Ingram Leads Tide Over Hokies

It's a good thing Alabama straightened out that little fishing trip problem. Mark Ingram, who had been ineligible at some point during fall camp, was reinstated Wednesday. On Saturday night in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, he got fifth-ranked Alabama off to an impressive start to the 2009 season. Bama won the fourth quarter and defeated Virginia Tech, 34-24.

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Alabama sophomore tailback Mark Ingram was the primary offensive gun for the Tide as he rushed 26 times for 150 yards and one touchdown. He also caught three passes for 35 yards, including one touchdown. Both touchdowns came in the fourth quarter as Bama rallied from down 17-16.

A key for Alabama Coach Nick Saban this year has been the ability to finish, which was cited as the disappointment of a 12-2 season in 2008. Bama's 18 fourth quarter points were evidence of the players getting the message.

Ingram was named the offensive player of the game. "That number 22 can run," said Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer after the game. "He's hard to tackle."

Ingram's 150 yards rushing was his career high at Alabama. Last year he had a 113-yard effort against Arkansas State.

Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones had been ruled ineligible earlier because they had received extra benefits, reportedly for a fishing trip last spring. Alabama appealed to the NCAA eligibility committee and the two were reinstated on Wednesday.

Beamer called Alabama "one of the great teams in the country. They've got it," he said, citing the Tide's defense, running game, special teams, and quarterback play.

Alabama opens its home season next Saturday, hosting Florida International at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff will be at 6 p.m. CDT with the only television on a pay-per-view basis.

Although Alabama had some first game rust, the Crimson Tide showed plenty of strength in various areas in disposing of seventh-ranked Virginia Tech. Statistically, it was no contest. Bama had 22 first downs to 11 for the Hokies. Bama had total offense of 79 plays for 498 yards while holding the Hokies to 51 plays for 155 yards. The Tide had an advantage in time of possession of nearly a quarter, Bama holding the ball for 37:02, Virginia Tech for 22:58. Alabama successfully converted six of 17 third down opportunities, Virginia Tech two of 12.

Although Alabama's defense was clearly superior to Virginia Tech's, the Hokies' inside linebacker Jake Johnson was named the defensive player of the game as he made nine primary tackles and assisted on four others. From a statistical standpoint, jake linebacker Eryk Anders was in on eight tackles, three primary and five assists.

It was a decent first game for new starting quarterback Greg McElroy. Although he was only two-of-eight early in the game, he finished with 15-30 for 230 yards and a touchdown. He suffered one interception and was sacked twice. One of his passes went for 48 yards to Marquis Maze, reminding of that combination's shining moment in last year's win over Auburn.

Roy Upchurch also had a good game running the football with seven carries for 90 yards and one touchdown. Darius Hanks was the Tide's top receiver with three catches for 55 yards, while Julio Jones had four for 46, tight end Colin P:eek three for 37.

As had been the case to open the 2008 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Leigh Tiffin got the scoring started with a long field goal. A year ago against Clemson he kicked a 54-yard field goal to start Bama on the way to a 38-7 win. Saturday night he connected on the first of his three first quarter field goals with a 49-yard kick five minutes into the game.

Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy had been off the mark for most of his passes, but Dareus Hanks made an excellent grab of a 35-yard pass to the Hokies' 17-yard line. When Bama's offense couldn't move, Tiffin delivered a 34-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead.

That lead lasted only a moment. On the ensuing kickoff, Virginia Tech's Dyrell Roberts took it 98 yards to a touchdown and a 7-6 lead for the Hokies. (Oddy, Bama had given up a 96-yard kickoff return to Clemson's C.J. Spiller to start the second half in last year's opener.)

Virginia Tech has a well-deserved reputation for excellence in special teams play, but on a 41-yard punt by P.J. Fitzgerald to Ryan Williams the Hokies lost the ball, Williams fumbling the fair catch opportunity. Tide snapper Brian Selman recovered for Bama at the Virginia Tech 16. Again, Alabama's offense couldn't move and Tiffin kicked Bama back into the lead at 9-7 with a 32-yard field goal.

Alabama's offensive inefficiency was costly early in the second quarter when Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds hit McElroy as he was passing. The wounded duck was picked off by Antoine Hopkins at the Bama 14. The Tide defense forced a 28-yard field goal by Matt Waldron and a 10-9 Hokies lead.

Bama's offense got untracked late in the second quarter with an 11-play, 76-yard drive that took 5:24. Roy Upchurch finished the drive with a 19-yard run, punctuated by him running over a Virginia Tech defender. The drive was in danger a couple of times, but got bailed by a nice runs by Mark Ingram for 11 and 14 yards and two excellent first down catches by Julio Jones for 10 and 16 yards. The extra point by Tiffin made it Alabama 16, Virginia Tech 10 with 3:09 to play in the first half.

