Monday, August 26, 2013

A Look Ahead: Virginia Tech vs. Alabama

By Justin Cates

Frank Beamer has made a living flying under the radar. The biggest successes he's had have come when no one expected his team to do much.

Starting with the improbable 1993 campaign that began a series of 20 consecutive bowl appearances, the Hokies have thrived on no expectations. It's when they were expected to win a big game that things often go awry—just ask Boise State, Cincinnati or Michigan.

The Hokies blew countless chances to beat Boise State at FedEx Field in 2010.

Tech has had a number of near misses in the kind of neutral site season-openers they'll participate in Saturday against No. 1 Alabama.

The last time Tech met the Crimson Tide in the 2009 opener, few people gave them a chance to win. Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams made a game of it and 'Bama won 34-24.

In the 2004 opener against No. 1 USC at FedEx Field—seriously never play there again—the Hokies were unranked and overmatched according to everyone, yet they led at halftime and were looking good until a phantom offensive pass interference call swung the momentum allowing the Trojans to edge out a 24-13 victory.

Pictured:The Hokie defense briefly confuses Reggie Bush for his Heisman Trophy.

There are other examples, but these were chosen to illustrate the opportunity the Hokies have opening the season against an outstanding opponent.

Alabama is of course the greatest thing that has ever happened to college football. They are an unstoppable force, Nick Saban is Bear Bryant reincarnate, and the Hokies are just lucky to share the field with them.

That's all well and good, but how much of a mismatch is it really?

The truth is no one really knows.

Virginia Tech is coming off its worst season in two decades and there is an entirely new offensive coaching staff in Blacksburg.

This is both good and bad. Tech's offensive woes have been well documented in recent years and a change was long overdue. The bad news is there is no immediate fix to the systemic problems that exist and now Tech has to break in a brand new scheme.

Logan Thomas and Scot Loeffler hope their good relationship produces good results.

 New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has an enormous task but he's already made significant changes. There is an incredible amount of secrecy surrounding the offense and the game plan for Alabama, so much so that a video of a closed scrimmage was almost instantly removed after being mistakenly posted by Tech's video department.

In the past, you could pretty much predict the first handful of offensive plays—in fact it was a game many fans played with a kind of masochistic relish. While it may well take most of the season for things to function smoothly, there is a refreshing unpredictability to everything.

Loeffler also quickly developed a strong relationship with quarterback Logan Thomas. The coach has raved about his intelligence and ability, he just needs it to come together on the field.

It won't be easy, the Hokies have been rocked by injuries and attrition during summer camp. The depth is razor thin at almost every position and unproven players will be tasked with stepping up and filling in.

It will be a tough season, in fact eight wins would be an impressive achievement, but it's an important transition and based on the attitudes of the players everyone is on board. The first test will come against the very best, and as they have repeatedly during the off-season. the Hokies are eager to challenge themselves.

"Sometimes you have runaway wins to start the season, you don't really find what you need to work on," Frank Beamer said during his Monday teleconference.

"Sometimes that's not as clear. But I think playing a team like Alabama, you become a better football team. And you understand what a task it is to go in there and beat Alabama."

This game will be a microcosm of the entire season. It will be an uphill battle that won't always be pretty, but it's a necessary part of improving the program.


Anonymous said...

"Alabama is of course the greatest thing that has ever happened to college football."?
You may want to check with Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Nebraska and even Miami. Bama is undeniably the best in the land right now, but the greatest thing ever?

Justin Cates said...

It was sarcasm. You can tell by the context clues contained in the next sentence, "They are an unstoppable force, Nick Saban is Bear Bryant reincarnate, and the Hokies are just lucky to share the field with them."

That's obviously all ridiculous.


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