The University of Alabama's Blake Sims set Crimson Tide records for completions and attempts by a quarterback in a starting debut game, running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry rushed for more than 100 yards each, and receiver Amari Cooper eclipsed 100 yards receiving in the No. 2 Crimson Tide's 33-23 victory over West Virginia before a crowd of 70,502 (capacity: 71,228) at the Georgia Dome Saturday evening.
Sims completed 24 of 33 attempts for 250 yards with one interception and did not throw a touchdown pass. The completions and attempts are the most in Crimson Tide history by a quarterback in his first start. Yeldon finished with 126 yards on 23 carries and scored two touchdowns while Henry rushed for a career-best 113 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts. Cooper had 12 catches for 130 yards, the second-most catches in a single game ever by a Tide receiver behind DJ Hall's 13 catches (185 yards) against Tennessee in 2007.
Defensively, the Tide was led in tackles by safety Landon Collins, who notched eight, followed by linebacker Ruben Foster and cornerback Cyrus Jones who both had seven, linebacker Reggie Ragland's six and end Jonathan Allen's five tackles, including two tackles for loss and one quarterback sack.
As a team, the Tide gained 538 yards of total offense (288 rushing, 250 passing), notched 30 first downs and averaged 6.6 yards per play (538 yards on 82 plays). West Virginia moved the ball for 393 yards (365 passing, 28 rushing), averaging 5.7 yards per play. Punter JK Scott had an impressive Crimson Tide debut, booming two kicks for a 50.5-yard average, including a 62-yarder.
Alabama won the opening coin toss and elected to defer their choice to the second half. West Virginia chose to receive the opening kickoff.
The Mountaineers took the opening kickoff and moved 79 yards in 14 plays to a field goal to break on top. After running back Rushel Shell sparked the drive with three runs totaling 20 yards to the WVU 47, quarterback Clint Trickett passed to Kevin White for 29 yards to the Alabama 30-yard line as Tide defensive back Bradley Sylve slipped and fell and safety Landon Collins ran White down at the 30. Trickett and White connected again for eight more yards, then a 13-yard pass play to the Tide 6 before the Tide defense stiffened, forcing the field goal. Josh Lambert's 20-yard kick was true and the Mountaineers had a 3-0 lead with 10:58 left in the opening period.
The Tide offense responded immediately after a touchback on the kickoff. On Alabama's first play from scrimmage, quarterback Blake Sims threw a quick toss to wide receiver Amari Cooper who turned the short pass into a 24-yard gain to the Tide 49. On the next play, Sims passed to Cooper again for seven yards to the WVU 44. Running back Derrick Henry then gained eight yards on a rush to the WVU 36. A pass to DeAndrew White gained two yards and a T.J. Yeldon rush netted four more before an incompletion on third-and-4 at the WVU 30 set up Adam Griffith's 47-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3 with 8:18 left in the first quarter. Sims, making his first career start for the Tide, was 4-for-5 for 44 yards on his first drive as a starter.
After stopping a promising WVU drive, Alabama took the ball at its own 5 to start its next possession and methodically drove down the field. Starting with 6:08 left in the first quarter, Alabama moved 95 yards in 14 plays on a drive that consumed 6:57 of game clock. Facing third-and-11 at the Tide 4, Sims passed to Cooper for 11 yards and a first down at the Tide 15 to start the march. The running game took over from there with Yeldon rushing five times for 15 yards on the drive and Henry toting it three times for 21 yards, including a 15-yard burst around left end to the WVU 45. Sims hit wideout Christion Jones for 22 yards to the WVU 15, setting up a 15-yard run by Yeldon that ended in pay dirt. Griffith's extra-point kick gave the Tide a 10-3 lead with 14:11 left in the second quarter.
On the next possession, the up-tempo WVU offense responded by driving 75 yards in nine plays (using only 2:13 of clock) to tie the score. Trickett keyed the march with a 15-yard pass to Mario Alford on a third-and-five play to the Tide 41. A 10-yard pass from Trickett to Elijah Wellman on a third-and-two reached the Tide 23. Two plays later, Trickett lofted a pass perfectly to Kevin White, who made a leaping catch above Alabama's Bradley Sylve for the 19-yard touchdown. Lambert's conversion kick tied the game at 10-10 with 11:58 left in the second quarter.
