Alabama vs. Virginia Tech: 10 Things We Learned in Hokies' Loss

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2013

Alabama vs. Virginia Tech: 10 Things We Learned in Hokies' Loss

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    No. 1 Alabama defeated the Virginia Tech Hokies, 35-10, on Saturday in the much-anticipated season opener for both teams. 

    The final score was expected; however, it was how we reached that score that came as a surprise. 

    The Hokies defense was outstanding all game long, unfortunately it was the special teams unit that truly let them down. Two first-half returns by Christion Jones for touchdowns put this game out of reach early, and it was too much of a hole for the Hokies to climb out of. 

    Here are 10 things we learned about the Hokies in Saturday's loss.

Logan Thomas Had No Help

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    Logan Thomas wasn't outstanding by any means, however, he was let down several times early in the game by his receivers. The Hokies could get nothing going in the first quarter, and much of that was due to three dropped passes early.

    Thomas' interception in the second quarter came on a play in which senior receiver D.J. Coles essentially quit on his route. Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri didn't quit on the route and picked off Thomas and ran it back 38 yards for a touchdown.

    Someone at receiver must step up in the next few weeks. 

Logan Thomas Looked a Lot Like the 2012 Model

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    We previously discussed how Thomas had very little help in this game. However, Thomas wasn't without fault.

    After the interception to Sunseri, Thomas seemed to revert back to last year's form—poor footwork, throwing off balance and seemingly throwing deep balls with no chance of being completed.

    One throw summed up Thomas' day perfectly: a third-down incompletion to Joshua Stanford early in the fourth quarter. Stanford was breaking open in the middle of the field, potentially for a big gain with a lot of room in front of him, and Thomas threw it behind him. He was lucky it wasn't intercepted. 

    When your quarterback completes under 20 percent of his passes, well, that's just not good. 

Special Teams Is Bad

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    Is there really anything left to say?

    Punter A.J. Hughes was very good. Hughes averaged over 45 yards per punt. But, when you have to compliment the punter, you know things are bad.

    The Hokies coverage units gave up two returns for touchdowns—one on a kickoff, the other on a punt. Those two plays essentially decided the game.

    If the Hokies want to contend for an ACC title, they must clean this up immediately. It truly is amazing how far they've fallen in this area. Their rise to prominence in the '90s was because of special teams and defense.

    That seems like eons ago. 

Trey Edmunds: Starting Running Back

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    What a debut for the redshirt freshman, Trey Edmunds. The 77-yard touchdown run will be the one everyone talks about, but Edmunds was good all game long.

    There were several runs where Edmunds appeared to be down, but, instead, he plowed forward for extra yardage. He runs with power and looks to deliver the initial blow to the defender. 

    How many freshmen run for 100 yards against Alabama in their first career game?

    The Hokies have found themselves another running back gem in Edmunds. J.C. Coleman will return soon, hopefully next week, and the Hokies will be in good shape at running back. Edmunds' performance, though, should cement his hold on the starting job.

Unbelievably Bad Wide Receiver Play

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    Coming into the season, we figured VT's wide receivers would struggle. No one thought it would be this bad, though.

    Thomas' only interception was because senior wide receiver D.J. Coles quit on his route. He pulled up because it appeared he didn't want to get hit. There was another instance in the fourth quarter where Coles pulled up. The Hokies need more from their only senior receiver. He was abysmal.

    As bad as Coles was, sophomore Demitri Knowles may have been worse. Thomas threw the ball to Knowles 11 times, yet Knowles had only two receptions for three yards. There were numerous passes that hit Knowles in the hands that he simply dropped. 

    Freshman Joshua Stanford could be starting soon. 

Offensive Line Held Up Well

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    Total offensive numbers aside, this offensive line held up well. True freshman Jonathan McLaughlin played a clean game. When you don't hear your name called for four quarters, you played well.

    The only sack the Hokies allowed occurred in the fourth quarter, and it was a coverage sack. 

    The Hokies gave Thomas plenty of time to throw the ball, and there were running lanes open throughout the game. If there is a positive takeaway from this game on the offensive side, it is the play of this group. 

Fuller Brothers Are Special

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    Kyle Fuller was all over the place in this game. He played the run well, showed up big on special teams and had an interception that led to points.

    His younger brother, Kendall, a true freshman, was almost as good. Kendall returned punts and covered All-American wide receiver Amari Cooper when Kyle went down early in the game. Cooper finished with only 38 yards on four catches. Both Fullers frustrated Cooper the entire game. 

    It will be exciting to see this defense when Antone Exum returns. You will have two former All-ACC players in Exum and Kyle Fuller and a possible future All-American in Kendall Fuller. Exciting times in Blacksburg and Kyle and Kendall Fuller are a big reason why this defense will be outstanding. 

Tariq Edwards' Return Is Big

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    2012 was a lost season for linebacker Tariq Edwards. A leg injury forced him to miss half the season, and when he did play, he was ineffective.

    Edwards returned against Alabama, and the Hokies saw what kind of impact he could have. He was all over the place and a big reason the 'Tide could never establish a running game. He got pressure on A.J. McCarron on more than occasion.

    If Edwards can stay healthy and resemble the type of player he was in 2011, this VT linebacker corps will be solid. Jack Tyler is an All-ACC player in the middle, and Edwards' return could help ease the loss of starting whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke.

Defensive Line Is a Deep Group

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    The Hokies didn't get a lot of sacks in this game. That didn't tell the story on the type of pressure they created, though. 

    McCarron, whom some view as a Heisman candidate, was just 10-of-23 for 110 yards. Part of that was due to the pressure the Hokies got on him. 

    We all know about James Gayle, but it was the Hokies' group of defensive tackles who made an impact in this game. The starting tackles, Luther Maddy and Derrick Hopkins were good as expected, but it was freshman Nigel Williams that surprised everyone. The Hokies have been looking for a third defensive tackle to stand out since fall camp started. They found their guy Saturday night.

    Dadi Nicolas and Tyrel Wilson are both excellent pass-rushers off the bench. Nicolas is a future starter. 

Mixed Debut for the New Coaches

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    As much as I want to say the new coaches' debut was a success, the score indicates it was far from that. There were encouraging signs, however.

    Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had his unit playing well. The increased competition in both spring practice and fall camp brought out the best in this group. He continually rotated his linemen around, until he found his best five. Credit Grimes for having the fortitude to start a true freshman at left tackle against Alabama. 

    Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead's group was terrible. But something I like about Moorehead is he isn't afraid of getting after his players. This group needs it. After the Thomas interception, when Coles quit on his route, Moorehead pulled the senior to the side and chewed him out. This coaching staff, on the offensive side, has been afraid to do this in recent years. He coaches them hard, and that will pay off.

    It is hard to judge Scot Loeffler's debut as coordinator. There were some head-scratching calls in the first quarter, but overall, play-calling was not an issue. Execution was the Hokies' biggest problem against Alabama.