On Saturday night all the guesswork, all the anticipation and all the preparation will co..."/> On Saturday night all the guesswork, all the anticipation and all the preparation will co..."/>

Alabama v.s. Virginia Tech: Welcoming in the 2013 season


On Saturday night all the guesswork, all the anticipation and all the preparation will come to an end as the 2013/14 college football season for the Alabama Crimson Tide gets underway in downtown Atlanta. No more waiting, no more wondering and no more assumptions come into play as the Alabama team captains will make their way to midfield of the Georgia dome for the coin toss against the Hokies of Virginia Tech. …..It’s time to play ball.

Since the arrival of head Coach Nick Saban to Tuscaloosa the Crimson Tide have made it a point to play a non-conference game each season against a school rich in football tradition and nationally respected in an attempt to boost the strength of schedule and continue to challenge the players. Saban prefers to begin the season playing a tough opponent in order to answer as many questions he and his staff have about the team and players right off the bat, as well as giving the players a little more motivation in the off season. Knowing where the team is at (mentally & physically) and having a solid measuring stick  in the first game has its benefits and it has paid off well in years past. Coach Saban likes to know the status of his team and the staff from day one, so potential issues can be addressed before they become a problem and this season will be no different.


No other college team has put more players in the NFL over the last 5 years than the Crimson Tide and no other team has been close to putting the number of players into the first round of the NFL draft. Losing NFL ready players year in and year out should be far more troubling than it  is for the Bama staff but thanks to tireless recruiting efforts and finishing number one in recruiting multiple years, the Tide has been able to maintain an unmatched talent level. last year Alabama lost a substantial amount of experience to the NFL and if the Tide were going to have a down year it was last year. Winning back to back titles put the rest of college football on notice that the run Alabama has been on isn’t ending anytime soon. Alabama returns virtually all of it’s skill position players on offense and the majority of playmakers from last years top ranked defense.

Virginia Tech is traveling a much different path coming off the worst season in Blacksburg in a number of years, winning only 7 games, and barely finishing over .500. Despite averaging somewhere in the high 20s over the last 5 years in recruiting, Hokies head coach Frank Beamer has managed to do more with less and field squads that consistently outperformed their expectations based on recruiting.  This year could be one of the biggest challenges the Hokies have faced in a while, but the disappointing 2012 season and the need to bounce back in a top heavy ACC could be the motivation that Beamer and his staff have been looking for to put together a winner.

Mark ingram up and over for a TD the last time Bama squared off with the Hokies.

 Alabama Offense:

The 2013 Tide offense is being lauded as possibly the most talented group of players collectively that Alabama has fielded in a long time and that could very well be the case.  As we all painfully witnessed in 2010, being the most talented team will only get you so far before the wheels fall off. Alabama will take the field led by AJ McCarron, two time national championship starting QB, and one of the most highly touted NFL prospects in the nation. He will be throwing the ball to a group of receivers with the collective talent superior to any group of Bama receivers I have seen Alabama field in my lifetime. TJ yeldon, the Sophomore RB who surpassed plenty of freshman rushing records for the Tide in his first season will lead a pack of backs as talented as any group in the entire country. The main question surrounding this tide offense is the play of the O-Line as a unit and their ability to sustain blocks and push for the running game to flourish as it has every year under Saban. My connections in T-Town explain that this year’s scrimmage was the first under Saban in which the O-Line played better in pass protection than it did in run blocking which is good news for McCarron but not exactly music to the ears of the running backs.  That group of guys will need to get things straightened out and become more physical at the point of attack or those talented backs will face a tough go of it this season.

Virginia Tech will lean on the 9 returning starters on defense to try and slow down the Tide’s balanced run/pass offense and their main goal will be to get to the QB as much as possible in an effort to keep the score within reach towards the 4th quarter. Stopping the run against a Tide team with so many talented RB’s and a coach determined to run the ball, it is a tall order, especially with 3 of the Hokies top 4 leading tacklers being defensive backs. The Hokies lost All-ACC linebacker Bruce Taylor to graduation and leaving a soft spot in the middle of the defense against this Tide team is just asking for trouble. I don’t expect an air show like many fans do but if Saban feels like he needs to stretch it out and create a point cushion he should be able to do so almost at will. I actually expect a heavy dose of running and short screen passes/dump off passes throughout most of this game, especially with coach Saban being less than happy with the run blocking and the lack of physicality the O-Line showed in scrimmages to date.

        I AM MOST INTERESTED IN SEEING…. 1) Freshman tight end OJ Howard in his first game blocking and recognizing defensive formations….. Howard is a talent that we haven’t seen at Alabama in a long time and that is exciting in and of itself.

