ATLANTA ―The hallway outside Alabama’s locker room was buzzing late Saturday night.
It was just minutes after the Crimson Tide ran past Virginia Tech 34-24 to affirm its spot among the national elite and reporters were scurrying for last minute player interviews. Of course, first-time starting quarterback was the man of the hour.
So was Mark Ingram, the surprise quarterback in the surprise wildcat formation.
But what about the defense?
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The crowds were much smaller around the members of that unit.
In retrospect, the Tide defense was lost in the shuffle of the 18-point fourth quarter that propelled Alabama to the big 10 point lead. Sure, Virginia Tech scored 24 points, but that number didn’t can be deceiving.
More telling than the final score was the total yard-count. 498-155 is staggering, especially considering two top-10 teams were involved. Then remember two plays ― a 43-yard second-quarter reception and the 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth ― accounted for nearly half of the Hokie yards.
Of the 24 Hokie points, only seven came on a sustained drive. The first touchdown came on the 98-yard Dyrell Roberts kick-off return and the final 32-yard Tech scoring scamper immediately followed another kickoff coverage breakdown.
That’s 14 points can be, at least in part, attributed to special teams.
The second-quarter Tech field goal followed three lackluster plays after a McElroy interception deep in Tide territory.
So that leaves one second-quarter drive, aided by penalties, that lands on the shoulders of the defense. A questionable third-down pass-interference call on Marquis Johnson kept the drive alive that eventually ended on a Ryan Williams 1-yard touchdown run that put Tech ahead 17-16.
Regardless of the amount of attention the Alabama defense received in the dark Georgia Dome hallway after the game, it achieved the objective. For nine months, they’ve been challenged, and sometimes ridiculed, by fans and coach Nick Saban alike for allowing 31 points apiece in two embarrassing losses that closed the 2009 season.
By holding Virginia Tech to 155 tough yards, they can reclaim a spot among the nation’s best defenses.
McClain apologizes: The least-memorable moment of Saturday night for the Alabama defense came just two minutes before halftime.
For a brief moment, Rolando McClain broke one of Saban’s cardinal rules ― he lost his poise.
The fiery middle linebacker from Decatur came close to ejection by earning flags for a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct following a 14-yard loss.
A late hit on Hokie Sergio Render preceded a shove to an official.One of the striped shirts told McClain that he was one foul-up away from hitting the showers early.
“It’s not like me to get a hot head like I did. I told my teammates I was sorry,” McClain said. “I told the player that it happened with I was sorry.”
Two fourth-quarter sacks surely helped regain the good graces of everyone on the Tide sideline.
Wildcat not complete shocker: There more than a few gasps when Alabama’s offense trotted onto the field in the wildcat formation for its first play. Not many outside the program saw that coming.
But there were clues.
Don’t forget Trent Richardson’s brother spilled the beans to a reporter a few weeks ago. Terrell Richardson, a defensive end at Louisiana-Lafayette, told the Daily Advertiser newspaper that little brother was taking snaps in practice at quarterback in the wildcat.
The star freshman didn’t line up in that role Saturday, but he did get his first collegiate action when he ran three times for 10 yards on the final possession.
Mark Ingram took almost all of the snaps at quarterback in the wildcat. But is he a threat to throw the ball?
“I guess we’ll have to see,” he said afterwards.