Alabama registered a 35-10 victory Saturday evening over Virginia Tech, one of college football's most consistently successful programs in the past decade.
Yet every Crimson Tide player who filed into the Georgia Dome interview area looked like he had just tasted defeat.
"It was an excited locker room, but at the same time, we know we have a lot of work to do," sophomore safety Landon Collins said. "This wasn't the way we expected to play."
The Crimson Tide prevailed with relative ease despite compiling 206 yards of total offense. They had 309 in the first half of January's 42-14 thumping of Notre Dame for the BCS title.
It was not an impressive debut for Alabama's offensive line featuring three new starters, as the Tide managed 96 rushing yards and allowed four sacks of AJ McCarron. Senior right guard Anthony Steen, who was an unsung hero in the Dome last December when Alabama racked up 350 rushing yards against Georgia in the SEC championship, said Virginia Tech's defensive front was constantly moving.
"We expected some movement, but it felt like the whole game they were constantly going sideways," Steen said. "As the game went on we progressed, but it took us a while to adjust to it. We're more downhill guys, and I like to go straight at you and try to muscle you.
"They were going sideways a lot, and that kind of affected our angles a little bit."
There was some confusion in the back end as well, with McCarron admitting the Hokies produced some blitzes that they had not shown before. Tide coach Nick Saban said the line was soft and couldn't provide the necessary pocket, and he added that there wasn't much room for T.J. Yeldon to roam.
Alabama has an open date Saturday before its Sept. 14 showdown at Texas A&M, which struggled defensively in an opening 52-31 win over Rice.
The Crimson Tide were far more imposing last year in a 41-14 opening rout of Michigan in Dallas and in their 2008 opening win over Clemson and their '09 opening win over Virginia Tech in the Dome. At least Alabama coach Nick Saban can save his annual tirade regarding early overconfidence.
"We have to create an identity as a team," Saban said. "I don't think we did that in all phases of the game, but at least we know where we are. We know what we need to do to improve. Our players have to learn that you have to be a little more relentless as a competitor.
"I don't think there is anybody in our locker room who is satisfied with the way he played."
Which helps explain why Tide players looked relatively somber after another 1-0 start.
"It was a little quiet," Steen said. "We expected to go out there and win by 50, but it's the first game of the season, and a win is a win."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.