ATLANTA — Virginia Tech hung on for three quarters playing Beamer Ball. Alabama’s superiority could not be denied in the fourth.
Score another big season-opening win for the Crimson Tide.
No. 5 Alabama overcame a 98-yard kickoff return, two costly turnovers and several silly penalties, finally wearing down No. 7 Virginia Tech in the final quarter for a 34-24 victory Saturday night.
It was another rousing start of a season at the Georgia Dome for the Crimson Tide, which began a national title run in Atlanta last season by thumping Clemson.
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Mark Ingram rushed for a career-high 150 yards and finished off Virginia Tech with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Greg McElroy threw for 230 yards in his debut as Alabama’s starting quarterback, taking quite a beating but standing tall at the end.
Alabama held a staggering 498-155 edge in total yards against Virginia Tech’s touted defense, but the Hokies led 17-16 going to the final period.
Ingram put Alabama ahead to stay with a 6-yard touchdown run, set up by McElroy’s 48-yard pass to Marquis Maze. McElroy was 15-of-30, a perfect complement to Nick Saban’s always-punishing ground game. Roy Upchurch added 90 yards rushing and the Tide finished with 268 yards on the ground.
Virginia Tech hung around following the mantra of coach Frank Beamer, who’s always believed all three phases of the game can contribute to the scoring. The special teams got a touchdown. An interception led to a field goal. Three costly Alabama penalties handed the Hokies another TD, and another long return and personal foul set up a late TD that gave the Hokies a chance.
But Alabama would not be denied, even with all the miscues. After Ryan Williams’ spectacular 32-yard touchdown run made it 27-24 — he was given the score after a replay showed he stayed inbounds long enough to stick the ball inside the pylon while flying through the air face up — the Tide calmly responded with a lightning-quick 74-yard drive to clinch it.
Ingram ripped off a 39-yard run. McElroy hooked up with Colin Peek on a 19-yard pass. Finally, McElroy took a snap at the 18, rolled to his right, hit Ingram on the run and watched the namesake son of the former New York Giants receiver take it on to the end zone.
“Sweet Home Alabama,” blared from the speakers as the teams left the field.
The Tide sure feels at home in Atlanta to start the season, following up last year’s 34-10 blowout of favored Clemson on the very same field. That victory propelled Alabama to a 12-0 record during the regular season, but their national title hopes were dashed by Florida in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
Virginia Tech came into this season hoping to do more than just repeat as Atlantic Coast Conference champions — the Hokies think this might be the group that can contend for its first national title.
One loss doesn’t doom those chances, especially this early in the season. But Virginia Tech clearly has some work to do on offense. And its defense took an uncharacteristic beating, too.
Taylor, who shared playing time with Sean Glennon the last two years, was only 9 of 20 for 91 yards passing and didn’t show much of the running ability that had been his hallmark. Williams, taking over after star running back Darren Evans went down with a season-ending knee injury during the preseason, rushed for 71 yards.
Virginia Tech picked up nearly half of its yards on two plays, also getting a 43-yard completion from Taylor to Williams when Alabama blew a coverage.
Leigh Tiffin kicked four field goals for the Tide. After the second one, Dyrell Roberts took the ensuing kickoff, burst through a seem, exploded down the left sideline and shook off Marquis Johnson’s futile attempt to force him out off bounds with a stiff arm at the 10. It was the 121st touchdown scored by the defense or special teams in Beamer’s 23 years as head coach.
After the Crimson Tide reclaimed the lead on yet another Tiffin kick, the Hokies turned to their defense. McElroy was hit by Jason Worilds just as he attempted to throw, the ball fluttered into the arms of Antoine Hawkins, who returned it to the Alabama 14.
That set up Matt Waldron’s 28-yard chip shot.
Alabama responded with its best drive of the first half, covering 76 yards in 11 plays to reclaim the lead. Upchurch finished it off with a 19-yard touchdown run.
But the Crimson Tide gave the lead back with a series of sloppy plays that are most unlike a Saban-coached team. On the kickoff return, Tyrone King was penalized 15 yards for dragging down Roberts by the facemask. Taylor threw three straight incompletions, but Johnson was called for pass interference of the last of those throws to keep the drive going.
On the next play, Williams slipped past the coverage and was all alone when Taylor hit him with the long pass. Taylor’s errant pitch resulted in a 14-yard loss, but it didn’t matter when Alabama star Rolando McClain doled out an unnecessary shot on a Virginia Tech player at the goal line.
McClain drew a personal foul, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on when he bumped one of the officials stepping in. Williams scored on a 1-yard run to make it 17-16.