Sure, Alabama rolled past Virginia Tech 35-10 on Saturday in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, but the Crimson Tide wasn’t the juggernaut it has been in recent years during these neutral-site season openers. Save for a breakout game by wide receiver Christion Jones, the Tide was average, statistically speaking, gaining just 206 yards of total offense.
“We have to create an identity as a team,” Tide coach Nick Saban said. “I don’t think that we did that maybe in all phases of the game today.”
The Tide’s retooled offensive line struggled and often left quarterback AJ McCarron running for his life. McCarron was sacked four times and passed for just 110 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Still, McCarron said he was “proud of his guys” for “weathering the storm.”
Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio noted that the Tide wasn’t fully prepared for Virginia Tech’s defensive pressure.
“They were pretty aggressive and they moved around a lot,” Kouandjio said. “They had a lot of blitzes and things we didn’t work on as much as we should have. But I’m glad we came out with a victory.”
Kouandjio was hit with two holding calls. His brother Arie was replaced at left guard by Kellen Williams on the second series in the third quarter.
“The biggest problem was that this was our first game and a lot of guys didn’t how it was going to be,” Cyrus said. “The calls were a little iffy. … It was a good test for us to see where we’re at.”
Saban questioned the offensive line’s run blocking ability following the Tide’s first scrimmage of preseason practice and the unit didn’t do much to ease the coaches’ concerns.
T.J. Yeldon, the Tide’s leading rusher, ran for 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. The offensive line failed to create holes consistently for the runners, as the Tide rushed for just 96 yards with five running backs getting carries.
“Everything out there seemed like a blur, it happened so fast,” right guard Anthony Steen said.
Defensively, the Tide uncharacteristically gave up a 77-yard touchdown run to Hokies tailback Trey Edmunds. Edmunds racked up 132 rushing yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
“They just caught us in a bad play,” Tide linebacker C.J. Mosley “We just have to make sure we hit our gaps. They made a big play.”
Still, despite all of the miscues, the Tide’s defense stifled Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas all night. Thomas completed 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards. And outside of Edmunds' long run, the Hokies gained just 135 yards of total offense.
The defense, along with the special teams, carried the Tide for much of the night. Jones returned a punt 72 yards for a first-quarter touchdowns, then added a 94-yard kickoff return for a score in the second period. He added a 38-yard touchdown reception in the second half.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. “They (special teams) came up with two touchdowns and our defense came up with one so that’s a game changer.”
Saban and his staff will have plenty to ride the team about heading into the bye week as the Tide prepares for its pending showdown with Texas A&M in College Station on Sept. 14.
“We’re excited (about the win), but at the same time we know we have a lot to do to improve,” safety Landon Collins said.