Alabama struggled in the first have against a Virginia Tech defense that came determined to do two things --- stop running back T.J. Yeldon and cover the deep ball to Amari Cooper.
Tech was lining up safeties 20 yards and more off the line of scrimmage, usually to Cooper’s side. The idea was to make quarterback AJ McCarron move the ball with underneath passes, and it worked to hold Alabama to 97 yards total offense in the first half. Meanwhile, Yeldon had just 22 net rushing yards at halftime.
McCarron finally found the deep ball in the third quarter, but not to Cooper or even Kenny Bell. It was Christion Jones, the slot receiver. Yeldon finished with 75 yards rushing.
Alabama’s defense endeavors not to give up explosive plays but did on Trey Edmunds’ 77-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The Tide nearly gave up more, but Logan Thomas overshot a few, and others were dropped.
After a deep-ball overthrow to Demitri Knowles, Alabama showed more deep-safety strategy, with Vinny Sunseri moving around and committing after the snap.
While Tech helped Alabama by missing big-play opportunities, Alabama also helped itself with Sunseri’s interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter. It came after Tech had closed to within 14-7 and seemed to have momentum.
Key to the game for Alabama. Christion Jones’ 72 yard punt return and 94-yard kickoff return, both for touchdowns, helped Alabama overcome 97 yards in total offense in the first half to lead 28-10 at halftime.
Jones also lost six yards on a punt return, trying too hard to make a play, but he more than earned forgiveness on this night. He also learned his lesson, making a fair catch on the next punt.
It’s also worth noting that Virginia Tech’s average starting field position off a kickoff or punt was its 23-yard line. Six possessions started inside the 20.
Alabama punted or kicked off a combined 15 times.
It didn’t look like Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier brought much in the way of intermediate pass plays into this game, and Alabama needed to do more of that to take advantage of a Tech defense that sent safeties deep and otherwise crowded the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, Kirby Smart adjusted with more deep-safety coverage after Tech’s near-misses on a couple of deep balls.
The coach of the game, though, has to be special-teams coordinator Bobby Williams. Against a Frank Beamer-coached team, Alabama got the best of it with two special-teams touchdowns and kept Tech in bad field position most of the night.
The 35-10 score says dominance, but this game wasn’t dominance like Alabama showed in its last non-conference game, the 42-14 rout of Notre Dame in last season’s BCS final.
Against Virginia Tech, Alabama’s offense managed two touchdowns against a defense determined to take away the long pass and Yeldon’s runs. The offensive line, beset by the loss of three NFL draftees, clearly needs work, as Tech got in the backfield to cause negative plays.
Defensively, Alabama gave up an explosive play and could have given up more, but for a handful of drops by Tech receivers and Logan Thomas overthrows.
Still, Alabama is a team with playmakers all around, as Jones showed with his two return touchdowns and another score on a deep pass from McCarron. That’s a start.
Top-ranked Alabama gets an open date to prepare for the game of the season, its SEC West showdown with No. 7 Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on Sept. 14.
With Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel suspended for the first half in relation to the NCAA’s probe into autograph signings, Texas A&M still pummeled Rice 52-31. Manziel threw for 94 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 19 yards, all in the second half.
More eye-popping, though, was that A&M’s defense gave up 509 total yards, 306 on the ground.