Posted September 01, 2013

No. 1 Alabama routs Virginia Tech 35-10, but Tide has plenty of room to improve

Alabama Crimson Tide, Nick Saban, SEC, Virginia Tech Hokies
Christion Jones

Alabama’s Christion Jones scored on a punt return, a kickoff return and a 38-yard pass from AJ McCarron in Week 1. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For more Week 1 college football coverage, check out SI.com’s coverage of Clemson-Georgia and LSU-TCU and our early, midday and late Snap Judgments.

ATLANTA — They can get better.

That notion might not have been obvious during No. 1 Alabama’s 35-10 throttling of Virginia Tech on Saturday, as the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on offense, on defense and on special teams. It might not have been clear as ‘Bama junior receiver Christion Jones outscored the Hokies all by himself — three touchdowns to one — or as coordinator Kirby Smart’s swarming defense repeatedly left Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas searching for answers. The Hokies appeared vastly overmatched by the two-time defending national champions, who enter this fall as consensus favorites to three-peat.

But despite Alabama’s dominance, fans at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game hardly witnessed perfection from the boys from Tuscaloosa. There are plenty of adjustments that need to be made. And that’s scary — this team can get much better.

“We have to create an identity as a team,” Saban said. “I don’t think that we did that maybe in all phases of the game today. But at least we know where we are. We know what we need to do to improve. I feel like we have a lot of players on our team that did a lot of good things and we have some players that probably could do a little better, play with a little more consistency.”

Saban is notorious for nitpicking, never mind the fact that his Crimson Tide teams have won three of the past four national titles. But the score of this game could have been even more lopsided had Alabama been a little more polished. For one, Tech’s defense kept ‘Bama’s attack in check for much of the game, as the Hokies actually outgained the Crimson Tide 212 to 206. Only two of Alabama’s five touchdowns came on offense, and quarterback AJ McCarron was hardly a game-changer, completing 10-of-23 attempts with one touchdown and one interception.

McCarron had trouble dealing with Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller for most of the night. Fuller had two pass breakups and picked off McCarron midway through the second quarter, a turnover that led to a Hokies field goal. It was an uncommon miscue for the senior, who led the nation in passing efficiency and threw only three interceptions in 2012; his first pick last year didn’t come until the Tide’s 10th game against Texas A&M. “It’s the first game, it’s not all going to be perfect,” McCarron said. “I’ve got to get the ball out faster. You can put that on me.”

The question marks surrounding the Crimson Tide’s offensive line also remain. “They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth,” Saban said of Virginia Tech’s defensive line. Left guard Arie Kouandjio, center Ryan Kelly and right tackle Austin Shepherd stepped in to replace departed starters Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker on what many believed was the best offensive line in the nation last season. But the new unit struggled, giving up four sacks and repeatedly failing to give McCarron enough time in the pocket. Even veteran left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, a starter a year ago, was flagged for holding twice. “We didn’t handle their pressure or movement very well,” Saban said.

At halftime, the coach blasted his team’s work on offense. “We have no consistency and sustainability on offense, so we are going to have to do a better job of being able to control the ball,” Saban said.

Alabama’s defense flummoxed Virginia Tech quarterback Thomas — he finished 5-of-26 for only 59 yards – but it showed some weaknesses against the Hokies’ running game. Redshirt freshman tailback Trey Edmunds carried 20 times for 135 yards, scoring Tech’s lone touchdown with a 77-yard scamper in the first quarter. “We can’t do that,” Crimson Tide cornerback Vinnie Sunseri said. “One big touchdown run can lead to another big touchdown run. … We have a lot of little things we need to improve on.”

The Crimson Tide still look the part of a potential title contender, of course, and the 25-point victory is certainly impressive. But ‘Bama wasn’t as good as it could have been. On Saturday, it managed to dominate Virginia Tech without delivering a truly dominant performance.

The Tide could run into problems in SEC play if it is overly dependent on Jones. But here’s the bigger question: If this is how Alabama plays when not everything is working well, what happens when it puts everything together?

That’s the challenge facing the rest of college football as it looks to stop the Crimson Tide’s quest for a third consecutive national title. ‘Bama has a bye week before traveling to College Station to face Texas A&M on Sept. 14, a meeting long billed as this season’s must-watch game. Saban is tasked with preventing complacency among his players — who just manhandled the Hokies while barely stepping on the accelerator.

Leading up to Saturday’s game, Saban showed his players video of Michael Jordan lifting the Chicago Bulls to a comeback — and a three-peat — in the 1998 NBA Finals. With a roster full of players sporting BCS title rings, the coach wants to light a fire underneath his team. “What did he have to prove?” Saban said of Jordan. “That was his sixth championship, the third time they won three in a row. This guy is playing at 35-years-old like there’s no tomorrow. It was interesting for a guy that had nothing to prove, be out there playing like he had everything to prove.

“That’s what our team needs to do. That’s what we need to do as a team so we can make the improvement we need to make.”

If that improvement happens, the rest of college football may stand little chance. Alabama rolled Virginia Tech with an off game. There’s no telling what this 2013 squad can do if it’s on.

11 comments
rotosportsbook
rotosportsbook

Can get better?  How about needs to get better.  As good as Christion Jones may be, I don't think a team with national title aspirations, check that, expectations, should be that reliant on DEF/ST TDs.  Those won't be there every week.  206 yds is not going to cut it.


The idea that "the Hokies appeared vastly overmatched by the two-time defending national champions" is true, except for the half of the game where Alabama was on offense.

GT500456
GT500456

If Alabama can get past Johnny Autograph, they will be in the SEC title game.

OK
OK

I loathe Alabama, but here's hoping The Tide's defense breaks both of Johnny Manziel's hands.

Aggie81
Aggie81

We all see you in two weeks...  on behalf of the 12th man, I'd like to be the first to welcome you to Aggieland.   If you have some time on your hand, stop by the Dixie Chicken, enjoy the food, play some dominoes, have a long neck, or go by the Bush library.. 

And College Game Day will be broadcasting live on Saturday morning.


ezwriter69
ezwriter69

2.5 yards per carry running, 4.5 yards per attempt passing. Horrible.

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

2 offensive TD's isn't exactly dominating. No chance for all the TD's on special teams against A&M.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@OK Always amusingly disturbing to hear from the low-enders whose lives are so miserable that the best they can do to get through their day is to wish injury on a college kid.  Well done.

jeffcooper71
jeffcooper71

@WHO*IS*ESPN True about the offense. However, did you see the special teams returns?  If VT could surround Christian and he still broke free, why could he not do the same against A&M?  From what I saw of A&M they were not all that impressive.  They gave up 31 points to Rice.  And do you think they are going to hang 53 on Alabama?  I don't see how Alabama does not score at least 35 (if not a lot more) on that defense. Also, I do not see Johnny "I can't control my emotions" scoring 35 on Bama.

OK
OK

@JoeCabot

A painful injury, most painful, to a Complete Punk.

OK
OK

@JoeCabot

Cabot,

With any luck on your way home from the game, your family vehicle will be hit by a large SUV driven by a bunch of drunken, wealthy A&M frat boys and the resulting accident will take out at least one child in your family.

Better still, the punks' daddies will own the county and its judges in which the accident occurs, and you won't get spit from the insurance company. In fact, the judge will make you pick up their burdensome court costs.

Go team!

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@OK Thanks for confirming my original post.   The idea that you are completely envious of a college kid is most humorous.