The seventh ranked Virginia Tech Hokies are set to take on the fifth ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Challenge at 8 p.m. est in Atlanta, GA Saturday night.
Both teams have received a tremondous amount of hype leading up to this game, and both teams still have a lot of questions left to answer about their offense.
Virginia Tech will return all but three offensive starters from last year. The two new offensive lineman, Beau Warren and Jaymes Brooks, have both played in the past. Brooks started in the Orange Bowl last year against Cincinatti and played very well for the Hokies.
Warren will have the toughest challenge of all the lineman trying to defend Alabama's defensive tackle Terrance Cody.
Junior Tyrod Taylor, sophmore Jarret Boykin, sophomore Danny Coale, and senior Greg Boone are all returning starters for the Hokies on offense this season. Sergio Render, Ed Wang, and Blake DeChristopher return on the offensive line.
The Hokies are still young on offense, but do have experience in all of the positions listed above.
What's usually the most sure position for the Hokies on offense is now in question. When Darren Evans went down with a torn ACL he left a void in the Hokies backfield. Now Josh Oglesby, Ryan Williams and David Wilson are left to fill the void. All three bring a different running style to the table, and Frank Beamer said all three backs will play.
Oglesby is the only back with game experience, and Williams is a redshirt freshman while Wilson is a true freshman.
I'm not expecting the Hokies to have huge success running the ball in this one, but there's a chance a big play or two can come out of the backfield.
For the Crimson Tide, Greg McElroy and Mark Ingram are the new starters on offense, along with three new offensive lineman. Julio Jones will look to play a big part in the outcome of the game, but his success relies on that of McElroy.
Both defenses will be very tough to move the ball on, and whoever wins the defensive and special teams battle will likely win the game. It's not rocket science just a simple truth.
Neither offense will be able to overcome a tremoundous amount of turnovers, so the team that protects the ball best will likely be the last one standing.
Here's how I expect the game to start.
My guess is whichever team wins the toss will defer to the second half. Let's say Alabama starts on offense.
Virginia Tech has been to known to let a team drive up field on them in the first defensive series of the game. Look at the Orange Bowl last season as an example. This would surprise me a little bit, considering the state of the Alabama offense, but it wouldn't shock me.
It would surprise me if Alabama did it for two consecutive drives. Then there should be concern for the Hokies.
I expect the Hokies offense to get a couple of first downs on the first drive, but then punt the ball away. The score will likely remain low for the first half, and there's a great chance no touchdowns are scored.
Here are my three keys to the game, that each team will look to exploit:
1. Beau Warren vs. Terrance Cody
This may be the biggest deciding factor for how the Hokies offense is going to perform on Saturday night. If Cody is dominating Warren then the Hokies will likely have to double team Cody, which would open up Washington and Davis on the ends for Alabama.
If Warren can't handle Cody it's going to be tough for the Hokies to run the ball, but Cody has been battling the flu so he may not be 100 percent.
2. Hokies Defensive Pressure vs. Bama O-Line, McElroy
The Virginia Tech front seven is just as good, if not better, than Alabama's. Having such a good defensive front shouldn't mean good things for McElroy. McElroy is making his first start for Alabama, and the fact that it's against Virginia Tech, adds to the pressure of the biggest game McElroy has ever played in.
If the Hokies defensive line, led by Jason Worilds, bullies the Alabama's offensive line it means two things for the Crimson Tide:
1. McElory will become rattled and make mistakes
2. Julio Jones will have a minimal effect on the game.
If McElroy struggles that takes away Alabama's top playmaker on offense. That would also put the pressure on Mark Ingram, who is now the starting running back for Alabama.
Worilds is the Hokies version of "Mt. Cody" on defense, and should be even more dominate now that his shoulder is 100% healthy.
Hokies Special Teams vs. Tide's Special Teams
Beamer Ball has been Virginia Tech's trademark for many years, but they will be facing a team Saturday night that's just as good on special teams as they are. Last year the Hokies took a step back on special teams, allowing three punt returns for touchdowns and ECU blocked a Virginia Tech punt in the final minutes of the game to upset the Hokies in the first week of the season.
Javier Arenas will be tough to defend for Tech, but with the potential return of Zach Luckett, who was a special teams standout at gunner for the Hokies two seasons ago, the Hokies should be able to prevent the big play on special teams.
If either team does allow the other a special teams score that will have huge
implications on the outcome of the game.
With all of this being said, the two teams matchup pretty evenly across the
board. The Hokies are not Clemson, aren't coached like Clemson, and don't play
like Clemson so don't expect the same result of last year's game.
Virginia Tech will be well prepared, as will Alabama, but I think Taylor's leadership and presence as the sole leader of the offense will be evident on the field Saturday night. The team that plays best on offense will win the game, and for that reason I'm picking Tech to come out on top in a close one.
Virginia Tech 23, Alabama 20