By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 2009
ATLANTA, Sept. 5 -- With the trappings often reserved for the end of the season on full display Saturday night, the Georgia Dome felt as if it were hosting a bowl game.
But with a 34-24 loss to No. 5 Alabama, No. 7 Virginia Tech failed to assert itself as a contender for the season's final postseason game and dampened its once-high expectations before 74,954.
Hokies running back Ryan Williams rushed for 71 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 91 yards, 43 of which came on a pass to Williams in the second quarter.
The game was decided in the fourth quarter. As the teams traded shots, the Crimson Tide seemed to put a conclusive stamp on the night when Mark Ingram, who rushed for 150 yards, scored on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Greg McElroy, who threw for 230 yards and a touchdown, completing 15 of 30 passes in his first career start.
On a day when No. 3 Oklahoma fell to Brigham Young, the Crimson Tide kept itself among the challengers to Florida's throne with the season-opening win.
Although the Hokies showed mettle by sticking close in a tenuous fourth quarter, their performance left much to be desired. They opened questions about an offense that, even against a stonewall defense, offered only sporadic little signs of life and a generally strong defense that still let up a handful of big plays.
Virginia Tech finished with only 155 yards of total offense and 11 first downs. Alabama rolled up 498 yards of offense.
The defeat spotlighted a painful sticking point for Coach Frank Beamer, who again was unable to overcome a top-rated opponent. Under Beamer, who took over in 1987, Virginia Tech is 1-17 against teams ranked in the Associated Press top five.
Although Alabama fans chanted "SEC!" as time drew to a close in the fourth quarter, the Hokies probably helped the ACC salvage a bit of credibility with the close outcome after two of its teams lost to division I-AA squads on Saturday. The conference, however, has still yet to identify a championship-caliber front-runner.
Saturday's result was the second year in a row that Alabama toppled an ACC foe. Last year, Alabama blew out heavily favored Clemson, 34-10, in the season opener here.
But far from Blacksburg, Virginia Tech seemed at home with its trademark entrance song welcoming them. Those wearing maroon and orange went into hysterics when Metallica's "Enter Sandman" pulsed through the Georgia Dome.
Despite the warm welcome, it was not very pretty for Virginia Tech.
Although the Hokies went into fourth quarter with a 17-16 lead, they frequently buckled under pressure from Alabama's defense and could not stop Alabama's thundering rushing attack. The Hokies took the lead only as a result of Alabama's mistakes and missed opportunity. The Crimson Tide was penalized 10 times for 83 yards.
Virginia Tech regularly failed to build offensive rhythm. On each of Virginia Tech's first two possessions, Taylor was forced to call timeouts as he tried to change pass protections and blocking schemes at the line. The Hokies had a difficulty accounting for the Crimson Tide's swarming front seven.
Special teams made a difference early for the Hokies. Down by six in the first quarter, Dyrell Roberts returned a kick 98 yards for a touchdown. Roberts found an open seam, cut through it and did not have to make a move as he outran Alabama's coverage team to the end zone. Roberts shone as a bright spot all night.
Virginia Tech received a big break late in the second quarter. Taylor converted a 43-yard pass to Williams. But what really altered the drive were two penalties by Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain.
On an option play, Taylor fumbled the ball when defensive end Lorenzo Washington poked it loose. It would have been a loss of 14 yards. But behind the play, McClain leveled an unsuspecting Sergio Render. That earned him a personal foul. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was tacked on when McClain made contact with an official. That gave Virginia Tech possession on the Alabama 4-yard line. Williams scored on a one-yard run three plays later.
But it was the fourth quarter that made a difference. Alabama made two plays that changed the game and gave it the lead. McElroy connected with Marquis Maze on a 48-yard bomb. That set up a six-yard touchdown run by Ingram. On the ensuing kickoff, Chris Rogers stripped Davon Morgan and recovered the fumble. That, it seemed, would be enough to finish off the Hokies.
But Virginia Tech did not go quietly. Alabama, meanwhile, continued to set itself back with penalties. After Roberts returned the ball up the sideline and was hit out of bounds by an Alabama player, Virginia Tech started its drive on the Alabama 37. Williams made good on the opportunity by reaching the end zone on a 32-yard touchdown run. He kept in bounds down the sideline and outstretched toward the pylon; an official review confirmed that he broke the plane of the goal line.
Ingram scored later and effectively ended the Hokies' night.
When the final seconds ticked away, the Alabama fans reveled in the win as "Sweet Home Alabama" played over the loudspeakers. The Hokies fans, meanwhile, were left sulking as Virginia Tech could not capitalize what could have been a signature moment.