The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide didn't exactly play like two-time reigning national champions, but they still dominated the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Benefiting heavily from a phenomenal three-touchdown performance by receiver and lethal return man Christion Jones, Nick Saban's bunch pummeled the unranked Hokies 35-10 on Saturday in the 2013 regular season opener.
Most people who follow the college game are well aware that Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer is known for finding a way to get the edge on special teams.
On this day, though, 'Bama beat Beamer at his own game.
Jones, a junior, put the Tide on the board before their offense even took a snap, darting past a hapless Hokies coverage team untouched to the end zone for a 72-yard score:
It was a good thing Jones and the Alabama coverage units came to play, because the offense was out of sync, netting just 206 total yards for the game.
The only exception to that futulity occured in the first quarter, when an 11-play, 49-yard drive was capped off by super sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon running it in from 11 yards away to give his team a 14-0 advantage.
One intriguing storyline entering this showdown was the quarterback battle between Alabama's AJ McCarron and his dual-threat counterpart Logan Thomas. To say the least, neither had one of their best performances.
McCarron completed just 10 of 24 passes for 110 yards, a touchdown and an interception. That didn't even compare to how putrid Thomas was in connecting on just five of 26 throws for 59 yards and a pick.
The Tide's defense was largely responsible for stunting the Hokies' anemic aerial attack, suffocating receivers with press coverage and allowing minimal separation. Still, it was another disappointing effort from Thomas, who has all the physical tools to be a top-flight NFL prospect.
CBSSports.com's Rob Rang was unrestrained in his sharp criticism of Thomas despite spotty protection and a scarcity of playmakers to target:
After Trey Edmunds scampered for an electrifying 77-yard TD run, Thomas threw a pick-six to Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, which put the Hokies in a 21-7 hole.
Their one opportunity to close the gap came off a McCarron interception in the second quarter, which the Hokies got three points out of. Unfortunately, they saw Jones field the ensuing kickoff and take it 94 yards to the house:
It looked as though Jones was bottled up, but he clearly had other plans in putting the Tide on his back. Jones made McCarron's day a whole lot better by snagging a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter, effectively making him the Week 1 Heisman winner, according to B/R's Matt Miller:
The long touchdowns by Jones provided short bursts of entertainment, as did the long run by Edmunds to keep it close in the early going.
Otherwise, though, this was a snooze of a game defined by offensive ineptitude and surprisingly sloppy play from Alabama, who didn't look like a team capable of a national title three-peat.
Let's take a look at some grades from the game.
AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama: C-
Credit the Hokies for shutting down the physical running game the Tide usually boast, but this can't be viewed as anything but a setback for McCarron.
The senior should have been much crisper, and often made uncharacteristically questionable decisions under duress. One has to wonder if there truly was more to the fact that McCarron was spotted a day before the game in a walking boot.
With a week off to fine-tune ahead of an epic showdown with Texas A&M in two weeks, McCarron should be able to right the ship and find top target Amari Cooper with more regularity.
Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech: D
As mentioned before, the protection wasn't great and his receivers could barely get remotely open, but that doesn't excuse the frequent inaccuracy Thomas displayed.
When his skills players did have space, Thomas consistently threw the ball on the wrong shoulder or in a bad location for his receivers to make the catch. Drops did hurt Thomas' numbers a little, but he really wasn't effective by any stretch of the imagination.
Thomas missed Demitri Knowles on nine of 11 targets, including a deep pass after Jones' first touchdown that could have swung the momentum back in the Hokies' favor.
Christion Jones, WR, Alabama: A+
The junior was clearly the standout performer of the day, and looks to have emerged as a legitimate No. 2 receiver for the Crimson Tide.
Jones led the team with 47 yards receiving in addition to his work on special teams. While he was the beneficiary of tremendous blocking, it did take an extraordinary effort to break out of the pile on the kickoff return touchdown.
it's often the little things and hustle that separates contenders from pretenders. On Saturday, Jones encompassed that in a big way. Special teams is the most under-appreciated phase of football, but the devastating effect a big play can have on the opponent is undeniable. Jones proved that—twice.
Virginia Tech defense: A
On the ESPN telecast, Beamer was interviewed at halftime and expressed disappointment over the coverage units letting Jones into the end zone twice, because he felt his team was playing their hearts out.
That was definitely true on defense, because the Hokies held Alabama's running game very much in check. That at least raises some questions about how effective McCarron can be when he doesn't have an established ground attack to support him.
It is unfortunate that the offense couldn't respond to the explosive return touchdowns Jones had. Otherwise, this unit played well enough to compete with the No. 1 team in the land.
The Tide will look to sharpen up on offense after a week off in preparing to travel to College Station on Sept. 14. In the hostile environment, they'll attempt to avenge last year's only loss to 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies.
It looks as though the Hokies could be in for a long season, but hopefully a lesser quality opponent in Western Carolina in the home opener can get them back on track next Saturday.
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