With all the smart money flowing the way of the Alabama Crimson Tide, their match-up with the West Virginia Mountaineers to kick off the 2014 season looked like an over-hyped game. Sure, the Mountaineers were a danger to college football’s elite a few years ago, but now? Not so much, it seemed. Obviously, Alabama was going to roll in week one.
As it turns out, things weren’t so easy for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama quickly found itself in a ball game. It was tight throughout the first half, and any time it looked like the Crimson Tide were about to run away with the game, the Mountaineers answered. Alabama went up 17-10 with less than two minutes left in the first half, and it looked like they would go into the half up by seven.
Then West Virginia brought the kickoff back for a touchdown, knotting the game at 17.
Alabama went down the field with the remaining time and kicked a field goal to go up 20-17.
And that halftime score was pretty indicative of how competitive the game was going. Alabama was just a little bit better, but the Mountaineers were right there.
The Tide had the final two drives of the half, thanks to the kickoff return touchdown, so the raw stats favored them pretty clearly. But when you looked at yards per play, the Tide offense was only .6 yards better. And both offenses looked pretty good. The Tide averaged 6.8 yards per play, compared to 6.2 for the Mountaineers.
West Virginia QB Clint Trickett looked like he was fully in command of Dana Holgorsen’s offense, unlike last season, when he often struggled. But quarterbacks tend to improve dramatically as they spend more time in Holgorsen’s system, and Trickett looks like he will be no exception. It happened with Geno Smith and it looks like it is happening with Trickett now.
Although Alabama ended up winning 33-23, the Mountaineers have to be feeling pretty good right now. Trickett finished the game with 365 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions on 29-for-45 passing. The rushing game was mostly stifled, but the Mountaineers will not face a better run defense all year. And it was the same story with stopping the run. Alabama did most of their damage on the ground but, then, they do that to everybody they play.
The Mountaineers looked more like the team people expected to see when they joined the Big 12. They were not good enough to take down the Crimson Tide today, but they looked like a team that could do quite well in conference play.