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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

No. 1 Alabama has room for improvement after victory

Crimson Tide, looking for a third consecutive national title, struggles on offense, but defense and return man Christion Jones spark 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech.

August 31, 2013|Chris Dufresne
  • Alabama's Christion Jones beats Virginia Tech's Desmond Frye to score one of his three touchdowns during the Crimson Tide's season-opening 35-10 victory at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.
Alabama's Christion Jones beats Virginia Tech's Desmond Frye… (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images )

ATLANTA — Alabama's defense and special teams looked ready Saturday to become part of the first three-peat national title program in college football's modern era.

Alabama's offense looked like it needed more time to think it over.

"We just got to get better all the way around," quarterback AJ McCarron said. "First game."

So Alabama lost?

Shoot no, the top-ranked Crimson Tide somewhat easily defeated Virginia Tech, 35-10, at the Georgia Dome.

This Alabama collection isn't just playing for wins, however. It's hoping to become a vintage collection.

The score was a mirage that masked the real story. Take away three Alabama touchdowns not scored by its offense and it was a 14-10 game. The Crimson Tide could have been in real trouble had Christion Jones missed the bus or been suspended the first half for signing 4,000 off-season autographs.

Jones scored on a 72-yard punt return, a 94-yard kickoff return and also added a 38-yard scoring catch.

What, no touchdown pass?

"Nah," he said, "I can't throw."

The defense also chipped in some points when safety Vinnie Sunseri stepped in front of a Logan Thomas pass for a 38-yard interception return.

Here are the numbers that will worry Alabama fans. Virginia Tech outgained Alabama, 212 yards to 206.

McCarron took to the bench with 8:13 left after completing 10 of 23 passes for only 110 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.

McCarron is now 26-2 as a starter and has led Alabama to consecutive Bowl Championship Series titles, but those weren't Heisman Trophy-winning numbers.

Granted, Virginia Tech's defense is the strength of this year's Hokies, with nine starters returning. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster's "stop the run" at all costs mantra was suited to an Alabama team that likes to run at all cost.

But aren't those just excuses?

Alabama had to replace three starters off what many believe was the greatest offensive line in college football history. It wasn't supposed to be a big deal. A writer from Atlanta mused this week the new Crimson Tide guys might lack experience but "come highly recommended."

It was still a rough start any way you looked at it.

"We all seemed kind of down a bit in the locker room," returning right guard Anthony Steen said. "We expect more of ourselves. We were not sad. We'll just take this week and get better."

Alabama has an off week to prepare for its Sept. 14 showdown at Texas A&M, the only team to beat the Crimson Tide last season.

Alabama will be chasing Johnny Manziel all over the field but is also chasing something bigger: history.

Plenty of schools have won consecutive national titles. (Let's use the Associated Press poll here to simplify things.)

Minnesota did it (1940, '41) and so has Army (1944, '45). Notre Dame, Nebraska and Oklahoma have done it multiple times, and so did USC in 2003 and '04. The Trojans, in fact, were a fourth-and-two stop against Texas in the 2005 title game from winning three straight AP championships.

The last school to win three straight titles, Minnesota, predates the AP voting era.

Minnesota, coached by Bernie Bierman, won titles in some form or fashion in 1934, '35 and '36. The Gophers were the AP's first champion when that poll debuted in 1936.

Crimson Tide fans would argue Alabama has already won three straight in the seasons of 1964, '65 and '66. But Alabama was not voted the 1966 title despite entering the season at No.1 and going undefeated.

Notre Dame and Michigan State jumped Alabama during the season and then played the infamous 10-10 tie that ultimately secured the title for Notre Dame.

Author Keith Dunnavant wrote 1966 was "the greatest injustice in the history of the national championship selection process."

We'll have to see how much Alabama improves.

McCarron said he was not bothered by an ingrown toenail that recently got infected and had to be surgically removed. Never mind he was seen on campus this week wearing a walking boot.

"It didn't affect me," he insisted. "I'm good."

McCarron was quick to mother-hen protect his work-in-progress offensive line. He was sacked four times and didn't look sharp on some passes.

"I'm proud of them," McCarron said. "Put the blame on me. I've got to get rid of the ball faster."

This was actually a perfect opening-game win for Nick Saban. It was a win, which is all that matters, but also gives Alabama's coach plenty of teachable (screaming) moments over the next two weeks.

Alabama's offense has plenty of time to get things straight before Texas A&M.

If Crimson Tide players were champing at the bit for revenge, they weren't showing it. "I guess we'll see how excited we are," Steen said.

Jones even entertained reporters with the old "It's just another game to me" routine.

Alabama's first 2013 win definitely wasn't as impressive as it was supposed to be, but there is also absolutely nothing to worry about …yet.

chris.dufrense@latimes.com

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