With 6:35 left in the fourth quarter, Mark Ingram put his left foot into the right corner of the end zone, putting a stamp on the beginning of the 2009 Crimson Tide Football Campaign.
Though he didn't get to shake it all about, he did put an end to the Hokie hopes of a fourth quarter rally of their own. On the following Virginia Tech possession, the Alabama defense stiffened, holding the Hokies at bay, and the Alabama offense then ran out the clock to end the 2009 Chick Fil-A Kickoff Classic.
The 18-point fourth-quarter rally against a tough but tired Hokie defense gives hope that this year, the Alabama Crimson Tide intends to finish a game with offensive power.
In contrast, the 2008 Team signature was to grab an early lead and expect the defense to secure the win. The final two games of the 2008 season proved that formula had no answer when the opponent struck first.
Lessons to be learned in building a champion must be gleaned from the details of the game. Play by play review and analysis is what is necessary to grow through the process that Saban has initiated at the Capstone.
Lesson One: You must dominate all facets of the game. Statistics won't get you a win against a complete team.
This Virginia Tech team was a tough matchup for the Crimson Tide. Though the Tide out played the Hokies between the 20s, the "Fighting Gobblers" stayed in the match for three-and-a-half quarters with outstanding special teams play, a mark of the team from the Commonwealth State for the past 10 years.
The 98 yard kick off return in the first quarter by speedster Dyrell Roberts put the Hokies ahead on the scoreboard despite two earlier scoring drives by the Crimson Tide.
Crimson Tide fans have learned the hard way from seasons past (Shula Era) that field goals alone will not win games and scoring touchdowns when in the red zone is an essential component to a winning season.
Lesson Two: Penalties are a result of undisciplined play. You cannot be undisciplined and be a champion.
Rolando McClain hopefully learned this lesson on Saturday night, though I expect that Coach Saban will be sure to imprint this into the heart and mind of his All-American middle linebacker over the next week, and through the remainder of the 2009 season.
Leading up to the McClain meltdown, Tyrone King was penalized for a horse collar tackle on a kickoff return that gave the Hokies excellent field position late in the second quarter. On the following play from scrimmage, busted coverage in the Alabama secondary allowed Tyrod Taylor to connect on the longest pass completion of the game for the Hokie offense.
On review of the game film, after the big play, one can see that McClain was already beginning to lose his cool as he charges his own player Marquis Johnson, and dresses him down for the busted coverage. But instead of settling down and getting back into the rhythm of the game he commits an egregious act that could have gotten him ejected from the game.
A beautifully executed double team block by the VT offensive line left the Alabama middle linebacker flattened in the end zone. Out of frustration, he jumps up and hits the player who blocked him and knocks the player down. The referee drops the first flag and stands in the way of the players.
McClain continues to rant, about what, only he and the referee knows, but whatever it was, it caused McClain to push the the referee and out comes a second yellow flag. Why McClain stayed in the game, no one knows, but thankfully there were no further repercussions from the incident.
Unbeknown to McClain, on the other side of the line, his teammate Lorenzo Washington had just executed a marvelous play, penetrating through the offensive line, causing an errant pitch and loss of 19 yards. If that play had held, it would have forced a field goal attempt by VT. Instead, the Hokies poked the ball into the end zone on the next play taking a 17-16 lead which held through half-time and the third quarter.
On the night, Alabama was penalized 10 times for 83 yards. The Hokies played with more discipline, suffering from the scourge of yellow flag only six times for a total of 45 yds.
For the Crimson Tide, this statistic must improve as the season progresses if they intend to finish as champions of the SEC West and move on to a chance for the SECC.
Lesson Three: Speed and quickness are essential on defense. You must play with bridled aggression, but aggression is the key. Throw caution to the wind.
Alabama graded out A- in this category on Saturday night. While they pressured the QB all night, they did not always close down the play. With this in mind, Ty Taylor is an exceptional athlete and is just one of those guys you will not be able to completely contain.
The Alabama defense did a great job limiting the VT quarterbacks options. With exception to the big gain on the down with busted coverage, the defense was very stingy against a talented offense. They ended the evening with five sacks, but the pressure on Taylor never ceased. The one play that resulted in intentional grounding was the hallmark moment.
Holding the Hokies to 64 yards rushing and 91 yards passing on the night is an exemplary accomplishment.
Lesson Four: The offense must control the tempo of the game and allow the defense to rest.
This is a lesson learned from the 2008 campaign and must be remembered for the 2009 season and thereafter. Again, the Crimson Tide did well against the Hokies in this category, holding onto the ball 37:02 minutes, while the VT offense and special teams had possession for only 22:58 minutes of the game clock.
While McElroy should not be characterized as a field general after his debut for the Crimson Tide, he did prove to be better than a cadet, well on his way to his first star if he continues to make progress throughout the season. Growth from the first to the second half was like watching a time progression film session.
Lesson Five: This is only one game. A championship season is a body of work.
This game is over. Review the tape. See what you did right and wrong and do what you can to correct the mistakes. The season will present different challenges with every opponent. You must have a complete game in order to achieve success in the face of a variety of adverse conditions.
Work on fundamentals. Eventually you will meet a challenger who matches with you physically and mentally. When exhaustion sets in and the brain and body revert to instinct, it is the soundness of fundamentals, doing things correctly, that wins the day.
Lesson 6: For the Alabama Fans.
Fans for the opposition have just as much passion for their team and want to see their team succeed just as much as we do. Show them the respect they deserve as fellow fans of the sport. No need to be rude or disrespectful.
A personal note to the Hokie fan base
You have a great team to support, they are young and well coached. I believe your team will win the ACC title without a greater challenger than you were matched with in the season opener. The fans I met from Virginia Tech were gracious, conducted themselves with honor, and showed great passion for the Hokies.
The offense will make progress. They will not be kept at bay the entire season. The youth on your team will make progress as the season wears on and they will mature into great football players. I heard many fans complain about the quarterback.
In my opinion, Tyrod Taylor is a great athlete and a very good quarterback. The line will have to step up and give him time to deliver the ball to your play-makers.
Ryan Williams is the real deal. His highlight play that ended in a score showed incredible talent and toughness. Cody Grimm is the most courageous players I have seen, getting up from the hit Upchurch laid on him in the second quarter, but making the open field tackle. Later in the second quarter, redemption came to Grimm as he chased down Upchurch, punching out the ball as No. 5 was headed to the end zone for a score.
Virgil, Rivers and Johnson made tackle after tackle. Worilds, Hopkins, Friday and Brown kept pressure on the Alabama quarterback while Chancellor and Porch assisted in double teams on Julio Jones.
This was a tough win for Alabama.