The Hokies got another special teams plus on the kickoff . The ball was run back to the Virginia Tech 34, but a horse collar tackle by Tyrone King (that may have saved a touchdown) gave Virginia Tech good starting position at the Hokies' 49. Virginia Tech got another break on a questionable pass interference call against the Tide on a third down incompletion.

That proved particularly costly on the following play when Tyrod Taylor connected with tailback Ryan Williams coming out of the backfield on a 43-yard gain to the Alabama five. That was the first bad play by the Tide defense. The penalty parade continued when Virginia Tech lost 10 yards on a fumbled pitchout, but Tide linebacker Rolando McClain was flagged for two major distance penalties, a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct. Those were the third and fourth costly penalties in Virginia Tech's drive. From the five the Hokies got the touchdown, a one-yard run by Williams. Tech had a 17-16 lead with just over a minute until intermission.

Alabama might have been content to run out that final time, but Upchurch ripped off a 34-yard run on first down to get Bama to the Virginia Tech 44. A pass to tight end Colin Peek gained 10 yards and then Ingram ran for 16 to the Hokies' 18-yard line. McElroy then had two incompletions and with six seconds to play in the half, Tiffin had a 36-yard field goal opportunity to give Bama the lead. Tiffin, however, pulled it left and the Hokies maintained that 17-16 halftime lead.

Halftime statistics were weighted heavily in favor of Alabama. The Tide had 11 first downs to 7 for Virginia Tech. Bama had 126 yards rushing, the Hokies minus five. Bama had 94 yards passing, Virginia Tech 73. That made total offense Alabama 41 plays for 220 yards, Virginia Tech 28 plays for 68 yards. Bama had an advantage of 17:35 to 12:25 in time of possession.

Although Alabama's opening drive of the second half fizzled at midfield, the Tide got a great punt from P.J. Fitzgerald that was downed by Selman inside the Hokies' five-yard line. Bama held forcing a punt. It was a great one by Virginia Tech's Brent Bowden. It hit the ground and went out of bounds at the Alabama 34, a 57-yard punt with no return.

Alabama appeared poised to take the lead again on the third possession of the second half. Roy Upchurch, whose two first half runs had been good for 53 yards and a touchdown, got his third touch on a first-and-15 from the Virginia Tech 42. He ripped ahead for 26 yards, but was stripped of the ball from behind at the 16, and the Hokies took over at the 11. When Alabama got the ball back next, it was at its own 10-yard line with 1:24 remaining in the third quarter.

Mark Ingram got Bama out of the hole with a 19-yard run, although it was followed by a three-yard loss to the 26. A screen pass made it third-and-one as the third quarter ended. At that point, Bama had over three times the total offense of Virginia Tech, 318 yards to 105.

It was somewhat surprising that on the first play of the fourth quarter Bama tried a pass. Julio Jones failed to come up with the low throw and the Tide had to punt to the Hokies.

Virginia Tech punted back to Bama with Javier Arenas returning 14 yards to the Tide 46. Greg McElroy and Marquis Maze, best remembered for the touchdown pass to finish the pasting of Auburn last year, connected on a 48-yard pass to the six. Ingram took it up the middle for the touchdown with 12:23 to play. McElroy passed to Peek for the two-point conversion as Peek went high at the back of the end zone to haul it in. Bama had a 24-17 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Tide reserve defensive back Chris Rogers hit Hokies return man Davon Morgan and caused a fumble, which Rogers recovered at the Virginia Tech 20.

On first down, Ingram ripped a run behind new starting left tackle James Carpenter for a 16 yards to the four. Two runs got only a yard and then McElroy was too high for Peek. Tiffin got the call and nailed his fourth field goal, a 20-yarder that gave Bama a 27-17 lead with 10:31 to play.

Alabama's kickoff team couldn't stand prosperity. A long return followed by a 15-yard penalty started the Hokies at Alabama's 37. And then the defense had a lapse. After a short pass got five, Ryan Williams ran it to the end zone. The extra point kick made it Bama 27, Virginia Tech 24 with 9:22 to play. It had taken barely a minute for Bama's comfortable 10-point lead to drop to only three points.

Mark Ingram got things started well. From the 26, Ingram went 39 yards to the Virginia Tech 35. A holding penalty put it back to the 45. Ingram got most of it back from the direct snap to the tailback formation that had mixed results. He picked up nine to the 36. McElroy then hit Peek at the Virginia Tech 17. A run lost a yard, and then McElroy hit Ingram, who took it in for the touchdown. The five-play, 74-yard drive took just over two minutes and the Tide's lead was 34-24 with 6:35 to play.

Virginia Tech's last two possessions ended with Taylor being sacked, on a third down play by Rolando McClain to force a punt and by Marcell Dareus to allow Bama to run out the clock.

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