Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview
Chick-Fil-A College Kickoff Game time: August 31 at 4:30 p.m. at The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia
The last time the Crimson Tide lined up in the Georgia Dome there is no question they faced a much stiffer test than what they will get when they match up with the Virginia Tech Hokies of the maligned ACC. However, Nick Saban and company will not sleep over the summer, and neither should be fans expecting this game to be a complete blowout. While the Hokie offense can and will turn the ball over, their lunch pail defense and extra-special special teams should be enough to keep them in the game until the fourth quarter when the talent gap between both programs should start to become apparent. Let’s look at the how the teams will match up with each other at the Chick-Fila-A College Kickoff in our Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview:
Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview
When Virginia Tech has the ball:
After last season’s display of impotent offense, Frank Beamer overhauled his entire offensive staff; he hired Scott Loeffler, a castoff from Auburn, as offensive coordinator, and replaced the offensive line coach and several other key assistants on that side of the ball. What does that mean? Not a whole lot if Logan Thomas and those young receivers don’t grow up in a hurry. We start with the offensive changes here in our Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview.
This spring Loeffler began to install his new offense, which if you look at his previous two stops (Temple and Auburn) means that he will be using a run first, then throws the ball to keep them honest pro-style offense.
The new offense will allow Thomas to improvise when plays break down and use his speed and athleticism to make plays and keep the offense on the field. Why is it important that Thomas can run? Simply put, during spring practice the offensive coaches at Virginia Tech never finalized a starting five on the line, they are unsure the five they put up against the vaunted Bama defense will be able to protect their signal caller in a pocket .
If you look at the Hokie depth chart, you will see the size to protect against the blitzing linebackers and safeties, but there is a lack of speed and experience against such an aggressive defense as the Hokies face playing against Alabama. In their game against Florida State last year, arguably the best defense they faced all season, the only scoring the Hokies could muster was on long passes on busted plays where experienced receivers knew where to go to get open and allow Thomas to get them the ball. This year? All three of Virginia Tech’s leading receivers are gone, leaving lots of youth in charge of making Logan Thomas look good against what could be the best secondary in the country.
So with all that said what should you expect from Kirby Smart’s defense? Let’s examine that next in our Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview.
Expect the Bama defense to contain Logan Thomas. The last time the defense was faced with the task of defending a highly mobile quarterback they lost. Sure it was to Johnny Manziel, but it was still a loss. So this time the emphasis will be placed on containing the quarterback and making him win with his arm. Why should it work this time? Logan Thomas has had a problem in the past with decision-making and this should continue against Alabama since they can drop into multiple looks from the same base look.
Adrian Hubbard and C.J. Mosley will be pressed with the task of keeping Thomas in the pocket at certain points during the night. In most cases a linebacker on a speedy, shifty guy like Logan Thomas is a sure fire mismatch, but not this time. The east-west speed of both of these players will be enough to keep their man from gaining too many yards from broken plays. Brandon Ivory will need to get a big push up the middle and if he can do that he will be able to force Thomas into the waiting arms of another defender coming off of the edge. With the pressure coming from seemingly everywhere on the field Logan Thomas is going to have to find a receiver that is going to be open and this is where he will make mistakes.
Alabama does a tremendous job of disguising coverages they bring safeties up to drop corners, play zone, play man, bring the corners on a blitz and rely on the linebackers to cover the receivers until the safeties are able to help on the route. Alabama does so much on defense to confuse the quarterback that Geno Smith, Deion Belue, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and Vinnie Sunseri will be preying on the youth of the Hokies young receivers all night. The Crimson Tide defense is going to use multiple looks with different coverage and blitz combinations to confuse Thomas and his receivers into changing plays and routes and bait them into turning the ball over.
This match-up easily goes to the defending national champions. The Virginia Tech offense is adjusting to a new system, breaking in new receivers and an essentially new line all against a tested, tough, deceptive defense that will force even the best players into making mistakes.
Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview
When Alabama has the ball:
A.J. McCarron is an efficient, intelligent quarterback that makes every other player on his team look and perform better, and when the running game is churning out yards and his line gives him time in the pocket the offense is nearly unstoppable. We start this section with the challenges facing Virginia Tech’s defense in our Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview.
The Virginia Tech defense is an aggressive, unrelenting, blue-collar unit that has speed, size, and experience on their side. Led by linebacker Jack Tyler, the Hokie defense aims first to stop the run and force offenses to pass in order to beat them.
The last time Virginia Tech faced a pro-style offense with the talent of Alabama, they held a team who finished the season averaging 205 yards rushing per game to negative yards on the ground. If the Crimson Tide are going to be successful against Virginia Tech they are going to have to rely upon the arm of McCarron. For McCarron he is going to need to trust his offensive line, which will be breaking in three new starters, to protect him against the Hokie front seven that will be looking to stay in the Crimson Tide backfield all night. If the Alabama offensive line can keep McCarron clean and T. J. Yeldon moving forward this could be a long night for the Virginia Tech faithful.
Look for Bud Foster, Tech’s defensive coordinator, to pressure the new right tackle Austin Shepherd or Brandon Greene and redshirt freshmen center Ryan Kelly and force McCarron to move to his left with the goal of forcing inaccurate passes that will stall drives. The Hokies’ ability to do this consistently will determine how much success the defenses will have against Alabama.
Alabama’s passing game should benefit from Virginia Tech’s focus on stopping the run. Bud Foster will stack the box to make sure Doug Nussmeier cannot control the tempo of the game. A.J. McCarron will have a strong advantage on the outside with his talented receivers. Last season the Hokies could not stop the pass even when they knew it was coming, and while that secondary is coming back intact with lots of experience opening the year against an offense which does not make mistakes and has the speed to burn anyone. Nick Saban will never allow the offense to spread it out and ignore the run completely, but if there was ever a game to do it, this would be it.
Expect the deeper routes, and the stress to be put on yards after the catch during this game, especially if the run game does not get going early. Given the strength of the Virginia Tech linebackers passes into the middle would be unwise unless it was an obvious passing situation where the backers would be coming, if not the possibility exists for deflections and interceptions. The matchups on the outside, though, favor Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood. This is where McCarron should live and where he should find the most success against the Hokie defense.
The edge here goes to Alabama. While it is completely possible that the Crimson Tide could have their lowest rushing total in years against the Hokies there is just no evidence that Virginia Tech’s secondary will be able to stop the pass.
In the end, the talent gap is too great for the Hokies to overcome and while this may stay close through halftime, the final score will be more indicative of the talent gap on the field. Expect there to be some feeling each other out early when the Alabama offense is on the field, but when you see the Hokie offense the Tide are going to bring the fire to Logan Thomas and force him into early mistakes and give their offense a short field.
Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview Prediction: Alabama 35 Virginia Tech 10
Thanks for reading our Alabama vs Virginia Tech Preview. Share your thoughts about the season opener in the comment section below. Also, check back for more previews including a look at the Alabama vs. Texas A&M game. For more information on the season, view the 2013 Alabama Football Schedule.
—Special to the Capstone Report by Coach DS.