Alabama wide receiver Christion Jones (22) runs past Virginia Tech defensive end Matt Roth (91) and linebacker Chase Williams (36) on a touchdown run from a punt return during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — Alabama junior receiver Christion Jones had an experimental stint at cornerback this spring.
No need to tinker with his special-teams skills.
Jones had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 94-yard kickoff return for a score Saturday night as top-ranked Alabama defeated Virginia Tech 35-10 before a packed Georgia Dome crowd of 73,114. The vaunted Crimson Tide offense was inconsistent much of the evening, but the game was never in doubt due to Jones, whose two first-half scoring returns totaling 166 yards topped the 97 first-half yards compiled by Alabama's offense.
"If it's not the offense, then it's the defense, and if it's not the defense, it has to be special teams," Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. "They came up with two touchdowns and the defense came up with one, and those are game changers."
According to Alabama's record books dating back to 1944, Jones is the first Tide player to score two special-teams or non-offensive touchdowns in the same game.
Jones was able to showcase his receiving skills with 3:43 left in the third quarter, when he caught a 38-yard touchdown pass from AJ McCarron for the game's final score. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Adamsville, Ala., accounted for three touchdowns Saturday after totaling five in his first two seasons.
"It's every kid's dream to come in and do things like that," Jones said. "The blocking schemes were set up great each time, and hopefully we can keep this going on."
It was a mediocre showing at best for Alabama's trio of McCarron, tailback T.J. Yeldon and receiver Amari Cooper.
McCarron completed 10 of 23 passes for just 110 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Yeldon had 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushes, while Cooper had 38 yards on four catches.
"Virginia Tech is a great team and a great defense," McCarron said. "Coach [Frank] Beamer always has a great team, and they threw some blitzes that we hadn't seen before. This is a good measuring stick for us to see where we're at, and we just need to keep progressing."
After Virginia Tech went three-and-out without gaining a yard on the game's opening possession, Jones fielded a 54-yard A.J. Hughes punt at the Tide 28-yard line and raced 72 yards for the touchdown.
Alabama produced one first down on its first offensive possession before having to punt near midfield, but the Crimson Tide went 51 yards on 12 plays on their second drive, grabbing a 14-0 lead on a Yeldon 2-yard run.
Yeldon's score was quickly countered by Hokies tailback Trey Edmunds, who broke free over the left side for a 77-yard touchdown on the ensuing play from scrimmage. The longest run Alabama allowed last season was a 32-yarder by Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The momentum from the Edmunds touchdown spilled over as Virginia Tech forced the Crimson Tide into a three-and-out, but it didn't last long. With Virginia Tech on offense and trailing just 14-7, Tide safety Vinnie Sunseri got the jump on a Logan Thomas pass over the middle and took the interception 38 yards for a touchdown.
"We watched the play they ran a few times," Sunseri said. "I saw it and read it and had a chance and jumped in."
Alabama's offensive difficulties continued when McCarron was intercepted by Kyle Fuller at the Tide 34-yard line with 7:07 left in the half, and the Hokies got a first down and then a 39-yard Cody Journell field goal to pull within 21-10.
Jones then struck with his 94-yard kickoff return to give Alabama a 28-10 advantage. It was the second career kickoff return for a score by Jones, who had a 99-yarder in last season's win over Ole Miss.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...