Rusty Takes the Hokies
Virginia Tech remains the class of the field when it comes to the ACC. Last year, the Hokies embarrassed themselves with an early season loss to ECU in Charlotte. Not this year, believe-you-me. Beamer will not let his squad repeat such a disaster. Tyrod Taylor returns at quarterback for VT, and this year the job is his. Taylor began to really come on strong towards the end of the season, and without a potential QB controversy, he will certainly continue to excel. Add that to the fact that VT is able to produce season after season of stout defenses - this year they return seven starters - and Alabama's not going to have another Clemson performance to deal with for this year's opening game.
A potential area of concern for VT is at the running back position. Darren Evans broke the ACC rushing record as a freshman last year. This year, though, the sophomore will watch from the sidelines, as he suffered a torn ACL in last month’s practice. With Evans on the sideline, the Hokies will turn to a cadre of unproven talent to fill the backfield.
Taylor should have a plenty of receivers to throw the ball to, though. The top 5 receivers from last year’s team return for 2009, which gives the normally run oriented Hokies another angle of attack on offense.
As usual, the special teams will be quite special. Expect a full blown attack of Beamer ball in hot-lanta. They block, they kick, they run’em back. The precision and ferociousness of Beamer ball should give the Tide a few fits. VT will also rely on a senior punter who’s got a knack for pinning teams inside the 20; he did it over half the time last year.
An ACC title and a solid win in the Orange Bowl culminated the Hokies season in 2008, and with many of the key players returning, there's already buzz in Blacksburg about a repeat of the '99 season and a possible shot at the national title. Getting past the Tide will be crucial in that effort, and that's why Beamer will be ready for Nick Saban and company come this weekend.
Rev Takes the 'Tide
In year two of the Nick Saban regime, Alabama stormed through the SEC West and reached the SEC Championship game, where they lost to eventual national champion Florida. It’s safe to say that expectations are again sky-high in Tuscaloosa for another strong run through the SEC and a possible berth in the BCS title game.
The expectations of a rabid fan base aside, question marks abound for Alabama on offense. Not only will the Crimson Tide will be replacing seven starters from a year ago, but they enter Saturday’s game with serious doubts as to the availability of star wideout Julio Jones and starting running back Mark Ingram. Jones and Ingram accepted a free Gulf Coast fishing expedition earlier this summer, and the university is still awaiting word by game time to determine if the duo’s fishing expedition ran afoul of any NCAA bylaws. Granted, taking a free fishing expedition isn’t exactly like accepting hookers and cash … but since the NCAA only selectively enforces its own rules, it’s anybody’s guess as to the availability of these two come Saturday.
And if free fishing expeditions don’t boil your blood, what happened to DE Brandon Deaderick earlier this week definitely should. Deaderick was shot in the arm on Monday night in an apparent robbery attempt outside of his apartment. Deaderick, one of 9 returning defensive starters, and is probably the Tide’s best pass rusher. Though his injuries do not appear to be life threatening, I’m guessing he will not be cleared to play against Virginia Tech.
All the controversy aside, don’t forget that ‘Bama is still loaded – particularly on defense. As mentioned above, the starting D has a ton of starters returning off a unit that ranked sixth nationally a year ago in total defense (13.0 ppg, 256.9 ypg). Mix in the tricky blitz packages Nick Saban is known for, and you know the pressure is going to be a lot to handle for the Hokies. And while the offense might not have the star power of the defense, just know that the Crimson Tide offense will do enough to get the job done. ‘Bama loves the power running game; it’s not flashy, but it will allow the Tide to dominate field position and time of possession.