Instant Analysis: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech

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Instant Analysis: Alabama vs. Virginia Tech
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In a match-up between two Top 10 opponents, Beamer Ball was once again a difference maker—but not necessarily just for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Both teams managed some big plays on special teams and defense which made this game closer than the stats would seem to indicate. 

But in the end No. 5 Alabama Crimson Tide made a statement to the rest of the college football world with a dominating win over No. 7 Virginia Tech.

The tone for the game was set early on when Alabama forced the Hokies to go three and out on their first possession. The Tide defense held Tyrod Taylor and company to a meager 155 yards of total offense. 

Taylor was sacked four times and managed only 91 yards passing while being stuffed in the run game he is well known for where he accounted for -26 yards. With the exception of a few mental mistakes, the Crimson Tide played a near perfect game.

On the flip side, Virginia Tech looked as though their defense would put on a similar show against Alabama’s new offensive line and first time starting quarterback Greg McElroy.

McElroy was a dismal two of twelve for 94 yards and a pick in the first half. 

Apparently, Nick Saban gave his new signal caller a good tongue-lashing at halftime because things turned completely around in the second half. Greg McElroy connected on 13 of 18 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the second half. 

He may have looked shaky early on, but chalk it up to first game jitters and adrenaline because McElroy was effective when he had to be later in the game.

The difference in the game was once again the punishing Tide rushing attack. The Hokie defense just got wore out trying to stuff the running game. 

Mark Ingram led the way with 150 yards and a touchdown, while Roy Upchurch added another 90 yards and a touchdown. 

All told, Alabama amassed a whopping 498 total yards, embarrassing a Tech defense that finished last season ranked seventh in the country.

Let’s take a look at the units for each team and how they grade out.

 

Alabama offense: Grade – B-

Nearly 500 total yards is a great night, especially against a defense that is as solid as Virginia Tech. The offensive line play was adequate—stellar at times in both run and pass block schemes, but looked clueless at other times. 

They did manage to open up holes in the Hokie front for the ‘Bama backs to run through and kept quarterback Greg McElroy upright for the most part, often giving him all night to go through his progressions. 

McElroy did a good job of distributing the football, finding five different receivers. Once he calmed down in the second half, Greg looked like the quarterback everyone expected him to be.

The ‘Bama running backs were outstanding, slashing and gashing the Hokie defense nearly the entire game. They got stuffed early, but continued to pound away until Virginia Tech finally relented to the punishment.

Finally, you have to hand it to offensive coordinator Jim McElwain for the different sets he introduced tonight. Alabama ran out of the “Pistol” formation as well as showing off a “Wild Elephant” package, with Mark Ingram taking snaps in the backfield. 

It’s these types of innovative wrinkles that can give teams fits down the road when prepping for this new-look Alabama offense.

 

Alabama defense: Grade A-

The defense had a plan and they executed it to perfection. If not for a pair of mental lapses by linebacker Rolando McClain resulting in penalties and a blown coverage by Marquis Johnson on the same drive that led to a Hokie touchdown, Alabama couldn’t have played a better game defensively. 

The much-maligned pass rush was vastly improved, showing up in the Hokie backfield regularly and sacking elusive quarterback Tyrod Taylor four times. Big hits and big plays where made all around.

 

Alabama special teams: Grade C-

Once again the special teams managed to falter, allowing a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The kick and punt coverage was sloppy and allowed Tech to make huge gains that, without them, would have kept the Hokies almost totally off the scoreboard.  This one area allowed Virginia Tech to keep the game much closer than it really was. 

The special teamers did manage to recover a fumbled punt from Virginia Tech to set up an Alabama score. Kicker Leigh Tiffin was four of five in field goal attempts, with a long of 49.

 

Overall: B+

Alabama had a near flawless game plan for both sides of the ball.  While things didn’t always go as planned, the execution was there and the Tide handled Virginia Tech with ease, even if the scoreboard didn’t show it. 

If not for a few mental mistakes and bad kick coverage, this game would have been much worse for the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech offense: F

Tyrod Taylor was, as expected, a complete non-factor in the game.  He was held to a total of 65 all purpose yards and spent much of the game running for his life from the relentless ‘Bama defense. 

The lone bright spot for the Hokies was freshman Ryan Williams, who rushed for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the second of which was a nice 32 yard run down the sideline for an acrobatic score.

Managing a total of 155 yards in a game is not going to scare many foes. Tyrod Taylor was going to have to move the ball with his arm if the Hokies were going to have a chance for victory. 

He couldn’t do it and proved once again that when you take away the run it is beyond his ability to be an effective passer.

 

Virginia Tech defense: C

The Tech defense was stout early in the game but finally fell apart in the face of a pounding Alabama rushing attack that simply wore them down. Giving up 498 total yards is going to put a dent in the reputation of even the mightiest of defenses. 

A huge factor in the defense getting hammered was the lack of any offensive output by the Hokies. A fifteen minute differential in time of possession is going to make any defensive unit tired. 

The secondary did a good job against Julio Jones and the Alabama passing game until fatigue took its toll. Also, the line got to junior quarterback Greg McElroy a couple of times. 

But the vaunted Hokie defense was, at least on this night, exposed by a bigger, stronger and faster Alabama offense.

 

Virginia Tech special teams: A

As should have been expected, Frank Beamer had the Hokies ready to go on special teams. A 98-yard kick return for a touchdown by Dyrell Roberts highlighted the Tech special teams play. 

The kick and punt coverage teams also did a great job holding exceptional Alabama return man Javier Arenas to just 90 yards on six total returns.

 

Final analysis:

Virginia Tech can still have a successful season if they find a way to shore up the defense and Tyrod Taylor can manage to throw the ball with much more consistency.  The running game has a spark with Ryan Williams that they can build on. 

Having faced probably the best defense they will see all year, the going should get “easier” moving forward.

Alabama did pretty much what was expected of them. They played outstanding defense and when coupled with a dominating rushing attack—and a not too shabby passing game —handled Virginia Tech with ease for the most part. 

The Tide need to work on not taking so many penalties and some kick coverage issues. If they can address those problems and continue to rack up the yards on offense, while playing stifling defense, Alabama will win quite a few games this season. 

In making such a huge statement with this win, Alabama took a giant step forward in the national title race.

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