As expected, heavily favored Alabama won, but it wasn’t a walk in the park – far from it. The Crimson Tide (1-0) needed three touchdown runs from T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, and four Adam Griffith field goals to hold off uncooperative West Virginia, 33-23, Saturday at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
“I’m not interested in moral victories. We've been working hard to put ourselves in a position to get a win,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We played hard and we felt like we put ourselves in a position to win.”
“I think you have to give West Virginia a lot of credit,” added Alabama coach Nick Saban. “I was really pleased with the way we controlled the ball on offense.”
Alabama quarterback Blake Sims completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards, and the Tide’s power running game accounted for 288 yards – the majority of those coming from Henry and Yeldon.
Yeldon led all ball carriers with 126 yards on 23 carries while Henry added 113 yards on 17 totes.
West Virginia moved the ball between the 20s against Alabama’s exceptional defense, finishing the game with 393 total yards, but couldn’t punch it into the end zone where the yards are much more difficult to get.
“It’s frustrating because you play against a really good team and you are in position in the fourth quarter to be able to win the game and you don’t have these opportunities very often,” said Holgorsen. “We were in a very similar situation last year when we played Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma, and we were in that game, had a chance to win it and we didn’t.”
A big sequence came early in the fourth quarter with West Virginia trailing 30-23. The Mountaineers got the ball down to the Alabama 5 after a Clint Trickett
On first and goal, Trickett’s first down pass to a wide-open Elijah Wellman
coming out of the backfield fell harmlessly to the ground. Trickett’s fade pass in the corner of the end zone to Kevin White
on second down was knocked away brilliantly by Cyrus Jones, then, on third down, Tyler Orlosky
’s shotgun snap sailed over Trickett’s head, forcing Josh Lambert
to kick a 41-yard field goal, which he converted.
West Virginia (0-1) got the ball right back on Alabama’s next possession when Daryl Worley
intercepted Blake Sims's pass at the 45 and returned it inside the Crimson Tide 30, but a holding penalty on the return placed the ball back at the 49.
West Virginia wasn’t able to cash in on the golden opportunity and Nick O’Toole’s punt was downed at the Alabama 12. Alabama responded with an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended with Griffith’s fourth field goal, a 45-yarder, making the score 33-23.
Griffith’s other field goals covered distances of 47, 41 and 27 yards.
The day actually began with field goals, the first one coming from West Virginia’s Josh Lambert
on the game’s opening possession – a 20-yarder. Griffith followed with a 47-yard field goal and after a Yeldon 15-yard touchdown run gave Alabama a 10-3 lead, Trickett responded with a beautiful pass to Kevin White
in the corner of the end zone that White was able to wrestle away from Bradley Sylve for a 19-yard touchdown.
West Virginia’s other TD came on an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return by Mario Alford
on which he escaped traffic on the far side of the field and outran Cyrus Jones for the Mountaineers’ first kickoff return for a touchdown since Tavon Austin took one to the house against Kansas State in 2012.
Lambert added field goals of 42 and 41 yards in the second half.
All seven of Alabama’s scoring drives consumed at least six plays, including four of nine plays or more. The Crimson Tide were outstanding on third down, going seven-for-nine at one point and ending the game nine-of-16.
“We had a tough time getting off the field on third down,” said Holgorsen.
Trickett completed 29-of-45 passes for 365 yards and a touchdown and White led all receivers with 143 yards receiving on nine catches.
After moving the ball ground on its first two possessions with Rushel Shell
carrying the football, West Virginia’s running game could only produce 28 yards rushing on 24 attempts.
“I felt like we are better at every position and after watching this game I feel like we are better at every position,” said Holgorsen. “Now I think everybody has got to rally around this team for the rest of the season.”
The Mountaineers return to action next weekend with their home opener against Towson on Saturday, Sept. 6 in a game that will kick off at 7:30 p.m.