A lot has been said about the returning offensive starters for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Not because of how dominant they'll be, as compared to last year's 12-0 undefeated regular season, but because of how the lack of experience by many is viewed as a problem. Well I don't buy it.
Many point out that departed OT Andre Smith, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, was the glue to last year's OL pointing to the dismal showing the Tide gave in their BCS Sugar Bowl appearance as evidence. Many forget however, that Andre Smith himself was a starter from the day he stepped on campus so recent history proves it's becoming more of the norm for first year players to step in and contribute huge dividends. Take a look at Coach Nick Saban's recently released depth chart, 20 of the 2008 recruiting class fill prominent positions with 8 players listed as starters. Ask any one who follows the Tide and their emphatic response to the showing in the Sugar Bowl had as much to do with the Tide not playing for the National Championship as it did with Smith not suiting up.
Another reason some consider Bama to be due a let down in 2009 is Quarterback play. It's very difficult to win in the SEC breaking in a new quarterback, not to mention season opening top 10 match-ups. Greg McElroy however will not be called on to win many games, with the likes of Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and others he probably will not have too. The chant "defense wins championships" has much more merit and even sounds better than "we can score more than you can and both of these teams bring a powerful defense to Atlanta.
So which offense will be able to score against the others vaulted defense? Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor is an explosive Quarterback, with unmatched scambling ability, able to run and throw with ease. Many believe he will be doing just that - scrambling - against a very fast, physical and considerd by many the top defense in the country. Running up the middle against Alabama's Terrance "Mount" Cody will be futile at best and Alabama fields more hard hitting star studded linebackers than they can even play at one time. The defensive backfield utilizes lightning speed to cover receivers, offsetting the extra time Taylor's scrambling may offer.
In this brutal season opening match-up, Tyrod Taylor may have to win this game with his arm. On the other side of the ball Bama will ask it's signal caller McElroy to limit mistakes and to simply manage the game much like John Parker Wilson was asked to do last year.
Virginia Tech's defense will not give Bama much room and the yardage will be minimal at best but this Bama team faces Florida, Georgia & LSU's each and every week - they know what a good defense is. Speaking of good defenses, this new "untested" Alabama line has faced the fiercest defense in the country in the spring and now throughout fall practice every day - their own. With Virginia Tech finishing 11th in the ACC last year in total offense, only Virginia fared worse, the Hokies may need a little more than Taylor to get the job done, unfortunately they don't have much more.
Special team play from both sides will be worth the price of admission alone. Kicking, punting and returns will all be solid from Beamers noted skills to Javier's proven returns for touchdowns.
In a game of this magnitude, Frank Beamer must get his players to settle down early. Coach Saban's Crimson Tide played in the Georgia Dome twice last year, a thrashing of Clemson and a knock down drag out with the eventual National Champion Florida Gators. Will the Tech players get a little shell shocked from the feel of a real major sporting event? Look - playing for an ACC Championship in front of empty seats doesn't qualify.
Another reason the Hokie faithful should be worried, an offensive output of 14 points against Duke towards season end does not a great fortune tell. In fact 7 of those 14 points were from an interception return for a touchdown late in the game. What about the 35 point explosion in the Nebraska game you ask, a safety and two short drives of 5 & 33 yards respectively gives VT three scores from turn overs or they would have lost that game as well. Want more worrisome stats, Virginia Tech does not have a junior or senior on their two deep wide receiver roster and the offense didn't score a receiving TD until November 22nd. Speaking of offensive woes, Center Beau Warren, all 277 pounds, will be facing a meaner leaner 354 pound Mount Cody that should spend more time in the backfield than Taylor himself.
Don't look now but Coach Nick Saban and the Tide defense just might be drooling at this match up. All of the hype associated with Virginia Tech this season might be warranted but it'll only be warranted after an upset over Alabama and certainly not based on the outcome of the 2008 season. Maybe I don't know football, maybe I'm missing something here, but I can't find the reasons this Virginia Tech team is so highly regarded.
One thing is for sure, they play the games for a reason, last years stats mean nothing and although one old adage "defense wins championships" is met by another "anyone on any given day can win one game". The winner moves on and talks national hopes, and the loser goes home to talk about what might have been.