By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The big stage is quickly becoming the best place for Alabama to put up big numbers against what are generally regarded as some of the biggest programs in the country.
Including two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games at the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech and last year's Cowboy Classic at Cowboys Stadium versus Michigan, the top-ranked Tide have shown no mercy to their top-tiered competition in their last seven season openers.
Toss Alabama’s 35 points Saturday against the Hokies into the mix, and the Tide have crushed opening opponents by a combined score of 292-74 during coach Nick Saban's tenure.
With the eventual 35-10 Week 1 victory, Alabama improved to 63-3 under Saban when leading at halftime, 12-1 all-time against Virginia Tech and 15-5-1 in domed stadiums. The Tide also increased their win streak on the road, which includes neutral-site matchups, to 15.
% Fresh faces: There were six players — offensive linemen Arie Kouandjio, Ryan Kelly and Austin Shepherd, defensive lineman Jeoffrey Pagan, defensive back Jarrick Williams and long snapper Cole Mazza — who had their first collegiate starts for Alabama on Saturday, as well a host of young backups and reserves who received playing time late when the Tide was well on their way to toppling Virginia Tech.
So when Saban was asked about “the several new guys in there tonight,” it should come as no surprise he didn’t exactly know how to answer.
“New guys where? We had them all over the place,” Saban quipped with a laugh. “Can you be more specific? If I started to go through every young guy that played tonight, everybody would leave. Who do want to know about?”
When narrowed down to the new-look offensive line, which allowed quarterback A.J. McCarron to be sacked four times and struggled to create rushing room for T.J. Yeldon and the team’s other tailbacks, Saban’s response was much more serious.
“I don’t think we’re talking about the inexperienced guys not playing well,” he said. “I think we’re talking about the entire group realizing they need to play a little bit better together, be a little more physical.
“We have too good of skilled players not to give them more opportunities to make plays in the game. I’m not going to single out young guys. I think the entire group needs to do a better job.”
% On the non-offensive: The last time Alabama had three non-offensive touchdowns in a game came against Georgia in 1995. Christion Jones was responsible for two of those scores Saturday — one on a 72-yard punt return and another on an electric 94-yard kickoff return — while Vinnie Sunseri — whose 38-yard pick-six marked the first touchdown of his career — accounted for the third.
Jones became the first Tide player to record two returns/non-offensive touchdowns since 1944 and the first player in the Football Bowl Subdivision to sport a score on a punt and kickoff return since 2006. His 72-yard punt return on Alabama’s very first touch of the season bumped the Tide’s streak of games they’ve scored in to 157, the longest in program history.
Jones was named the Southeastern Conference’s special teams player of the week on Monday.
% Don’t mess with this defense: With Virginia Tech gaining just 212 yards of total offense, Alabama’s defense has now held opposing teams under 300 yards of total offense 53 times in 82 games under Saban.
Most of that Hokie total came on a busted 77-yard touchdown run by Trey Edmunds in the first quarter. Shortly thereafter, the Tide D buckled down for the duration and made the usually flashy Logan Thomas a non-factor.
The Virginia Tech signal-caller had just two rushing yards and completed only 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards, 34 of which came on a deep throw to D.J. Coles in the opening quarter.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.