On Sep. 5, one of the most anticipated games of the 2009 college football season will pit No. 5 Alabama against No. 5 Virginia Tech on prime time television. This article will examine some of the key match-ups in the game.
Matchup No. 1: The UA O-Line vs. the VATech D-Line
UA enters the 2009 season breaking in three new faces on the offensive line. Juco transfer James Carpenter enrolled prior to spring training and enters fall camp with a solid grasp on the LT position vacated by former All-American Andre Smith. Carpenter has impressed the staff with his abilities allowing heralded incoming freshman D.J. Fluker to get some looks at the RT position.
The strongest player on the Tide team, Junior William Vlachos, stepped into the center position formerly held by All-SEC C Antoine Caldwell and hasn't looked back. Vlachos has performed quite well in his starting spot going into fall camp.
Junior Brian Motley emerged from the spring as the leader at the RG position. Motley has battled injuries to this point in his career. RT Drew Davis has shifted to RG in practice when Fluker comes in at RT. RG is still a question mark.
VT enters fall camp doing some reshuffling on their defensive line. Junior DE Jason Worilds returns after leading the Hokies in sacks last season with 8. Beyond him, things are a little shaky. VT has very few experienced defensive linemen returning. Junior John Graves, a starting tackle, has been moved to defensive end to fill the spot vacated by Orion Martin.
VT coaches hope senior Nekos Brown is able to step up at DE and allow Graves to return to his more natural tackle position.
UA relies heavily on the rushing attack and boasts one of the best backfields in the SEC. Freshman All-American RB Mark Ingram returns for his sophomore season as the leader at running back. He is joined by senior Roy Upchurch and highly touted incoming freshman Trent Richardson.
UA is breaking in some new linemen with some experience. VT is shuffling some linemen due to inexperience and lack of depth. UA had one of the top rushing offenses in the SEC last season and returns a deep, talented backfield.
Slight edge here goes to Alabama.
Matchup No. 2: VT Passing Attack vs. UA Secondary
The Hokies have finished 99th or worse in total offense for three consecutive seasons. If VT has any hopes of defeating UA, that will have to change.
Junior Tyrod Taylor returns as the starting QB for the Hokies. Splitting time with Sean Glennon last season and working with three freshmen wide receivers, Taylor only threw 2 TD passes in 2008. Taylor has had some mechanical issues in his throwing technique that coaches have tried to address in the spring. Taylor has suffered from ankle injuries and must stay healthy. Behind Taylor, there is little depth.
Last season, VT had to rely on three freshmen receivers. Jarrett Boykin ended up being the most consistent of the three. He led the team with 441 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. The VT passing game, which was anemic at best last season, must have major improvements to move the ball on a tough UA defense.
The UA secondary drew some criticism last season for failing to finish on some plays. Although in position to make a play, often times the DB failed to look back for the football.
The departure of All-American FS Rashad Johnson leaves a void. Sophomore Robby Green has emerged as the leader to replace Johnson. Green possesses speed and solid coverage skills, but lacks experience. Senior Justin Woodall, a hard hitting strong safety, returns to call the plays in the defensive backfield.
Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas both return in the starting cornerback spots. Jackson is a solid cover corner who sometimes shows poor technique. If coaches can get him to turn for the ball, he will be in a position to make more interceptions. Arenas, who has exceptional speed, came into his own last season as a first-year starter and, by season's end, teams avoided throwing his way.
Marquis Johnson returns at the nickel corner spot, but had some issues with consistency last season. Blue chip freshman Dre Kirkpatrick has already turned the coaches heads in early fall camp with his speed and coverage ability. He will push Johnson for playing time.
VT's passing attack has been porous the past several seasons. Taylor has yet to prove he can get the job done in the air. Facing a Nick Saban defense won't be easy. The experience in the UA secondary is a major plus for UA.
Large edge here goes to Alabama.
Matchup No. 3: Special Teams
UA has a true star on special teams in Javier Arenas. Arenas is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. As an All-SEC punt returner last season, he averaged 15.9 yards per return with three touchdowns. Leigh Tiffin returns at PK and is a solid SEC kicker. P.J. Fitzgerald returns to handle punting duties and has been average at best.
VT will have to rely on a new kicker for the third straight season. Ryan Williams emerged as the leading candidate for punt returner and Dyrell Roberts returns as a solid kick returner.
UA has an explosive return man and a solid kicker. VT breaks in a new kicker and a new punt returner. Special teams is always a trademark of a Beamer coached team.
Large Edge here goes to UA.
Match-Up #4: Nick Saban Vs. Frank Beamer
Nick Saban is one of the top five coaches in college football today and is known for his versatile 3-4 pressure defense. Saban is a master motivator and adjusts well during games. Saban comes in with a 105-50-1 career coaching record. Saban has led his teams to one national championship and two divisional championships.
Frank Beamer is one of the top 10 coaches in college football. Beamer is known for stout defenses and excellent special teams. Beamer comes in with a 218-112-4 career coaching record. Beamer has led his team to 3 Big East titles and 3 ACC titles.
Two of the top coaches in football square off with both relying on strong defenses.
Slight edge here goes to Alabama.
This matchup looks to be one of the best this college football season. The teams will be similar in what thay try to accomplish: maintaining a strong defense and running the football. The recent loss of Darren Evans, the starting RB for VT, makes the Hokies' task even more difficult.
Look for Alabama to use a strong defense and solid rushing attack to beat the Hokies.