Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban has a propensity for running the football, and a hard-hitting defense.
He needed both last Saturday evening at the Georgia Dome, as the No. 5-ranked Crimson Tide faced No. 7 Virginia Tech in the season opener for both.
For three quarters, the Hokies clung to a one-point lead, but Alabama used an 18-point outburst in the fourth quarter, eventually securing a 34-24 triumph.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram finished with a career-best 150 yards, carried the ball 26 times, and was especially potent in the final quarter.
After an erratic opening half, first-time starting Tide quarterback Greg McElroy found his rhythm, and the defense stopped the run.
Virginia Tech pulled ahead, 17-16, entering the fourth quarter, but that lead would evaporate, as McElroy, who completed 15 of 30 passes for 230 yards, hit wide receiver Marquis Maze with a 48-yard toss.
Ingram scored from six yards out as 12:23 remained, McElroy found tight end Colin Peek for the two-point conversion, and Alabama, which compiled 268 rushing yards, forged a 24-17 lead.
The Tide moved ahead by 10 points after Leigh Tiffin added his fourth field goal, this one from 20 yards.
Alabama went 12-2 last season, with one of the losses coming to eventual national champion Florida in the Southeastern Conference title game. The Tide also fell in their final contest to Utah in a Bowl Championship Series game by 14 points.
This time, Alabama, which had to overcome two turnovers, is hunting for an even bigger prize, and took the first step by beating a Virginia Tech squad that’s coming off a 10-4 record, and a 13-point BCS victory over Cincinnati.
Saban has previously coached at Michigan State and Louisiana State, where he led the Tigers to a national crown, and even found time to toil in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins.
Saban’s niche, like USC’s Pete Carroll, is the college game, and it was on display before 74,954 fans, and a national television audience.
Tiffin converted three field goals in the first quarter that covered 49, 34 and 32 yards, and offset a brilliant 98-yard kickoff return for a score by Dyrell Roberts with 6:35 showing.
Virginia Tech was held to 64 yards on the ground, and used a 28-yard field goal by Matt Waldron with 8:39 left before the half to make it 10-9. However, Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor had a long night, hitting nine of 20 attempts for 91 yards.
The Tide rolled behind the slick open-field running of Roy Upchurch (90 yards on seven carries), and whose 19-yard scamper capped off an 11-play drive with just over three minutes left in the first quarter, making it 16-10.
Frank Beamer is the long-time head coach at Virginia Tech, and his teams are famous for special teams play, and refusing to wilt.
So it wasn’t unexpected when running back Ryan Williams scored from one yard out with 1:02 remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown was aided by a personal foul.
Williams carried the ball 13 times, accounted for 71 yards, with 32 yards coming on a scoring dash and 9:22 left that trimmed the Alabama advantage to 27-24, before McElroy, who was intercepted once, found Ingram with an 18-yard touchdown pass and 6:35 left on the clock.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.