Somehow, Alabama’s victory in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game didn’t feel like that 42-14 romp over Notre Dame last season’s Bowl Championship Series final, the Tide’s last non-conference game.
It didn’t feel dominating, a la Alabama’s last kickoff classic, a 41-14 humbling of then-No. 8 Michigan in last season’s Cowboy Classic.
Saturday’s game wasn’t one in which Alabama’s offense was overpowering. Far from it, and a rebuilt offensive line made rushing yards and explosive plays hard to come by.
Alabama’s defense scored a touchdown on Vinny Sunseri’s interception return and held Tech to 10 points, but a defense that prides itself on not giving up explosive plays gave up Trey Edmunds’ 77-yard run on a simple read-option handoff.
The Hokies could have had more big plays, but for Tech receivers dropping the bombs that Logan Thomas didn’t overthrow.
Alabama won by an impressive score Saturday because it has an abundance of playmakers.
Take away the deep ball to wide receiver Amari Cooper like Tech did with deep-safety tactics, and slot receiver Christion Jones beat single coverage for a 38-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.
Take away running back T.J. Yeldon, as Tech with otherwise front-loaded defense, and there’s Jones again, doing on special teams what Alabama’s offense couldn’t on this night.
By holding Yeldon to 75 yards rushing and Cooper to 38 yards receiving, Tech made Alabama go deeper into its stable of playmakers. Jones was up to it and made an otherwise close game look not to close with a punt and kickoff return for touchdown.
Alabama became the first team to score on a kickoff, punt and interception return against Virginia Tech in Frank Beamer’s 27-year run as head coach.
Based on records going back as far as 1944, Jones became the first Alabama player to score on multiple return/non-offensive touchdowns in a game.
In other words, odds say it won’t happen often, and Alabama’s offense must improve to recover that overpowering look it had a year ago.
Note to Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier: other teams will try Tech’s two-pronged defensive strategy, so bring more intermediate passes next time. Let Cooper, Kenny Bell and company slice between the defensive layers and make catch-and-run plays.
Don’t make quarterback AJ McCarron stand in the pocket long, because four Tech sacks and 12 total tackles for loss say he has a rebuilt offensive line around him.
The offensive line was the biggest concern to come out of Saturday’s game, and there’s already been a change. Senior Kellen Williams replaced left guard Arie Kouandjio in the second half.
Meanwhile, brother Cyrus Kouandjio came away with two holding penalties at left tackle.
It showed that Alabama’s offensive line missed 2012 stars Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker, all NFL draft picks.
It showed when Alabama whiffed against a defense known for blitzes, stunts, overloads and other risky tactics under Bud Foster, one of college football’s most decorated defensive coordinators.
It showed with Alabama gaining just 96 rushing yards. Yeldon had just 22 at halftime and finished with 75.
It showed with four sacks against McCarron, and the complexion of Alabama’s season changes dramatically, if he ever sustains an injury that keeps him out of action.
Alabama’s biggest offensive question mark in the offseason remains so, and that’s the biggest reason why this kickoff classic didn’t feel so classic this time.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.