Alabama survived a tough challenge from West Virginia and escaped with a 33-23 win in the Georgia Dome.
The Mountaineers did a good job moving the ball as quarterback Clint Trickett impressed with 365 passing yards against a normally stout defense. Receiver Kevin White also helped out with nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown.
This caused problems for the Crimson Tide defense, but the offense picked up the slack thanks to 538 yards of total offense. Alabama had the ground game working in this one as T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry combined for 239 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Blake Sims was solid in his first start at quarterback, going 24-of-33 for 250 yards and an interception. Amari Cooper was clearly the go-to option on the day with 130 receiving yards on 12 catches in the winning effort.
Few expected this game to be even close, especially considering this graphic by ESPN Stats and Info:
ESPN Football Power Index gives a big edge to Alabama over West Virginia, which has won 47 straight vs unranked teams pic.twitter.com/4ANQjz2633— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 30, 2014
However, defense ruled the first quarter as the two teams were only able to come through with a field goal each to stay tied 3-3 through the first 15 minutes of game time.
Alabama was able to get its first touchdown of the season on an impressive run by Yeldon from 15 yards out, as described by Patrick Claybon of WIAT 42 in Alabama:
Yeldon Stiff armed with his left hand and dove for the endzone off his right leg in one motion.— Patrick Claybon (@PatrickClaybon) August 30, 2014
This capped off a 14-play, 95-yard drive to get the first lead of the game. Most expected the Crimson Tide to start getting on a roll and pull away from there, but it simply did not happen.
The Mountaineers were able to answer right back on the next drive, going 75 yards in just two minutes and 13 seconds. They were able to tie the game at 10-10 thanks to an impressive catch by Kevin White in the end zone. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee was impressed:
Helluva catch from Kevin White over Bradley Sylve. WVU and Bama tied at 10.— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) August 30, 2014
At this point, ESPN's Paul Finebaum was one of many surprised by the close score:
Would someone mind telling West Virginia this game was supposed to be a blowout?— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) August 30, 2014
After Yeldon got on the board for the second time in the game with a one-yard touchdown run, West Virginia was once again able to answer immediately, this time on the ensuing kickoff. Mario Alford took it back 100 yards to tie the score at 17-17:
Alabama ended the half with a 41-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead and controlled possession for much of the game to that point, but the team was still disappointed. Head coach Nick Saban discussed his thoughts going into intermission:
Saban: "Defensively we made a lot of mental errors...we're soft" Alabama leads WVU 20-17 at half— Eye on College FBall (@EyeOnCFB) August 30, 2014
Instead of switching to Jacob Coker at halftime, Saban stuck with Sims at quarterback. Edward Aschoff of ESPN provided his thoughts on the senior's performance:
#Bama sticking with Blake Sims. Might as well. Didn't look bad in the first half. Missed some throws but kept the offense going— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) August 30, 2014
This did not matter too much early in the third quarter as the running game was able to take care of business. This time it was Henry, who came through with an impressive 19-yard run to get into the end zone and take a 27-17 lead.
Bryan Fischer of NFL.com and College GameDay each provided their thoughts on the impressive run by the 6'3", 241-pound running back:
Derrick Henry laughs at your ankle tackles.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) August 30, 2014
Once Derrick Henry gains steam, stay out of his way. #WVUvsBAMA— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) August 30, 2014
West Virginia hung around with some long drives in the second half orchestrated by Trickett. As Kevin Weidl of ESPN noted, the quarterback performed well all game:
Have to give some credit to Clint Trickett he has looked poised all game. Has come a long way and has made some big throws today.— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) August 30, 2014
Unfortunately, the Mountaineers had to keep settling for field-goal attempts and remained behind on the scoreboard. Even with a few more chances late, they could never tie the game and ended up with the narrow loss.
The effort certainly will not go unnoticed, as Lost Letterman was one of many impressed by the Mountaineers:
Win or lose, what an unbelievable fight by West Virginia. Thought Holgo was dead man walking at end of last year.— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) August 30, 2014
They fought hard but could not get enough points to pull of the massive upset over the No. 2 team in the country.
After a disappointing end to last season, Alabama is hoping it can bring home another national championship with a loaded roster on both sides of the ball. The problem is the SEC West is just as good as ever, and teams like Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M are all capable of beating the Tide when playing well.
Saban was once again short with his words after the game:
Nick Saban to @TomLuginbill: "The big thing is: it is what it is, we are what we are"— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) August 30, 2014
If this squad wants to play itself into the inaugural College Football Playoff, it will have to perform better than it did in this opening game. This will hopefully begin next week with a home game against Florida Atlantic.
On the other hand, this defeat could be considered a moral victory for unranked West Virginia. The Mountaineers will try to keep the momentum going against Towson next week before what could be a good year in the Big 12.
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