Saturday night, the 2009 edition of the Alabama Crimson Tide kicked off the season with a win in the Georgia Dome over seventh-ranked Virginia Tech, 34-24.
At first glance, the final score would not come as much of a shock to most people. Alabama was favored by a touchdown or so and ended up winning by 10. Ho-hum, good win, solid start.
What the first glance would fail to show is the fact that the Tide statistically dismantled Virginia Tech.
Over the last five years, Virginia Tech leads the nation in yards allowed per game. That would be a five-year window. Five-year statistical trends are not flukes. Head coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster have a proven scheme. They don't give up many yards. They don't give up many first downs. They don't give up many points.
When the dust had settled late Saturday night in Atlanta (and by dust I mean tiny little pieces of artificial grass), Alabama had rolled up 498 yards, 22 first downs, and 34 points.
Alabama's offense has been traditionally run-heavy. A bruising offensive line opening holes for battering backs, gaining three or four yards at a time until the defense is worn out.
Saturday, Alabama ran the ball with success, to be sure. Tailbacks Mark Ingram and Roy Upchurch combined for 240 yards on 33 carries. That's a healthy 7.3 yards per run.
The 268 total rushing yards would have been considered a success against the feared Hokie defense. The 230 yards passing, on the other hand? Those sort of numbers and that kind of balance have not been witnessed, at least against a quality opponent, in many years. If ever.
Early in the game, Alabama pounded the middle with marginal success and assigned McElroy comfortable, confidence-building passes. A couple of early throws to Julio Jones caused Foster and company to commit multiple defensive backs to Jones to try and take the threat away. For the most part, Jones was rendered to little more than the role of decoy for the remainder of the game.
A new development, however, was McElroy's willingness to look away from Jones and find opportunities for a trio of talented receivers in Darius Hanks, Marquis Maze, and newcomer and Georgia Tech transfer Colin Peek.
While few would find fault with a quarterback locking in on a receiver with Jones' sort of talent, what McElroy showed Saturday was that Alabama has no shortage of playmakers. Hanks and Maze each had diving, over-the-shoulder catches to extend drives and set up scores. Peek emerged as a possession receiver, grabbing three passes for 37 yards, not including the pass for a two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter.
The difference in Alabama's offense this year and the 2008 version is not in talent. In fact, I would have to say that, at this point in the season, the talent level overall in 2008 was a little higher, factoring in the likes of Glen Coffee, Andre Smith, and Nick Walker.
The change has more to do with the fact that this system and this quarterback produce more opportunities for more players. Jones and Ingram will continue to bear the bulk of the offensive weight, but Alabama proved Saturday that production can come from many different angles.
There will be plenty for Nick Saban to complain about. Too many penalties, multiple turnovers, sluggish red-zone performance to name a few. However, if a 500-yard outburst against Virginia Tech is a harbinger of things to come, look for Alabama to light up the scoreboard in a fashion that we haven't seen since...
I am 30 years of age, and I believe that this offense has more potential than any I have seen at Alabama in my lifetime. Now, I know that potential is worth about as much the Opelika News crowning a national champion, but it is an exciting proposition to those of us that have always thought that 27 points and 350 total yards qualified as an outburst.
Times are changing, apparently. As it turns out, watching your team roll up 500 yards on somebody is just as much fun as I thought it would be. Here's to hoping that this is the beginning of something special.