Turns out all No. 1 Alabama needed to beat Virginia Tech was two touches by wide receiver Christion Jones.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior opened Alabama’s scoring with a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown after Virginia Tech’s first possession, then followed it up with a pinball-like 94-yard kickoff return for a score late in the second quarter to spearhead the Tide’s 35-10 win over the Hokies in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
Jones added a third touchdown in the third quarter, a 38-yard catch from A.J. McCarron as he became the first player in Alabama history to score on a kick return, punt return and reception in the same game.
Before the rest of the country despairs over yet another weapon emerging for the Tide, it might do well to consider that Alabama was very pedestrian on offense, compiling just 206 total yards and 11 first downs. McCarron looked rusty, completing 10 of 22 passes for 110 yards and a pick to go with his touchdown strike to Jones. Bama rushed for just 96 yards (43 of it in garbage time) and averaged 2.5 yards per carry.
“We have too many good players and too many skill players on offense not to be more consistent,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said afterward. “We’ve got plenty of things to improve on.”
Take away Jones and Tech might’ve had a chance to pull the upset. The Hokies played inspired defense all night, pressuring McCarron and clogging running lanes. But outside of a 77-yard touchdown run by running back Trey Edmunds, the offense didn’t provide much relief. Quarterback Logan Thomas was abysmal, completing five of 26 passes for 59 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri.
The good news for Tech was that its defense was able to go toe-to-toe with the Tide’s offense for most of the game. And the running game showed some life, so if Thomas can come around, the Hokies might have a chance to make some noise in the ACC.
The discouraging news for the rest of college football was that Bama played as poorly on offense as it ever has under Saban and still won by 25.
The sloppiness of Alabama’s play reveals just how hard it is to maintain focus game-in and game-out in this sport, no matter how talented the program. There’s a reason no team has ever three-peated as national champ. But it takes a little luck, too, and Alabama was fortunate to win so handily despite playing so far below its potential.