ATLANTA — With everyone focused on a three-peat, Nick Saban reminded his Alabama players of someone who did it twice — Michael Jordan.
If they’re going to follow MJ’s lead, they’ll need to play with a lot more passion than they showed in the season opener.
Better get to it.
Next up, it’s Johnny Football.
Christion Jones became the first Alabama player since at least the 1940s to have two returns for touchdowns, Vinnie Sunseri brought back an interception for another TD, and the top-ranked Crimson Tide overcame a rather dismal offensive performance to beat Virginia Tech 35-10 on Saturday night.
Saban sure wasn’t happy with what he saw — especially with Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel looming on the schedule after an off week — so the hard-nosed coach turned to Jordan and his six NBA titles to provide an example.
“He was playing at 35 years old like there was no tomorrow,” Saban said. “It’s interesting. Here was a guy who had nothing to prove, and he played like he had everything to prove. That’s what our team needs to do.”
Jones scored on a 72-yard punt return less than 2 minutes into the game, then scooted loose on a kickoff for a 94-yard touchdown that sparked the Crimson Tide (1-0) to a win that could’ve been much tougher to start its quest for an unprecedented third straight national title.
“It’s every kid’s dream to do something like that,” Jones said.
For good measure, the junior receiver also hauled in a 38-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter to blow it open against the Hokies (0-1), who largely shut down AJ McCarron and Alabama’s highly touted offense.
While the Tide has no shortage of talented receivers and running backs, the line lost three starters from last year’s championship team. Apparently, there’s still some work to do in the trenches, which Saban will surely focus on over the next two weeks before Alabama heads to College Station to face the new Southeastern Conference rival that provided its lone loss of 2012.
The Aggies won their opener against Rice 52-31.
The Tide had just 97 yards total offense at halftime but was up 28-10. McCarron & Co. contributed only one of those TDs, and that came when they worked with a short field after a wobbly Virginia Tech punt.
“We’ve got too good of skill players not to give them an opportunity to make plays in the game,” Saban groaned.