A Fine Christion Jones Leads Win

Offense. Defense. Special teams. It takes all three, and Alabama showed all three in a 35-10 win over Virginia Tech to open the 2013 season at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. The number one ranked Crimson Tide was particularly effective in the kicking game, and specifically touchdown returns by Christion Jones.

Alabama got its first score on a punt return by Christion Jones, who later added a kickoff return and a pass reception for touchdowns in getting the Crimson Tide off to a winning start despite some inefficiency on offense. Bama scored five touchdowns, four of them dramatic – punt return, kickoff return, interception return, and long pass, to go along with a short run.

Alabama has an open date next Saturday and will return to action Saturday, Sept. 14, in the most anticipated game of the season when the Crimson Tide takes on Texas A&M. CBS will televise the game beginning at 2:30 p.m. CDT from College Station. The Aggies opened the season Saturday with a 52-31 win over Rice. A&M had seven players suspended for the game and one – quarterback Johnny Manziel – suspended for half the game against Rice, but all will be available for Bama.

Manziel won the Heisman Trophy last year as a freshman primarily on the strength of having orchestrated a 29-24 win over Bama in Tuscaloosa, the only blemish on Alabama's national championship season.

Texas A&M will play Sam Houston State in warming up for the Tide.

Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer may be a non-Christion after Saturday. No coach in America is better known for his special teams expertise than Beamer. It had to sting him when Alabama opened the game with Christion Jones returning a 54-yard punt 72 yards for a touchdown with fewer than two minutes gone in the game and finishing off the first half with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

The first special teams score by Jones came after a 54-yard punt to the Tide 28. Although he got a few screen blocks, it was mostly Jones going on the distance on his own. Less than two minutes had elapsed when Cade Foster kicked Bama to a 7-0 lead with 13:21 to play.

Although not as dramatic, a short punt by the Hokies led to another Alabama first quarter touchdown. The 33-yard punt set the Tide up at the Virginia Tech 49. Twice the Tide had to convert on third down. A.J. McCarron hit Kevin Norwood (who didn't start the game) on a 12-yard play to the Hokies 36. Two plays later McCarron connected with Amari Cooper for a 15-yard gain as Cooper did a nice job of weaving through the middle after the catch.

T.J. Yeldon had a couple of runs for a first-and-goal at the Hokies 7, but the first of two holding calls on Cyrus Kouandjio put the Bid back at the 17. McCarron to Christion Jones gained nine and then Yeldon went for six yards to make it third-and-goal at the two.

Kouandjio moved from his left tackle position to outside of right tackle Austin Shepherd. Behind the unbalanced line, Yeldon ran it in for a 14-0 lead with 1:53 remaining. It was the only real drive of the first half by either team, consuming 49 yards on 11 plays and taking five minutes.

Virginia Tech did not roll over. The Hokies set up at their 23 after the Tide touchdown, and matched that score with a 77-yard run by Trey Edmunds. Cody Journell kicked the extra point to cut the Tide lead to 14-7.

Alabama's offense stalled after its next possession, but the defense stepped up with a score. After punting the Hokies back to their 32, on second down safety Vinnie Sunseri picked off a short Logan Thomas pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown with 14:04 left in the first half. Foster's PAT made it Alabama 21, Virginia Tech 7.

A rare McCarron interception – probably made possible when his intended receiver, DeAndrew White, slipped down, led to a Virginia Tech field goal. Kyle Fuller made the pick and set the Hokies up at the 34. After a first down, the drive stalled at the 22 and Journell was good on a 39-yard field goal.

Bama's lead had been cut to 21-10 with only 3:39 until intermission.

It took Christion Jones 14 seconds to get back those three points and more. He took the ensuing kickoff at the six, ran into trouble at the 28, but then broke out of a pack and went the distance for a 94-yard kickoff return for touchdown. Foster made it 28-10 at halftime.

If the first half could fairly have been said to be mostly Christion Jones, insofar as the scoring went the second half was all Christion Jones. But it wasn't much.

The second two quarters brought only one touchdown, by Alabama.

Jones started it with a 19-yard punt return to the Tech 47. After Yeldon ran for 11 yards, the drive seemed to be in trouble facing third-and-12 at the 38.

McCarron, had completed only 9-20 passes for only 72 yards to that point, connected with Jones at the goalline and Christion had his third touchdown of the game. It was 35-10 and that was it for scoring.

Alabama had only 11 first downs in the game, but the Hokies had only 7.

Bama had 38 rushes for only 96 yards, while the Hokies had 33 runs for 153 yards.

The Tide completed 10 of 24 passes with one interception and one touchdown for 110 yards. Tech managed only 5-26 with an interception for a mere 59 yards.

Bama's total offense was 62 plays for 206 yards, Virginia Tech's 59 plays for 212 yards.

In short, it was the kind of game that leaves a lot for Nick Saban and his coaches to use as a teaching experience before going against Texas A&M.

There were impressive parts of special teams play. Cody Mandell punted nine times for a 46.4 average with a long punt of 61 yards and put four inside the 20. He was working on a nice return number before the Hokies returned a 59-yard punt for 42 yards – with Mandell having to make the tackle.

Cade Foster made all five of the extra point kicks. Bama did not try a field goal. Foster and Adam Griffith split kickoff duties and Bama held the Hokies to an average of 16 yards per return.

But it was Jones who was the star with four punt returns for 100 yards and two kickoff returns for 109 yards.

Yeldon was the leading rusher with 17 carries for 75 yards. McCarron completed 10-23 passes for 110 yards with one touchdown and one interception and was sacked four times. Amari cooper had four catches for 38 yards.

Defensively, Sunseri had the interception return for a touchdown. Ed Stinson was in on eight tackles, C.J. Mosley on seven, HaHa Clinton-Dix on six, and Landon Collins five.

There were no fumbles in the game. Bama was good on 6-17 third down situations, Virginia Tech 3-17. Time of possession was essentially even, Bama 30:45, Hokies 29:15.

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