion isn’t already a shell of its former self. The latter remains to be seen, but the former?

If No. 1 Alabama versus No. 3 Florida State, touted as The Greatest Season Opener in College Football History, delivered any sort of referendum, it was this: Alabama is still the sport’s most gruesome weapon of mass destruction.

The road to a 24-7 victory was strewn with crimson carnage: a blocked punt, blocked field goal, forced fumble on a kickoff return, two interceptions, three sacks and enough other sledgehammer shots to pound Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois into whatever is beneath the turf at the new $1.5 billion spaceship/stadium with a Mercedes-Benz hood ornament on its origami roof.

RELATED: Special teams sealed FSU’s fate in Atlanta

Francois, who might just be the toughest player in America at his position, absorbed blow after blow after blow last season behind a porous offensive line and did so again for almost four quarters Saturday night against Alabama. But with barely five minutes left in a hopeless game for FSU, he went down again and did not get up.

“He did a really good job of taking all the blows that we gave him,” Tide defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick said, “but we’re Alabama. We put a lot on him. I feel bad for the guy, but it’s football and it happens. If you hit any quarterback a certain amount of times, he’s going to break.”

The Seminoles might’ve lost a lot more than one game, the result of which alone would not have ended their national championship dreams. Francois left the stadium with a knee brace, crutches and tear-streaked face. The Crimson Tide certainly did not mean to injure him, but they absolutely aimed to cause him pain.

Even as Francois stood in a collapsing pocket and delivered 161 first-half passing yards — often letting fly just before his next jarring body shot — Alabama stuck to the plan. The same plan since Saban got this war machine cranked all the way up in 2009: keep punishing.

“He doesn’t let getting hit affect him,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said of Francois, “so we just tried to get after him play after play, and he started wearing down. If you’re human, you’re not going to like someone to keep teeing off on you.”

Francois threw for just 49 yards and FSU produced only 65 total after halftime, its final six possessions lasting three plays or fewer, including three consecutive turnovers. It was a bloodbath.

RELATED: Tide weren’t without injury in physical opener

Incredibly, the Seminoles might actually have the second-best defense in the country — their breathtaking speed bottled up Jalen Hurts for just 96 passing and 55 rushing yards — but it still paled in comparison to Saban’s latest stockpile of heat-seeking missiles.

Hamilton, overshadowed last fall by Rueben Foster, swarmed FSU for 3 ½ tackles for loss. Raekwon Davis, who had just four tackles in 2016 and got shot in the leg last week, blew up a key third-down play Saturday. Mack Wilson and Levi Wallace recorded their first career interceptions.

Names change, but the soul-crushing ability to smother and smash does not. Remember, Florida State was ostensibly the best team the ACC had to offer in 2017, and it was laid to waste.

It is true that the Crimson Tide faltered after 14 consecutive wins last season and it might be true that another worthy challenger exists this season, but after Saturday night’s demolition, the rest of college football should not sleep easy. It would appear, again, that no one is safe.

The post Alabama Football: If you stopped fearing the Tide, you should start again appeared first on SEC Country.

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