ATLANTA, Ga. - Wide receiver and return man Christion Jones scored three touchdowns and accounted for 256 all-purpose yards (100 via punt returns, 109 via kickoff returns and 47 receiving) as the top-ranked Crimson Tide opened its 2013 football season with a 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 73,114 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Alabama scored in every facet of the game, notching three non-offensive touchdowns in a game for the first time since September 30, 1995, (at Georgia) as Jones scored on a 72-yard punt return in the first quarter, went 94 yards on a kickoff return in the second quarter and added a 38-yard scoring reception in the third quarter.
According to the Alabama records dating back to 1944, Jones is the first player to score two touchdowns via returns in one game. Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri scored on a 38-yard interception return in the second period. Running back T.J. Yeldon added to the first half scoring with a two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter as the Tide rolled to a 28-10 halftime lead.
The Alabama offense was limited to 206 total yards and the Tide defense limited Tech to 212 total yards (153 rushing, 59 passing) and only seven first downs. Quarterback AJ McCarron completed 10 of 21 pass attempts for 110 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Wide receiver Amari Cooper led the Tide with 38 yards on four catches while T.J. Yeldon led Alabama with 75 rushing yards on 17 carries. Defensive end Ed Stinson was the leading tackler for the Tide with eight tackles and shared a quarterback sack. Linebacker C.J. Mosley had seven tackles for Alabama while free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix made six stops.
Alabama opened the scoring quickly. The Tide forced a Tech punt after the Hokies' opening possession gained one yard on three plays. AJ Hughes' 54-yard punt was caught by the Tide's Christion Jones at the Alabama 28-yard line and Jones followed a lane up the middle of the field, cut to his left and followed a convoy of blockers to score untouched with 13:21 left in the first quarter. Cade Foster added the point-after kick and the Tide had an early 7-0 lead.
After the teams exchanged punts, Alabama took over again at the Hokie 49-yard line with 6:53 left in the first quarter. Quarterback AJ McCarron started the drive by going to the air, hitting a short pass to DeAndrew White for two yards, and then improvising out of the pocket on an 11-yard completion to Kevin Norwood for a first down at the Hokie 36 on a third-and-8 play. After T.J. Yeldon gained two yards on a rush, McCarron connected with wide receiver Amari Cooper on a quick slant that Cooper turned into a 15-yard gain for a first down at the Hokie 19. McCarron was incomplete for Cooper on the next play before Yeldon took a handoff and gained nine yards to the Tech 10. After a Yeldon rush gave the Tide a first-and-goal at the Hokie 7, a holding penalty pushed Alabama back to the Tech 17 and a first-and-goal.
McCarron passed to Jones on a swing pass in the right flat for nine yards to the Tech 8 before Yeldon bulled off left guard for seven to set up third-and-goal at the Hokie 2. From there, Yeldon took a handoff and scored at right tackle. Foster's kick gave Alabama a 14-0 lead with 1:53 left in the first period.
On the first play after the kickoff, from the Hokie 23, Tech tailback Trey Edmunds took a handoff up the middle and raced 77 yards for a touchdown to draw the Hokies within 14-7 with 1:37 left in the first period.
The Hokies forced an Alabama punt on the ensuing possession and Tech took over at its own 35 after the exchange. On the first play, Tech quarterback Logan Thomas's pass across the middle was intercepted by Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri who returned the pass 38 yards untouched for an Alabama touchdown with 14:04 left in the second quarter. Foster's conversion kick extended the Alabama lead to 21-7.
After an incompletion and a run for no gain, the Tide faced second-and-10 at the Tide 20. McCarron passed to White on crossing pattern in the middle of the field for 12 yards and a first down at the Tide 32. Two plays later, Alabama faced third-and-10 at the Tide 32 and a McCarron pass was intercepted by Tech's Ky Fuller at the Tide 45 and Fuller returned it 11 yards to set the Hokies up at the Alabama 34 with 7:07 left in the second quarter. Thomas passed to Edmunds for six yards on first down before Sam Rogers gained three on a running play to set up third-and-one at the Tide 25 where Tech called timeout with 6:04 left in the half.
After the timeout, Thomas faked a handoff and carried into the line for two yards and a first down at the Tide 23. Edmunds carried for six yards on first down to the Tide 17, giving him 103 yards rushing in the game to that point. Edmunds was caught for no gain after taking an option pitch to the right to set up third-and-four at the Tide 17. Tech was flagged for delay of game, creating a third-and-nine situation at the Alabama 22. Thomas lofted a pass into the end zone that was intended for Demetri Knowles but the Tide's Deion Belue broke it up to set up a 39-yard field goal attempt by Tech's Cody Journell, who kicked it true to narrow the Tide lead to 21-10 with 3:39 left in the first half.
That score didn't hold for long as Jones took the ensuing kickoff at the Alabama 6-yard line, ran into a crowd at the Alabama 25-yard line and raced free down the left side of the field to complete a 94-yard touchdown play. Foster's kick gave the Tide a 28-10 lead with 3:25 left in the second period. To that point, Jones had accounted for two touchdowns and 166 return yards in the first half alone. Jones became the first player in Alabama history since at least 1944 (records are incomplete beyond that point) to score twice in one game on a punt and kickoff return.
Alabama's three touchdowns via return marked the first time in 18 years (at Georgia, Sept. 30, 1995 - interception, blocked field goal and fumble returns) that the Tide has accomplished that feat. Jones completed his trifecta with a 38-yard touchdown catch on a beautifully thrown pass from McCarron with 3:43 left in the third quarter to extend the Alabama lead to 35-10. That play capped a 47-yard drive that was set up by Jones' 19-yard punt return.