What Defensive Struggle? Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24

Sometimes,  you fall in love with the script. That's what appeared to have happened when the ABC announcers continued to intone after the first half that the high-profile showdown between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Virginia Tech Hokies was the defensive struggle we had all expected.

The score at the time was 17-16 Virginia Tech, though the defenses had played well. But Alabama's last two drives, which ended in a touchdown and a missed field goal, had covered 136 yards, the prelude to what would turn out to be a star turn by the Alabama offense to end the night.

By the end of the third quarter, though, Alabama was still down 17-16. Then, the Tide reeled off 17 points in 11 minutes early in the fourth quarter on drives of 54, 17 and 74 yards. Virginia Tech did answer with its second-longest offensive scoring drive of the night -- 37 yards for a touchdown -- but that was far from enough.

For its part, the Tide defense did live up to its billing. It limited Tech to 155 yards, not counting the 98-yard kick return for a TD that gave the Hokies their first lead of the night. Eight of Virginia Tech's 14 drives were for fewer than 10 yards; four went backwards.

Meanwhile, an Alabama offense that had seemed adrift early in game found its footing. After an abysmal 2-of-12 stretch to start the game, including nine straight incompletions, for 49 yards and an interception, QB Greg McElroy was 13-of-18 for 181 of his 230 yards and a touchdown. Put another way, his passer rating for his first dozen passes was 34.30; for the rest of the game, it was 175.02. Mark Ingram tacked on 150 yards rushing, part of a 268-yard night for Alabama's rushing attack. By the time it was over, the Tide had piled up 498 yards.

The only part of Alabama's offense that didn't seem to work was the WildElephant, or whatever they call their version of the Wildcat offense. It consistently produced a loss or minimum gains; the Tide might be just as well served sticking with the offense that generated so many late-game fireworks.

It's possible to read far too much into the first game of any season. But we knew even before this weekend that Alabama's defense would make it difficult for the rest of the SEC West to catch up. If Alabama's offensive performance at the end of Saturday's game was any indication, their division rivals don't even stand a chance.

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