Fortunately for Alabama, the second ranked Crimson Tide got a pretty good game from fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims, ssome strong running, very fine kicking, and enough defensive plays to escape with a 33-23 victory over unranked West Virginia in the season-opening game.
If it hadn’t been such an agonizing game, it would be regarded as something of a storybook finish for Sims, the fifth-year seniot who has toiled as a back-up until this final chance.
Prior to Alabama’s opening game, Tide Coach Nick Saban said Bama’s new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, would be on the sidelines. There had to be a time in the game when Tide Defensive Cooridinator Kirby Smart wished he was in the press box and away from Saban. And, for that matter, perhaps Kiffin had the same thought.
Alabama still has not stopped a hurry-up offense, and as a result it was not an impressive victory. While West Virginia was not highly regarded coming into the game, the Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference are the best non-conference team on the Bama schedule.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for two touchdowns and Derrick Henry ran for another and Adam Griffith was good on all four of his field goal tries and the three extra points. Both Yeldon and Henry rushed for over 100 yards, Yeldon 23 carries for 126 and Henry 17 rushes for 113.
Alabama had 30 first downs to 22 by the Mountaineers. The Tide had typical offensive balance with 49 rushes for 288 yards and Sims completing 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards, giving Bama total offense of 82 plays for 538 yards. The hurry-up offense of West Virginia had fewer plays, only 69, and got almost nothing from its running game after the first quarter. At the end of the first period, WVU had eight carries for 20 yards. At the end of the game it was 24 carries for 28 yards. The Mountaineers did get 29 of 45 passing from Trickett for 365 yards. Total WVU yardage was 393.
Alabama had a huge advantage in time of possession, 37:47 to 22:13. The Tide was 9-16 on third down conversions while the Mountaineers were successful on 5-14 third down plays. WVU was penalized six times for 55 yards, Bama seven for 49.
Amari Cooper had 12 catches for 130 yards and DeAndrew White had 6 for 73. White seemed to be injured after making a reception and did not return to the game as either a receiver or kickoff return man.
Freshman J.K. Scott had only two punts, one a 62-yard kick that also went for minus one yard. He averaged 50.5 yards on his two punts.
Alabama continues with non-conference competition next week and has its first game in Bryant-Denny Stadium when the Crimson Tide hosts Florida Atlantic in an 11 a.m. CDT game. The SEC Network will televise the contest.
It was no surprise that Sims was Alabama’s starter in the game. Although Coker had been expected to come in from FSU and take the job, throughout pre-season camp it had been obvious that Saban had a very high opinion of Sims. Coker had his leg wrapped, but went in on Bama’s last possession to kill the clock.
West Virginia took the early lead at 3-0 after a game-opening drive, but Bama matched the field goal and never trailed again in the game. The game was last tied at 17-17 after West Virginia’s Mario Alford ran back a kickoff for 100 yards with only 1:43 left in the first half. Sims drove the Tide downfield and Griffith kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired for a 20-17 Bama halftime lead, a lead Alabama would not surrender.
Griffith kicked a 47-yard field goal in the first quarter, 41 in the second quarter, 27 in the third, and 45 in the fourth quarter.
There was a sigh of relief on the Alabama side when West Virginia had to settle for a field goal on its opening drive. Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett (a former back-up quarterback at Florida State with Bama’s Jacob Coker) mixed short passes with tough runs by WVU’s Rushel Shell. Crimson Tide defensive backs had a couple of errors (a missed tackle by Jarrick Williams and a slip down by Bradley Sylve), but the drive stalled at the Tide 3 and Josh Lambert kicked the Mountaineers to a 3-0 lead with just under five minutes elapsed. West Virginia had run 14 hurry-up plays that gained 79 yards against the Tide defense.
Alabama answered with a nice drive, starting with a 24-yard pass from Blake Sims to Amari Cooper. Sims, who missed only four first half passes (15-19 for 165 yards), missed an open Cooper to kill the drive, and Bama had to settle for a 45-yard Griffith field goal and a 3-3 tie midway through the first quarter.
