NATIONAL REPORT: Alabama tunes up for revenge game against Texas A&M
BY STEVE GREENBERG firstname.lastname@example.org | @SLGreenberg September 1, 2013 12:46AM
Alabama's Christion Jones stamped himself as a player to watch, scoring three times in a 35-10 victory against Virginia Tech on a punt return, a kickoff return and a long pass reception. | Dave Martin/AP
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:56AM
Only Alabama. Of all the powerhouse teams in college football, there can’t be another that could lay such an egg against a dangerous team and win anyway — by 25.
The No. 1-ranked, two-time-defending BCS champion Crimson Tide made a big ol’ statement Saturday night on a neutral field in Atlanta, where they whupped Virginia Tech 35-10.
It definitely wasn’t that their offense, purported to be as skilled as any in school history, is impossible to contain. Quarterback AJ McCarron, who’s gunning for the fourth national title of his dream career, had a weirdly off night, completing just 41.6 percent of his passes and throwing a rare interception. Star running back T.J. Yeldon and wideout Amari Cooper — maybe the best in the country — were kept relatively under wraps.
The Tide (1-0) had a miniscule 11 first downs and 206 total yards — fewer than they had by the end of the first quarter last January vs. Notre Dame.
No, the statement was this: None of that stuff matters.
Alabama will find a way to beat anybody. Against the game Hokies (0-1), that meant the usual smothering defense we’ve come to take for granted from Nick Saban’s crew.
Here’s what else it meant: Christion Jones.
Alabama, as though it needed one — as though it’s fair — has a new megastar. Jones, a junior who has had his moments in Tuscaloosa but mostly has blended into the beautiful football scenery, scored three touchdowns in Week 1: one a punt return, one a kickoff return and the last a long ball from McCarron.
Yes, that’s crazy.
And speaking of, did you catch Johnny Manziel yapping at the opposition during Texas A&M’s opening victory vs. Rice? Perhaps the Twitter ban has gotten to him. Manziel, suspended for the first half, took the field in the third quarter and did what he does. That included talking smack to the vastly overmatched Owls, for which he was penalized.
“A foolish penalty,” A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “That’s not OK.”
Here’s why it matters: The Tide have a week off to prepare for a massive revenge game in College Station, Texas. The Aggies do, too, with apologies to Week 2 speed bump Sam Houston State.
If Manziel’s even the slightest bit distracted, Alabama will get its payback and make the reigning Heisman Trophy winner look foolish in the process. Somehow, that will happen. Do the Tide have their imperfections? It almost doesn’t matter.
Yes, it’s ridiculous one week into the season, but it’s fun-ridiculous. My top five if I were voting today:
1. QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The run-pass mastery in the victory over Georgia puts him at the top of the heap.
2. WR Christion Jones, Alabama: Far be it from us to dispute a touchdown-scorer on a kick return, a punt return and a long pass. Tim Brown, anybody?
3. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: He’s the best QB Chip Kelly ever ditched. Three TDs in the opener against Nicholls State were just the beginning.
4. QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Forget the stats vs. Buffalo — Miller is as valuable to his team as anyone in America.
5. QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois: Undefeated, anyone?
GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK
Week: No. 8 Clemson 38, No. 5 Georgia 35. It was an epic victory for the Tigers. And an epic victory for the Atlantic Coast Conference. And a reputation-defying loss for the Southeastern Conference. Bottom line: The Tigers are in position to rip off 12 regular-season victories. Bottom line No. 2: Georgia can stop bragging about its close loss to Alabama in the 2012 SEC title game.
Weak: Eastern Washington 49, No. 25 Oregon State 46. Apparently, the Beavers aren’t all they were cracked up to be. They allowed an unspeakable 625 yards, the last 75 of which were covered on a masterful 11-play drive that culminated in a winning score with 18 seconds to play. On the heels of North Dakota State’s victory at defending Big 12 champ Kansas State, it made for an unforgettable opening week for the Football Championship Subdivision vs. the big boys.
Weak: No. 18 Nebraska 37, Wyoming 34. The Huskers’ defense was shredded again. What’s the deal, Bo Pelini? There was a time when Pelini was known as a defensive wizard. That was before his first five Nebraska teams lost four games each. No. 6 looks highly vulnerable.
Up: No. 8 Clemson. Beating on the SEC’s second-highest-regarded team, Georgia, ought to be a huge deal.
Down: No. 2 Ohio State. A 40-20 game against Buffalo that was 30-20 in the third quarter? That’s not impressive.
In: Mississippi. Did you see the Rebels’ last-ditch victory at Vanderbilt on Thursday? This is a dynamic team with a good chance at eight or nine victories.
Out: No. 25 Oregon State. But you knew that already.
JORDAN LYNCH, NORthern Illinois, QB
Think that Orange Bowl loss to Florida State bummed out the Huskies’ superstar? He was much more bothered by the 2012 opening loss to Iowa, a team Lynch later intimated was inferior to NIU. A 275-yard, three-touchdown passing night capped by a 30-27 comeback victory more than set things right.
• Want a darkhorse you can ride all season? Try Baylor. Sneakily last season, the Bears went from an all-offense team with an embarrassing defense to much more of a balanced squad. Saturday against Wofford — yeah, we know, just Wofford — the Bears won 69-3. But remember the names of quarterback Bryce Petty and running back Lache Seastrunk. They might be the best players at both positions in the Big 12.
• Did we mention Alabama’s Christion Jones? Just think about his touchdown array all over again.
• Illinois coach Tim Beckman, a former assistant under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State, has largely modeled his team after the Cowboys. Hey, a guy can dream. But what Gundy’s squad did in its opener was almost unrecognizable: It beat Mississippi State 21-3 in a physical, defensive-oriented affair. The Cowboys do offense as well as anybody, but that isn’t always enough. Illinois’ offense was explosive in a 42-34 victory over Southern Illinois. Without better defense, it won’t get the Illini anywhere.