Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Virginia Tech Complete Game Preview
The 2013 season will open the same way as it did in 2009 for the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Crimson Tide hope it ends the same way, too.
Alabama, of course, went on to an undefeated season and won the first of its three BCS National Championships in the last four years. The 34-24 Crimson Tide victory was the springboard to its current run of dominance.
The Hokies, coming off a disappointing 7-6 season, would love nothing more than to knock Alabama off its perch atop the college football world on opening weekend in what would be a program-defining victory.
Here's everything you need to know.
Time: 5:30 p.m. ET
Place: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ga.
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, VirginiaTech IMGSportsNetwork
Spread: Alabama by anywhere from 18 to 20.5 points, according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com, the biggest spread Virginia Tech has faced since 1992.
All quotes and paraphrases were obtained either firsthand or via phone, where noted.
Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder both agree that Alabama will roll right through the season opener, setting up the biggest game of the season two weeks later.
Alabama Keys to Victory
Contain Logan Thomas
Alabama has been exposed by running quarterbacks in the past. Senior linebacker C.J. Mosley likened Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to someone who did just that to them—Cam Newton.
If the Crimson Tide defense can keep him in the pocket or chase him down when things go wrong—like they did to Michigan's Denard Robinson in last season's opener—the Hokies will struggle on offense.
Get ahead early
The formula for Alabama is simple: score early, let the suffocating defense take over and wear the opposition down with the run game. The first few offensive series will be key to setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Stay the course
On paper, Alabama should run away with a win in the season opener. The only team that can beat Alabama is itself.
Virginia Tech Keys to Victory
Logan Thomas takes over
The Hokies' senior quarterback will be counted on to make plays on his own against a stout Alabama defense. If Thomas can give his receivers time to get open by making plays with his feet and keep the Alabama defense off-balance, Virginia Tech could have a chance to keep up on the scoreboard.
Capitalize on mistakes
It's a season opener, so there are bound to be blunders on both sides. Nick Saban's teams rarely make mistakes, so when they do, you have to make the most of them.
Virginia Tech is an underdog by every metric imaginable. The Hokies will need to play a near-perfect game and still get a couple of calls or bounces to come out on top.
Players to Watch for Alabama
According to Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com, Virginia Tech will lean heavily on freshmen cornerbacks in its season opener due to injuries and attrition.
Amari Cooper should be licking his chops.
The freshman All-American who broke Julio Jones' Alabama freshman records for receptions and yards a year ago returns as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on a deep Crimson Tide receiving corps. Cooper should feast on the Hokies' young secondary.
Junior safety HaHa Clinton-Dix is set for a breakout third year that could see him land in the first round of next year's NFL draft. Starting the season against a quarterback who threw 16 interceptions last season isn't a bad way to open the year.
Thomas told NFL.com's Mike Huguenin at the ACC Football Kickoff in July that he promised to cut down on his interceptions this season. Playing against Alabama's defense and the SEC's co-leader in interceptions in 2012 isn't exactly the best way to start the year.
Players to Watch for Virginia Tech
Whoever the starting running back is
Quarterback Logan Thomas will have to carry the Hokies offense, but he needs a running back to keep them honest.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer said Monday on a conference call with reporters that incumbent starter J.C. Coleman is questionable for Saturday's opener. Andy Bitter of The Virginian-Pilot reports that Trey Edmunds would be the starter if Coleman can't go.
Beamer also said Monday that true freshman tackle Jonathan McLaughlin will start Saturday's opener protecting Thomas' blind side.
He'll face an onslaught from the Alabama pass rush, and how he holds up will directly impact Thomas' effectiveness. Beamer said they can game-plan to ease the load on him.
"I think the type of kid he is, he’s a tough guy and he’ll give you the best effort he's got," Beamer said on the conference call. "Scheme-wise you can help him a little bit."
What They Are Saying
Alabama isn't really thinking about 2009's game in preparation for Saturday, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com:
"Really, we don't look a lot at that game. They have a lot of different players. We have a lot of different players," Saban said. "In some parts of the game, maybe it is beneficial to have played someone a few years back, but in other parts of the game, I think they'll be totally different."
ESPN analyst Chris Spielman thinks Logan Thomas could have a big impact on the game, via Mike Barber of the Times Dispatch:
"I'm not the only one who says this, I think their quarterback is underappreciated," Spielman said. "I don't think people realize how good he is."
Nick Saban is very complimentary of Thomas, via Marq Burnett of The Anniston Star:
"He's shown he has the capability of being an outstanding player in terms of making great throws as well as an ability to run the ball," Saban said. "He's a really big guys who has a really strong arm and is a really strong runner. So, we see him as one of the big challenges for our defense. All we look at is a guy's history to show what he's capable of. If he's not going to play well that’s going to be something that we have to contribute to by how we play."
Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler says the Hokies are a dog, but not a little dog:
Tyler on VT. "I think I see a dog that's ready to pounce." What kind? "I was going to say a small dog, but I didn't want to sound too weak"— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 27, 2013
Logan Thomas is pretty excited for this one:
#Hokies QB Logan Thomas says this Alabama game is the biggest game of his career.— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) August 27, 2013
Alabama 42, Virginia Tech 10
In the end, Alabama is just too strong, too fast, too talented. Virginia Tech is a good football team, but Alabama might be the best.
The Crimson Tide will jump out to a big lead, and the Hokies will find themselves in too big of a hole to climb out of. The Alabama defense will give up a big play or two on a blown assignment, but that's all.
Nick Saban's process keeps rolling, and Virginia Tech becomes the latest victim. But that's nothing to be ashamed of. The Hokies have a talented team with a lot of potential. It's just not enough to challenge the reigning champions.