For the first three quarters of the Chick-Fil-A Kick Off Classic in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, the Crimson Tide dominated every stat imaginable except the one that mattered.
Trailing 17-16 at the start of the fourth quarter to a well-coached Virginia Tech team, the Crimson Tide faced a critical 3rd-and-1 at their own 38 yard line. With everyone in attendance expecting a Tide run, Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain instead went to a play action pass with Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy throwing to Julio Jones on a crossing pattern.
The normally reliable star receiver dropped the McElroy pass, forcing an Alabama punt.
After picking up a first down, the Hokies faced a 3rd-and-1 from their own 37 yard line. Freshman Ryan Williams ground out two yards to pick up the first down, but a holding penalty nullified the run.
The holding penalty turned out to be crucial. Instead of having a first down at their own 41, the Hokies were forced to punt the ball. Javier Arenas returned the ball to near midfield for Alabama, putting the Tide in excellent field position.
That sequence of plays may have turned the game around.
Greg McElroy quickly made the Hokies pay with a 48-yard pass play on first down to wide receiver Marquis Maze. The play gave the Tide a first down at the Virginia Tech six yard line.
Tailback Mark Ingram put the Tide on top for good on the next play, scampering six yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Leading by five points, Saban opted to go the two point conversion. McElroy found tight end Colin Peek all alone in the back of the end zone, giving the Crimson Tide a 24-17 lead.
Alabama quickly stretched the lead out to 10 after recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Senior Chris Rogers stripped the ball away from the Virgina Tech return man, giving Alabama the ball at the Hokies 20 yard line.
It appeared as though Alabama would stretch the lead to 14 after Ingram rambled 16 yards to the Virgina Tech four yard line. The Hokies' talented defense stiffened, however, forcing the Tide to settle for a 20-yard field goal and a 27-17 lead.
The Hokies would score again on a spectacular 32-yard run by Williams, cutting the lead back to three points.
Alabama's offense showed no sense of panic in answering back. Ingram once again stepped up, ripping off a 39-yard run on first down. McElroy then found tight end Colin Peek for 19 yards and a first down at the Hokies 17-yard line.
Ingram found the end zone again two plays later, when McElroy hit him with a short pass which he turned upfield for a touchdown and the final points of the game.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer was quick to point out the Tide will challenge at a national level this season.
"They've got the defense. They've got the veteran kickers. Their quarterback played well for them tonight. Their running back played well. They've got some great receivers," Beamer said. "They've got it. We played one of the great teams in the country, and just didn't play well enough to match them."
Beamer wasn't down on his team, though, pointing out that their youth probably hurt them some against the Tide.
"We can get there," Beamer said. "We're just a little bit too young right now, but we're going to be a little bit older next week."
Alabama coach Nick Saban had a mixed bag of praise for his team saying, "We actually played better than the score is. We made a lot of mistakes, but we responded better to adversity than maybe we ever have."
Alabama started off the game moving the ball well. They were unable to finish off their drives against a strong Virginia Tech team. Instead, they had to settle for two field goals and a 6-0 lead.
They play "Beamer Ball" at Virginia Tech, though, and a large part of that has to do with special teams. In the last decade, the Hokies lead the country in non-offensive touchdowns with 72.
They would add another one to that total when Dyrell Roberts returned a Leigh Tiffin kick 98 yards to give the Hokies a 7-6 first quarter lead.
The Tide would take the lead back later in the first quarter, after a fumbled punt was recovered by Alabama long snapper Brian Selman. The turnover would lead to another Tiffin field goal and give the Tide a 10-9 lead.
Virginia Tech took the lead back to start the second quarter. After picking off Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy deep in Alabama territory, the Hokies were forced to settle for a field goal and a 10-9 lead.
Alabama would follow the Hokie field goal with it's first touchdown drive of the day. Moving the ball 76 yards in 11 plays, the Tide took a 16-10 lead. The drive was capped by Roy Upchurch's 19-yard touchdown run with just over three minutes left in the first half.
Virginia Tech would not let up though. The Hokies took advantage of three Alabama penalties and a blown coverage to move the ball down to the Alabama one yard line, where Ryan Williams would score his first touchdown of the game. The touchdown gave the Hokies a 17-16 halftime lead.
Surprisingly enough, Alabama defensive end Brandon Deaderick played in the game after being shot earlier in the week when he and a female acquaintance were held up. Deaderick made one tackle despite a heavily-bandaged arm covering the bullet wound.
"I could have been in a wheelchair, in a funeral home, instead of the Dome right now," said Deaderick.
This was Alabama's second consecutive season-opening win in the Georgia Dome. The Tide dismantled Clemson 34-10 to open last year's campaign. Alabama knew they were facing a much stronger team in this years opener in Atlanta.
"We knew we would have to earn it against these guys," said Saban, "and we had to earn it.
The Tide not only struggled against the Hokies but against itself, as well. Turnovers, crucial penalties, and poor execution left Virginia Tech within striking range.
"We were not only punching them, but we were punching ourselves," said Saban. "It's hard to win the fight with so many mistakes and so many errors."
As for the Hokies, they know they still have a lot to play for this season. Still the favorite to win the ACC for the third season in a row, Virginia Tech free safety Kam Chancellor feels they still have a lot to play for on a national level.
"Game one doesn't make or break your season," said Chancellor. "You've got to go back and get better at fundamentals and take it one day at a time."
For Saban apparently, one day at a time is stretching things out far too long.
"You have to create six seconds of hell each play, and we did that tonight."
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