The highly-touted offense of Alabama, considered possibly the greatest assembly of offensive talent ever for Nick Saban, was the least effective element for the Crimson Tide in their 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on Saturday.
But it didn’t matter, thanks to Christion Jones.
The first time Alabama touched the ball the result was a score, a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jones. Later in the second quarter, Jones returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown. For an added bonus, he scored the only touchdown of the second half from either team, catching a 38-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron.
“It's every kid's dream to do something like that,” Jones said.
Jones is the first Alabama player - since the school’s records started in 1944 - to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. He is also the first FBS player to do so since 2006.
Saban was impressed with Jones and the special teams play as a whole.
“He had some opportunities last year that he learned a lot from, and he worked hard in the offseason,” Saban said. “We want our return game to be a weapon for us. It certainly was tonight.”
The Alabama defense played as expected, leading to Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas only completing 5-of-26 passes for 59 yards and an interception - which was returned for a touchdown by Alabama linebacker Vinnie Sunseri.
Alabama’s weakest link was its offense. This was primarily due to the offensive line.
The front seven of Virginia Tech’s defense was constantly pressuring McCarron. Running back T.J. Yeldon didn’t have his usual acres of running room and McCarron didn’t have his usual time to set up in the pocket and go through his progressions.
“They just kind of outplayed us up front,” Saban said. “We didn't handle their pressure very well and we didn't handle their movement very well.”
Alabama only had 205 total yards of offense and 11 first downs – which excludes Jones’ special teams play - and the entire team was held under 100 yards rushing. McCarron had 110 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception after averaging over 210 yards passing per game last season.
Though the line was a primary cause for concern for Alabama’s offense, Saban refused to blame it outright.
“You can't put all of this stuff on the offensive line,” Saban said. “It's really all about the offensive team all doing things the way they need to in order to execute together and for us to believe in one another so that we can make this work.”
Alabama scored in all three phases of the game - offense, defense and special teams - and once it can get their offensive line struggles handled, the Crimson Tide will be the powerhouse that everyone expects.
Alabama has a bye week next Saturday, with a trip to College Station, Texas to visit Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M coming on Sept. 14.