2) My connections in and around the program unanimously name Jalston Fowler as the most likely candidate for offensive MVP outside of AJ and that speaks volumes about the staff’s feelings towards his potential and how many different ways he can and will be used this year. Counting him out or thinking he will fade in the shadow of the other talented players around him is definitely a mistake. 3) Who comes in to relieve AJ if the score gets too lopsided and what types of plays will that QB be relegated to calling? If Sims comes in as he did last year and doesn’t run the same type of offense as AJ, then it’s safe to assume a solid #2 backup QB hasn’t been decided upon. If Sims comes in however and drops back in the pocket, runs play action and throws passes with similar plays to the starting  unit, then we have a clear #2 QB.

Alabama Defense:

With AJ, the receivers and plethora of top rated running backs, this year’s Tide offense is getting some rare media hype and attention but make no mistake, this team is built on dominating defense first and foremost. Beginning with the defensive line, this group could be the most talented group under Saban to date and the depth behind the starters is finally solid enough to withstand an injury of two without taking a step back. Pagan and Stinson are both healthy and primed for really big years as the “bookends” of this Bama defense and both players are considered among the best nationally in the eyes of NFL scouts. Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake will split time at nose tackle with Ivory being more experienced and Lake the young stud Alabama has needed to carry the load in the middle. Just beyond the huge D-Line awaits a linebacker corps that is easily talented enough to be the best group in college football and the depth at the position could even allow a couple of substitutions without losing a shred of productivity. Led By CJ Mosely, who is largely regarded as the best LB in the country, the backers will be the heart and soul of a defense with high expectations.

When you get past the first two levels of the defense, the most questionable group on this side of the ball reveals itself with the cornerbacks. The corners will be led by Deion Belue, who needs to have a breakout year, followed by a lot of talented corners with minimal experience who will have to grow up fast and learn on the go. Early suspension of Soph corner Geno Smith will allow some younger players to prove or disprove their readiness to play. The best news regarding the inexperience and lack of depth at corner lies within the head coach and the safeties. Saban isn’t considered the best just for his hands on work with the defensive backs but as well as his schemes and ability to play to his team’s strengths. Corner is a weak link of sorts but a safety corps superior to that of any team in the country will hold that defensive backfield together and the accumulated talent at the position is really astounding. HaHa is the leader at safety (and #1 NFL prospect at his position) along with Vinnie Sunseri and both players have a ton of experience combined with relentless play and priceless knowledge of the defensive playbook. Young safety Landon Collins is a star waiting for his time to shine and he should be more comfortable than last year and Jarrick Williams is itching to get healthy and prove himself worthy of being on the field with the best.  Coach Saban is the master of masking any potential weak spots at cornerback by using more athletic safeties to offer support in coverage cutting down on QB’s airing it out downfield. The talent and experience at safety will go a long way in helping out the young inexperienced corners.

       I AM MOST INTERESTED IN SEEING…. 1)Which young corners (Cy. Jones, Sylve, Fulton), step up their game to the next level and show the physicality and technique they need to be starters and which young corners are the first off the bench in relief. 2) which D-Linemen come in the game when they go to 4 down-linemen in passing situations and do they bring in an extra safety or an extra corner to play nickel. (with depth at corner at a minimum, it will almost surely be a safety). 3) Pressure on the quarterback and where it is coming from. Uncertainty at cornerback can be battled by pressuring the passer and it’ll be interesting to see if we rely on the D-line or will the safeties/linebackers be coming off the edge more than they did last year. Hokie QB Logan Thomas had a terrible season in 2012 and he didn’t handle pressure especially well. 

It’s almost negligent to talk about a game against VaTech without addressing  special teams with the emphasis the Hokies put on that part of the game. Coach Saban prefers to leave much of the special teams duties for his young budding stars to cut their teeth on so don’t be surprised if VaTech hits a big special teams play or two. Alabama hasn’t been stellar in the return game or in their coverage teams but they haven’t done anything to cost them a game either. Don’t expect special teams play to change the outcome here but this is probably the game where a few hard lessons will be learned. VaTech simply doesn’t have the personnel to go toe to toe with Alabama and they don’t have the skill players on offense to make the Tide pay for any miscues. The Hokies have locked down their practices from outsiders at the request of new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler (yes, the same Loeffler who was the offensive coach for the 2012 Auburn Tiger Eagles) to send the impression they have a surprise in store but his last meeting against Saban and Kirby was more like a feeding frenzy than a competitive event. In short, this game spread will come down to the Tide O-Line and their ability to move the Hokie D-Line around in the run game. If Bama’s running backs find success allowing Saban to get a few touchdown lead and start pounding the ball in there, VaTech won’t have the talent or the time to try and come back . If the Tide has trouble finding and creating running lanes and has to take to the air more than usual, this game could get out or hand very quickly.


Join me here on the Tooth each week for a game breakdown to preview upcoming games and each sunday evening for a post-game wrap up and analysis. you can also Log into the football forums for all the up to date discussions about Tide football and discussion without all the nonsense of other message boards.

**Please feel free to log in and post in the comment section what you are most looking forward to in this game and how do you see the final score shaking out in the end?**