ATLANTA — West Virginia University seniors Clint Trickett and Kevin White worked together to establish personal bests in Saturday’s 33-23 loss to Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game here at the Georgia Dome.
Trickett, a 6-foot-2, 186-pound quarterback and White, a 6-3, 210-pound wide receiver, connected nine times for 143 yards against the historically stingy Crimson Tide defense. Alabama ranked No. 5 in total defense last season, but Trickett threw for a career-best 365 yards and White had the most receptions (nine) and yards (143) of his WVU career.
Trickett finished 29 for 45 passing with one touchdown — a 19-yarder to White in the second quarter — and zero interceptions. Trickett’s previous best for passing yardage was 356 in last season’s loss to Iowa State. The 29 completions against Alabama is also a personal best.
“I was happy with Clint,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I thought he played well, he competed well. He knew where to go with the ball.
“He got a little bit antsy back there at times and missed some throws, but when you’re looking at what he’s looking at, that’s going to happen.”
White twice had seven catches last season and piled up 130 yards in a loss at Baylor. Saturday’s touchdown catch from Trickett marks his third consecutive game with a receiving score. White hauled in the pass in the back-right corner of the end zone to tie the game at 10-10 with 11:58 left of the second quarter.
All of White’s first-half catches came on scoring drives. He had three receptions for 50 yards on the opening drive before jumping over Alabama defensive back Bradley Sylve for the game-tying touchdown.
Trickett’s 365 passing yards is the 17th-best single-game performance in WVU history.
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Alabama piled up 538 yards of total offense behind first-time starting quarterback Blake Sims, who finished 24 for 33 with 250 passing yards and 42 rushing yards. He didn’t have a touchdown and tossed one interception.
Sims beat out Florida State transfer Jacob Coker for the starting job and Coker didn’t see action until the final drive. Coker’s time almost came in the second quarter, however, when WVU and Alabama were knotted at 10-10 and 17-17.
“In the second quarter Blake got a little bit rattled,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He called a couple formations wrong in the huddle, he called a couple plays wrong. We had to burn a couple timeouts. We went down to one on the (play) clock a couple times.”
Alabama went to a no-huddle offense to simplify it for Sims.
The senior broke school records for completions and attempts for a first-time starter at Alabama.
“I thought he played well,” Holgorsen said. “I thought he did a good job of running their offense and getting the ball to a bunch of guys that are going to be playing ball for a long, long time.”
In addition to Sims’ offensive day, running backs T.J. Yeldon (23 carries for 126 yards) and Derrick Henry (17 carries for 113 yards) each had 100-yard games. Yeldon scored twice and Henry once.
Amari Cooper added 12 receptions and 130 receiving yards.
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West Virginia received the opening kickoff and promptly put together a 14-play, 79-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard chip-shot field goal by Josh Lambert to give the Mountaineers a 3-0 lead. That’s just the third time in Alabama’s last 34 games that an opposing team has scored on the opening drive.
Trickett was 4 of 7 for 53 yards on the opening drive, and he’s only the second QB in that 34-game span to lead his team to points on the opening drive against the Crimson Tide’s defense. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is the other. The Heisman Trophy winner led the Aggies to opening-drive touchdowns in last season’s 49-42 Alabama win, and in 2012 when Texas A&M lost to the Crimson Tide, 29-24, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
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Mario Alford’s 100-yard kickoff return set a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game record. Alford, a 5-foot-9, 177-pound senior and Greenville, Ga., native, raced down the right sideline for a touchdown to tie the game, 17-17, with 1:43 left of the second quarter.
It was a quick answer for the Mountaineers, who had fallen behind, 17-10, just 14 seconds earlier when Alabama running back Yeldon plunged in from 1-yard out to give the Crimson Tide a touchdown lead.
The Kickoff Game’s previous record was held by Virginia Tech’s Dyrell Roberts, who had a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Hokies’ 34-24 loss to Alabama here in 2009.
Alford became the eighth player in WVU history with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
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West Virginia had three first-time starters against Alabama: running back Rushel Shell, cornerback Dravon Henry and defensive lineman Noble Nwachukwu.
Shell, a sophomore transfer from Pitt, finished with team-highs in attempts (10) and rushing yards (38) in his debut.
Henry made six tackles and Nwachukwu had five solo tackles.
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The official attendance was 70,502, the fifth-highest in the history of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
That’s the 29th-largest crowd to see West Virginia play and the 30th time at least 70,000 fans have witnessed a Mountaineers football game. WVU is 6-24 in those games.
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Alabama was ranked No. 2 in the preseason Associated Press poll, making this the 18th time West Virginia has faced a team ranked in the top two in the national polls. The Mountaineers are now 0-8 all-time against teams ranked No. 2, and 0-18 against teams occupying the top two spots in the media rankings.