A 62-yard punt by Alabama's JK Scott pinned WVU at the Mountaineer 6-yard line to start the next possession. The Mountaineers moved to their own 38 before incomplete passes stalled the drive and they punted. The Tide's Christion Jones fair caught Nick O'Toole's 50-yard punt at the Tide 12, where Alabama began its next possession.
From the 12, the Tide moved 88 yards in 13 plays on a drive that took 6:20 off the clock. The march was keyed by three important passing plays. The first came on a third-and-7 play at the Tide 15 when Sims connected with Cooper on a crossing pattern and Cooper evaded one tackler to gain 17 yards and a first down at the Tide 32. Two plays later, Sims and Cooper connected for 10 yards to the Tide 45 and a first down. After three rushing plays produced a first down at the WVU 43, Alabama faced third-and-13 at the WVU 46. Sims threw a short pass to White on the left side. White then crossed the field and evaded four defenders, eventually picking up blockers on a 38-yard gain that reached the WVU 8-yard line with 3:02 showing on the clock. On the next play Yeldon carried over right guard for seven, then gained the final yard for a touchdown one play later. The Tide had a 17-10 lead following Griffith's kick with 1:57 left in the second quarter.
The lead lasted all of 14 seconds, as WVU's Mario Alford took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown to tie it at 17-17 with 1:43 left in the second quarter.
Alabama had one timeout left in the half as it took possession, and Sims engineered a 50-yard drive in seven plays in the waning moments of the half. On the third play of the series, Sims scrambled for 21 yards up the right sideline to a first down at the WVU 49. On the next play, Sims passed to White for 14 yards to the WVU 35 before hitting Christion Jones, who gained three yards before getting out of bounds at the WVU 32 with nine seconds on the clock. Sims and Cooper connected for eight yards to the WVU 24 and a first down with four seconds left, with a timeout allowing Griffith to come on for a 41-yard field goal attempt. Griffith's kick was perfect as time expired, giving the Tide a 20-17 halftime lead.
The Tide had the ball to begin the second half and moved into West Virginia territory, reaching the Mountaineer 36-yard line before stalling. Facing a fourth-and-6 situation, Alabama chose to try to keep the drive moving, but an incomplete pass from Sims for Cooper ended the march with 11:51 left in the third period. West Virginia came right back and marched into Alabama territory, moving 30 yards in seven plays before the drive stalled at the Tide 34 where Lambert's 47-yard field goal was hooked left and no good with 9:34 left in the third period.
The Tide started from its own 30 after the missed field goal and put together a 70-yard touchdown drive in six plays. The drive took only 1:50 on the clock and began with a 13-yard pass from Sims to Cooper to the Tide 43. From there, Henry gained 12 on a rush to the WVU 45 then Sims and Cooper connected for the 10th time in the game, this one for six yards to the Mountaineer 39. Henry then rushed for 13 yards to the 26 and Sims passed to fullback Jalston Fowler for seven more to the WVU 19. Henry took a handoff to the left side for the remaining 19 yards and a touchdown. Griffith's conversion kick gave the Tide a 10-point lead at 27-17 with 7:44 left in the third quarter.
The Mountaineers took the ensuing kickoff and marched to a field goal, driving 66 yards in nine plays. Trickett went to the air on the march, connecting with four different receivers to account for 65 yards on the drive that stalled at the Tide 25. From there, Lambert kicked a 42-yard field goal to draw the Mountaineers within seven points of the Tide with Alabama holding a 27-20 advantage with 4:59 showing on the clock in the third period.
Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tide 24, where Alabama took possession. After a 15-yard completion from Sims to Cooper reached the Tide 39 and Henry rushed for a yard to set up second-and-9 at the UA 40, Sims threw deep to an open Jones inside the WVU 10, but Jones dropped a certain touchdown pass. Sims scrambled out of the pocket on third-and-9 for five yards to the Tide 47 and was hit late out of bounds, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on WVU to set up Alabama at the WVU 38. On the next play, Yeldon rushed for 19 yards over left tackle to the WVU 19, then Yeldon rushed for eight more to the WVU 11. On second down, Sims passed incomplete to Cooper in the end zone, then Yeldon was stopped for a yard on third-and-2 at the WVU 10. Griffith entered the game again and kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Tide a 30-20 lead with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
As the flow of the game had dictated by now, West Virginia moved right back down the field and threatened to score again. Trickett ignited the scoring threat by completing five consecutive pass attempts to start the drive, including a 32-yard pass to inside receiver Jordan Thompson that reached the Tide 39. After a 9-yard pass to Alford to the UA 30, Trickett and White connected for the seventh time in the game, this one a 25-yarder to the Tide 5-yard line. But the drive stalled there as Trickett passed low and incomplete to wide open H-back Elijah Wellman at the Tide 2-yard line on first down, then threw incomplete for White in the right corner of the end zone as Eddie Jackson defended for Alabama. On third-and-goal at the 5-yard line from the shotgun formation, the center snap went far above Trickett's head and Trickett recovered the errant snap at the 24 for a 19-yard loss. Lambert came on to try a 41-yard field goal, which was good, narrowing Alabama's lead to 30-23 with 13:37 left in the fourth quarter.
After Jones returned the WVU kickoff to the Tide 25, Sims' pass was intercepted by WVU cornerback Daryl Worley at the WVU 45. Worley retuned the theft four yards to the Tide 41, but a holding penalty during the return moved the ball back to the WVU 49 where the Mountaineers took possession with 13:15 showing on the clock. After two plays gained five yards into Alabama territory at the 46, a third-down pass from Trickett to Thompson was broken up at the Tide 24 on a violent hit by Tide safety Landon Collins, forcing a West Virginia punt.
Nick O'Toole's 34-yard punt was fair caught by the Tide's Christion Jones at the UA 12 with 12:23 left in the fourth period. The Tide went to the ground game as Yeldon took a handoff up the middle on the first play for 26 yards to the Tide 38. A false start on the next play set the Tide back five yards to a first-and-15 at the Tide 33. On first down, Yeldon carried around left end for seven yards to the Tide 40. On second-and-8, Sims hit Cooper in the left flat for his 12th catch of the game, this one going for 10 yards and a first down at the 50. Henry took the ball up left guard for 11 yards on the next play to the WVU 39. Henry rushed at right guard for four yards to the WVU 35, then Yeldon was stopped for a gain of two. On third-and-4, Sims passed to Jones for six yards and a first down at the Mountaineer 27.
Yeldon lost two on first down to the WVU 29, then Jones dropped a pass from Sims at the WVU 19 to set up third-and-12 for Alabama at the Mountaineer 29 with 8:54 showing on the clock. Sims threw a screen pass to Yeldon but the play only gained two yards, setting up a 45-yard field goal attempt by Griffith. Griffith's kick was long and true, giving the Tide a 33-23 lead with 8:07 left in the fourth period.
The Alabama defense forced another punt via a second consecutive three-and-out by the WVU offense, giving the Tide the football with 6:49 remaining. Facing a first-and-13 after an illegal block penalty, Alabama converted a third-and-7 play from its own 16 when Sims and receiver Chris Black connected on a crucial eight-yard pass play for a first down to keep the clock moving. Three rushes by Henry gained nine yards, but Alabama was forced to punt from its own 33. JK Scott's punt went 39 yards and was fair caught at the WVU 28, where WVU regained possession with 2:24 left on the clock, trailing by 10 points.
A 19-yard pass from Trickett to Smallwood started the drive, moving the Mountaineers to the WVU 47. On the next play, Trickett completed a pass to White for three yards to the 50, but on the next play Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen sacked Trickett for an 11-yard loss to the WVU 39. Facing third-and-18, Trickett found White for seven yards, the duo's ninth connection of the game (for 143 yards), but on fourth-and-11, Trickett's pass for Shell was incomplete and the Tide took possession of the ball with 1:05 left in the game. Two Kenyan Drake rushes totaling six yards drained the time remaining, and Alabama had its 96th season-opening triumph in 120 season openers and moved to 5-0 in neutral-site season opening games with a 33-23 victory.