ATLANTA — Great teams find creative ways to win. And while Alabama’s 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech was not the typical ground-control exhibition that was a hallmark of the Crimson Tide’s last three national championships, Alabama did score two offensive touchdowns, one defensive touchdown and two touchdowns on special teams.
Three of those scores came from one player, junior receiver and kicking team specialist Christion Jones who provided most of the afternoon’s highlights. Jones was responsible for both special-teams touchdowns, one with a 72-yard punt return in the first two minutes of the game and the second with a 94-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. Then, in the third quarter, he scored again, catching a 38-yard AJ McCarron touchdown pass to put the Tide up 25.
In addition to being the single-most productive player for either team, Jones made history, becoming the first Alabama player ever to score two kick-return touchdowns in a single game.
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His first came before a lot of the fans had found their seats. After winning the toss and electing to receive, Alabama’s defense held the Hokies on three consecutive plays, forcing the punt that Jones broke for the score. He did it by patiently waiting on blocks for 15 yards, and then cutting back to the middle where he simply outran the bulk of the Hokie defenders.
“There were great blocking schemes called and my special-teams blockers really came through for me,” Jones said afterward. “I owe this to them.”
His second score was equally impressive.
After the Hokies scored a field goal, Jones caught the ensuing Mitchell Ludwig kickoff on the 6-yard line and ran into his first would-be Hokie tackler at the 20. Then, the 5-foot-11, 185-pound receiver broke out of a pile and scampered up the sideline gaining separation from a crowd of pursuers as he crossed the goal line.
“It looked like the play was over, but guys kept blocking and we kept playing and that allowed me to break free,” Jones said. “It was called up the left sideline and that’s where all the blockers lined up, so it worked perfect.”
As much as he deflected attention from himself and heaped praise on his teammates, Jones’ every touch became an adventure on Saturday. Late in the third quarter he fielded a punt at the 34-yard line and scampered 19 yards across midfield before anyone touched him.
Four plays and a minute-and-a-half later, Jones got behind a defender and caught a McCarron pass for his third touchdown, the final of the game.
Alabama also scored off an interception early in the second quarter when defensive back Vinnie Sunseri broke on an ill-advised Logan Thomas pass and caught it in full sprint. No Hokie touched Sunseri as he ran 38 yards for the score.
But turnovers and defensive scores are expected from Alabama. The performance by Jones caught most people by surprise, including Jones himself.
“It’s every kid’s dream to come in and have a night like that,” Jones said with a broad smile when asked if he could have imagined something this special. “I’m going to celebrate right now. We have a 24-hour (celebration) rule, so I’m going to enjoy it and then get ready for Week 2.”
The entire Alabama team will have plenty to time to reflect on the performance, although some will celebrate less than others.
Most disconcerting for every player and coach at Alabama was the lack of production on the ground. The Crimson Tide finished with only 96 yards on the ground, the bulk of those yards coming from sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who ran 17 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.
But the lack of yardage was not the fault of the runners — they were only as good as the men blocking for them. And in Week 1, the Tide offensive line struggled to pick up blitzes and hold their blocks.
“There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of things we have to go back and work to correct,” said veteran offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. “Some of the (new) guys (on the line) just didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what it was going to be like. Good thing is, they know now. And we got a bye week so we can get our legs under us and get back to work to get ready for Texas A&M.”
Coach Saban agreed with that assessment.
“I think playing a good opponent makes your team realize what they need to do to improve,” Saban said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in our locker room that’s satisfied with the way they played … but I think everybody realizes that we need to improve.”