ATLANTA – Christion Jones became the first Alabama player since at least the 1940s to have two returns for touchdowns, Vinnie Sunseri brought back an interception for another TD, and the top-ranked Crimson Tide overcame a sluggish offensive performance to beat Virginia Tech 35-10 on Saturday.
Jones scored on a 72-yard punt return less than 2 minutes into the game, then scooted loose on a kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown that led the Crimson Tide (1-0) to a win that could've been much tougher to start its quest for an unprecedented third straight national title.
For good measure, the junior receiver also hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to blow it open against the Hokies (0-1), who largely shut down AJ McCarron and Alabama's highly touted offense.
The Tide had just 97 yards of offense at halftime but was up 28-10. McCarron & Co. contributed only one of those TDs, and that came when they worked with a short field after a wobbly Virginia Tech punt.
Sunseri stymied a brief bit of momentum Virginia Tech had after Trey Edmunds broke off a 77-yard touchdown run, cutting Alabama's early lead to 14-7.
The Hokies held on defense, but Logan Thomas telegraphed a pass over the middle, Sunseri stepped in to make the pick and, without breaking stride, took it all the way to the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown.
Virginia Tech's last glimmer of hope faded after Cody Journell booted a 39-yard field goal late in the first half. On the ensuing kickoff, Jones appeared to be stopped short of his own 30. Then, suddenly, he burst out from a pack of would-be tacklers and was gone. The return left Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer – whose program was long known for its stellar special teams – waving his cap and shaking his head in disgust.
Alabama finally put together an impressive offensive series late in the third quarter, capped by McCarron's scoring pass to Jones. Still, the Tide managed just 206 yards on offense, far shy of its 445.5-yard average last season.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 75 yards on 17 carries, but the Tide finished with just 96 yards on the ground.
Virginia Tech fifth-year senior quarterback Logan Thomas looked like a raw freshman, completing only 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards, though his numbers would've been a bit better if not for several dropped passes. Take away Edmunds' long run and the Hokies managed just 135 yards.
No. 3 OREGON 66, NICHOLLS 3: In Eugene, Ore., Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown pass and ran for two additional scores and the Ducks (1-0) made easy work of lower-tier Nicholls (0-1).
De'Anthony Thomas ran for 128 yards and two more touchdowns for Oregon in the debut of head coach Mark Helfrich.
No. 10 FLORIDA 24, TOLEDO 6: In Gainesville, Fla., Mack Brown had a career day, Jeff Driskel was efficient and the Gators' defense, which ranked fifth in the country in 2012, looked every bit as good as last year's version despite losing eight starters and its coordinator.
Brown ran 25 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Driskel completed 17 of 22 passes for 153 yards and a score.
No. 12 LSU 37, No. 20 TCU 27: In Arlington, Texas, Terrence Magee ran for two touchdowns in the second half and Zach Mettenberger threw for 251 yards with a key late score for LSU.
B.J. Catalon returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 26-yard run for TCU.
No. 13 OKLAHOMA STATE 21, MISSISSIPPI STATE 3: In Houston, J.W. Walsh threw for 135 yards and ran for another 125 and a touchdown to lead the Cowboys (1-0) in the Texas Kickoff.
LaDarius Perkins rushed for 50 yards on 16 carries and caught three passes for 52 yards for the Bulldogs (0-1).
No. 15 TEXAS 56, NEW MEXICO STATE 7: In Austin, Texas – David Ash threw four touchdown passes and ran for another for Texas.
Andrew McDonald was 32-of-46 passing with one touchdown, but also had two turnovers for the Aggies (0-1), who went 1-11 last season.
WASHINGTON 38, No. 19 BOISE STATE 6: At Seattle, Keith Price threw a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to become Washington's all-time leader.
Price completed 23 of 31 passes for 324 yards. Price's 56th career touchdown vaulted him past Cody Pickett as Washington's all-time leader.
No. 21 UCLA 58, NEVADA 20: At Pasadena, Calif., Brett Hundley passed for 274 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more scores for UCLA.
Jordon James rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown, and Phillip Ruhl returned a blocked punt for a short touchdown as UCLA thoroughly spoiled the debut of Nevada coach Brian Polian with a 41-point second half.