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Reflecting on Hokies' meeting with Alabama

With No. 1 Alabama set to take on No. 2 Texas in the Bowl Championship Series title game on Thursday night, I started thinking about the Crimson Tide team Virginia Tech saw in the season opener.

Right away, it was apparent to many people in attendance that Alabama was for real. And it has proven to be that good, steamrolling most of its opponents this season.

In its 34-24 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 5 in Atlanta, the Crimson Tide showed flashes of what has led it to a 13-0 record and a spot in the BCS title game. There was a defense that engulfed its opponent, a running back who stomped all over the field and a quarterback who coolly manned his team. Virginia Tech's followers had the first glimpse of a special season for Alabama.

On that night in the Georgia Dome, Alabama set the table for itself. Even though the Hokies had a 17-16 lead going into the fourth quarter, the thing I remember most from the game was that it never really felt all that close. The scoreboard looked better than the play on the field because Alabama kept the door open with sloppy play and penalties, symptoms of a season-opening game. But by the end of the night, it was clear the Crimson Tide had more talent than Virginia Tech.

Alabama's offense broke five plays of 20 or more yards. The effect was such that, before you knew it, the Crimson Tide had racked up 498 yards of total offense; the Hokies did not give up more than 400 yards in a game the rest of the season.

And for running back Mark Ingram, it was the first time he was able to shine with the stage to himself. While wide receiver Julio Jones (46 yards, no touchdowns) was a non-factor against the Hokies, Ingram showed he could be a truly dynamic talent that night in Atlanta.

Behind an bullying offensive line, Ingram ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns. The thing that impressed me the most about Ingram that night was how hard he ran; he was like a 5-foot-10 pinball, not afraid to collide at the line of scrimmage with defenders who dwarfed him. As it turns out, that is a hallmark of his running style, and it worked. He won the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

Quarterback Greg McElroy, making his first career start, seemed jittery at the outset against Virginia Tech. But as the game wore on, and as Ingram took off, McElroy showed poise and a nice passing touch on long throws to Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. McElroy threw for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception and completed 15 of 30 passes; it was hard to judge him from his first career start at a position like quarterback.

But after its overwhelming performance, I was most impressed with Alabama's defense. It seemed like everywhere you looked there was a star. I thought Virginia Tech did a fine job blocking nose guard Terrence Cody, but Dont'a Hightower and Rolando McClain were the type of athletes that were hard to miss.

Virginia Tech could not stop those two linebackers from getting free and making plays in space. Hightower, who has missed most of the year after a season-ending knee injury, had six tackles and McClain had five tackles, including a sack. Cornerback Javier Arenas had five tackles, including a sack. The thing that struck me the most about all of those players was their speed; they seemed to be involved in every snap, whether they were making a tackle, disrupting a play from developing or flying to the ball as the whistle was blown.

The Hokies have not seen a defense like that, and did not for the rest of the year, and had no answers against Alabama. Virginia Tech's wide receivers could not get open, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sacked five times as his offensive line folded against pressure and running back Ryan Williams, who now holds the school's single-season rushing record, had a season-low 71 yards on the ground. All told, Virginia Tech had its worst offensive output of the year (155 yards).

The loss had dimmed Virginia Tech's high hopes before the year, but also touched of a magical season for an impressive Alabama team. As Coach Nick Saban walked out of the Georgia Dome that night, he atypically wore a smile and joked with stadium officials. The scene struck me because, even after a nice win, it seemed awfully jocular for such a stoic, grim presence.

But perhaps Saban knew then what was in store for the Crimson Tide this year.

By Mark Viera  |  January 7, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
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While I agree that bama was a better team that night, especially statistically, at 17-16 with VT finally finding an offensive identity, it was a "non-holding" holding penalty called on a third down play that overturned the conversion and led to the 6 plays that changed the entirety of the game. 1. the holding call, 2. then the failure to convert the 2nd time, 3. poor punt, 4. bad safety coverage and great throw/catch by Tide, 5. TD run to take the lead w/2pt conv, and 6. fumbled kickoff turnover eventually leading to FG (10 point lead). VT scores TD with great RW run, closes to 3 points late in the 4th, but Defense is utterly exhausted and big Tide offensive line with 2 very good running backs scores the games final TD on an impressive drive.

biggest problem for the game at that time was that no one really knew how great RW was and Stinespring didn't stick with the running game (which he admitted later was a mistake), remember Ingram's 2nd year, RW's first game. And our new Linebackers were inexperienced, and Kam played the worst game of his career as he has no real coverage skills, kind of like the Redskin's Landry.

lastly, we as a team scored 24 points, no other team scored more than 21 against that team.

Posted by: Iamright | January 7, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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