Bama forced a punt on West Virginia’s next possession, and looked to be in business at the 20. But Bama was flagged for a penalty and started at its own five-yard line. That worked out to be a wonderful drive.
Alabama went 95 yards in 14 plays, taking nearly seven minutes off the clock, with Yeldon finishing the march with a 15-yard run around right end. He dived into the end zone, getting the ball inside the pylon early in the second quarter to make it 10-3 Sims kept the drive alive completing passes to Cooper on two third down plays and Sims scrambled for a first down on another third down challenge.
West Virginia drove back down on Bama with Trickett completing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kevin White to tie the game at 10-10. White is a 6-3 senior who was able to go up and get the pass over Tide cornerback Bradley Sylve (5-11).
After a very rare exchange of punts (Alabama had only two, West Virginia only four), the Tide had a nice 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive. Sims completed first down passes to Cooper for 17 and 10 yards and to DeAndrew White for 38 yards to the West Virginia 8. The pass to White was short, but White snaked across field and down the sideline to turn it into a big gain. From there it was a couple of rushes by Yeldon to the touchdown and 17-10 lead.
The kickoff return for a touchdown by WVU’s Alford probably shouldn’t have happened. Bama’s Jabriel Washington had Alford momentarily, but no one came to help and Alford wiggled free, then dashed down the sideline untouched.
Sims’s response was excellent. With 1:31 to play, the Tide started at its 26. Two plays later it was third-and-six with time fleeing. Sims had to scramble and was out of bounds at midfield with only 28 seconds until intermission. Sims hit White for 14 yards and Jones for 3 to the West Virginia 32 with only 9 seconds to go. He tried one more pass to Cooper for 8 and got a time out and a slightly shorter field goal try, 41 yards. Gtiffith nailed it as the first half ended Alabama 20, West Virginia 17.
Both teams muffed scoring chances early in the third quarter, Alabama trying a desperation fourth down play from the WVU 36, the Mountaineers responding with a missed 47-yard field goal.
Alabama then built a 10-point lead with a 6-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Derrick Henry dashing in from 19 yards out. Henry also had runs of 12 and 13 yards in the drive and Sims completed passes to Cooper for 13 and 6 yards and to Jalston Fowler for 7 yards. It was 27-17.
West Virginia roared right back, but a dropped pass stalled the drive and Lambert kicked it to Bama 27, WVU 20 with a 42-yard field goal five minutes from the start of the fourth quarter.
Alabama got another Griffith field goal, a 27-yarder, when a Tide drive stalled at the WVU 10 with 1:27 left in the third quarter. Bama’s lead was back to 10 at 30-20.
The Mountaineers got back to within a touchdown, but it was opportunity lost for WVU. West Virginia had first and goal at the Bama 5, but two incomplete passes were followed by a disaster, a snap over the quarterback’s head that lost back to the 24-yard line. WVU had to settle for a 41-yard field goal that made it Bama 30, West Virginia 23.
A Sims pass into double coverage was intercepted in Bama territory, but the Mountaineers were unable to capitalize on the opportunity.
Alabama got breathing room with the final points coming with 8:07 to play, but it was not a comfortable drive. Starting at its own 12, the Tide first had a 26-yard run by Yeldon to get it started. Sims had a 10-yard completion to Cooper for a first down at midfield and a few moments later a six-yard pass to Jones for a first down at the 27. But from there, Bama could do nothing and settled for a 45-yard Griffith field goal that finished the scoring.
A sack by Bama defensive end Jonathan Allen killed the final West Virginia opportunity.
Defensively, Alabama was led by safety Landon Collins with eight stops, cornerback Cyrus Jones and linebacker Reuben Foster with seven each, linebacker Reggie Ragland with six, cornerback Bradley Sylve, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson, and Allen with five each. Xzavier Dickson had two tackles, both sacks for losses totaling 14 yards. Allen had a sack for 11 yards and another tackle for loss.