'Bama wins on strength of D, special teams

Paul Abell/USA TODAY Sports

Christion Jones scored three touchdowns in Alabama’s win against Virginia Tech on Saturday.Below are some storylines from Week 1 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Alabama Wins with Defense and Special Teams

If you just looked at the final score, it looks like the Alabama offense had a pretty solid effort in a 35-10 win against Virginia Tech.

Alabama’s Expected Points Added
Saturday vs Virginia Tech

But a look at how the points were actually scored and how each unit performed while actually on the field, and it's clear the Crimson Tide were actually well below average on offense but spectacular in the other two phases.

The special teams scored two touchdowns: one on a punt return and one on a kickoff return, both by Christion Jones. The defense was responsible for an interception return score and set up the offense in opposing territory for each of their two touchdown drives.

Outside of a 77-yard rushing touchdown by Trey Edmunds, the Alabama defense held Virginia Tech very much in check – the Hokies had only six other first downs the whole game.

They held Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas to a career-low 1.9 Total QBR, one of the lowest ratings of the week and the third-lowest by a quarterback with at least 20 action plays in a single game against Alabama since 2004.

On the other hand, the offense was pretty awful, averaging just 3.3 yards per play and stalling out for nearly as many punts (nine) as first downs (11). The Tide’s -12.1 offensive EPA was their fifth-worst of the Saban era (since 2007), and their worst since 2009.

AJ McCarron’s (unadjusted) Total QBR of 23.4 was the second-lowest in a game with at least 20 action plays in his career, ahead of only his 20.7 in Alabama’s 9-6 loss to LSU two years ago.

Johnny Manziel Returns in 2nd Half, Puts His Signature on the Game

After being suspended for the first half, Johnny Manziel took the field with Texas A&M up seven early in the third quarter and led them to 24 points on his five drives to help put the game away.

While his passing numbers look spectacular (6-8, 94 yds, 3 TD) and he ran for two first downs, Manziel also had two third-down sacks that ended Texas A&M drives.

Overall, the reigning Heisman winner finished with a very good Total QBR of 84.6 on just 14 action plays, close to his FBS-best 86.4 (unadjusted) Total QBR from last season. Manziel has seven straight games with a raw QBR of 80 or above going back to last season.