ATLANTA _ It had all been worth it.

After numerous position changes, years as a backup and months of a high-profile quarterback competition to start, fifth-year senior Blake Sims showed why he’s stuck around the University of Alabama for so long, waiting for his opportunity.

While setting program records for most completions and attempts by a quarterback in his debut as a starter, Sims went 24 of 33 for 250 yards and ran for 42 more to help lead No. 2 Alabama to a 33-23 victory against West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic on Saturday night.

“Felt real good,” he said with a smile afterward. “I’m proud of my team. I’m glad of the way we went out and kept our poise.”

Sims, who initially tried safety, wide receiver and running back before finally becoming a quarterback for the Crimson Tide, didn’t have any touchdowns or any long downfield passes as his biggest play came from senior wide receiver DeAndrew White turning a short catch into a 38-yard gain.

He also wasn’t sacked and had just one interception despite working with a new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin.

Somewhat similarly the defense played pretty well in spots, especially in the red zone, but it was far from flawless. With two first-time starters at the interior linebacker spots due to Trey DePriest’s one-game suspension, and some continuing problems at cornerback, the Crimson Tide gave up 393 total yards.

The one touchdown it yielded was by wide receiver Kevin White, who got a good chunk of his nine receptions for 143 receiving yards against junior cornerback Bradley Sylve, including a 19-yard touchdown to make the score 10-10 in the second quarter.

West Virginia’s other touchdown came on special teams, a 100-yard kick return by Mario Alford to immediately answer an Alabama score at 17-17.

“They came out in a lot of new formations, we hadn’t seen it on film,” said sophomore defensive end Jonathan Allen, who had one of Alabama’s three sacks. “Nobody panicked.

“Once we started to affect their quarterback, our defense starting taking off.”

Junior safety Landon Collins had something to do with that as well, with one of his team-leading eight tackles being of the vicious variety on an incompletion, and another when Jordan Thompson made the mistake of fielding freshman JK Scott’s first punt of 62 yards at his own 7.

West Virginia managed just 28 rushing yards for the game and 22 total yards in the fourth quarter when it twice went three-and-out. Two other times the Mountaineers had to settle for field goals after having the ball inside the Alabama 10.

“Probably the difference in the game for us,” Nick Saban said.

The longer the game went, though, the more that Alabama physically took control even though it never pulled ahead by more than 10 points. Led by 100-yard performances by three players, while White was on pace to join them before sustaining a separated shoulder, the offense accumulated 538 total yards.

Junior wide receiver Amari Cooper had the most yards with 130 yards on 12 catches, one short of the Crimson Tide’s single-game record set by DJ Hall (2007 vs. Tennessee). Junior running back T.J. Yeldon notched 126 on 23 carries and Derrick Henry 113 on 17 handoffs.

The running backs combined to score three touchdowns and keyed long scoring drives of 14, 13 and 11 plays while Alabama played keep-away with the ball while dominating time of possession, 37:47 to 22:13.

“Their backs were big hard runners,” said West Virginia middle linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who was credited with 11 tackles (nine solo) while safety Karl Joseph made 18. “The long drives took a toll on us.”

“We wanted to be physical,” senior right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “We set out to do that, we tried to dominate the line of scrimmage, get push. We like those guys to make us look good.”

Yet the night really belonged to Blake, who grew up in nearby Gainesville, Ga., and had been competing with Florida State transfer Jacob Coker through the summer and training camp. Nevertheless, he nearly got pulled in the second quarter when Saban noticed that his quarterback appeared to be rattled and told Coker to start warming up.

“It wasn’t in his play, it was he called a couple formations wrong in the huddle, he called a couple plays wrong,” Saban said. “We had to burn a couple timeouts.

“There was confusion on the field. That’s when I said to Lane, I said, ‘Hey, let’s just go no-huddle and it’ll make it a lot simpler for him,’ and when we did that he sort of got it back together and then was fine.”

When Alabama finished off one of those long touchdown drives, Sims finally let out the emotion and briefly celebrated with a Tiger Woods-like arm pump — his favorite moment from the game he’ll never forget.

“I’m just so proud of the guy,” Shepherd said.