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September 2, 2013

Final Grades: Alabama

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Virginia Tech entered Saturday's season-opener against Alabama as a 21-point underdog and the odds makers got it right as the Crimson Tide used special teams and capitalized on the Hokies' mistakes in a 35-10 victory. Having seen replays and thought it over, here's publisher Jason Stamm's exam of Virginia Tech's loss:

The stat line for senior Logan Thomas looks atrocious: 5-26 passing, 59 yards and an interception, sacked once. But you have to read more into the game for Thomas. He made a few poor decisions, one that really cost him that was returned 38 yards for a touchdown by Vinnie Sunseri, which also swung the only momentum Virginia Tech carried back the Tide's way. Thomas though, got little help from his wide receivers. Dropped balls were the theme of the night and forced the Hokies into a ton of three-and-outs. Thomas gets plenty of the blame for the dismal passing game, but he also put a number of throws right on the money that just weren't caught.


Talk about a coming out party, against the top-ranked team in the country. Redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds should have Hokies fans buzzing after his effort on Saturday. Reminiscent of the performance Ryan Williams had against Alabama in 2009, Edmunds had 132 yards on 20 carries, including a 77-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Even when J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb return to action, there should be absolutely no doubt that Edmunds is the man in the backfield. And Edmunds has shown this could be the start to a huge first season for him.


Wow, it's hard to say much of anything positive about this group. There was the 34-yard catch by senior D.J. Coles, but this group was virtually nonexistent and the subject of plenty of frustration among Hokie Nation. Virginia Tech's wide receivers might want to invest in some stick-um or something after only hauling in five catches and dropping pass, after pass, after pass, after... you get the picture. It's hard to know what you're gonna get from this group from here out, but after playing the Tide, they certainly have no where to go but up. Hopefully playing a woeful FCS team in Western Carolina will get their confidence and ability back, but that's tough to say.


With the tackles manned by a true freshman (Jonathan McLaughlin) and a redshirt freshman (Laurence Gibson), Hokie fans were prepared for the worst. But both played admirably, as did the rest of the line. The poor throwing night wasn't because Thomas didn't have time. he was rushed a few times and sacked once, but the line also paved the way for a big rushing night by Edmunds. It's obvious that the youthfulness and inexperience here won't be huge factors the rest of the way and Edmunds should feel pretty confident about the guys he's running behind.


Against what's been a potent offense, the Hokies were constantly menacing Alabama's AJ McCarron all night. The group was credited with three of Virginia Tech's total sacks and constantly threw the Tide out of rhythm offensively. Another position with some youth, albeit in the backup roles, Nigel Williams picked up a sack in his first career game. Luther Maddy and Dadi Nicholas also picked up sacks, showing the line could be a dominant force the rest of the season if they continue to play at this level.


Senior Jack Tyler got started on what again should be a monster season for him. In addition to a sack, he racked up eight tackles and had 1.5 tackles for loss. He doesn't appear to have lost anything from last season. After the focus being on his health, Tariq Edwards might not be where he was two seasons ago, but he's not far off. And in his first career game, at WHIP, Josh Trimble didn't make too many mistakes. He and Derek DiNardo took turns at the position, each getting three tackles.


Plenty of talk leading up to the game was on Alabama's dynamic, all-American receiver, Amari Cooper. He had four catches, but the Hokies' DBs did an excellent job of limiting what opportunities he had and not letting him get in open space. Virginia Tech fell behind on a 38-yard touchdown catch by Christion Jones, but senior Kyle Fuller made a big interception of McCarron in the first half, just McCarron's fifth interceptions dating back to last season. An overall solid effort against the Tide.


This position probably needs to be split in two. Kickoff and punt return coverage arguably had two of its worst moments in recent memories, proving 'Beamer Ball' might be all but dead. Jones tore up the Hokies with a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown, in which he looked to run into a pile and then bounce out, untouched and a 72-yard punt return touchdown after VT's first series of the game. Overall, though what saves this position from getting a worse grade was a solid punting night from A.J. Hughes, who had 13 punts for a 45.1-yard average, the longest being a 55-yard punt. Senior Cody Journell also added a 29-yard field goal, but special teams, traditionally a strong point, needs plenty of work on its coverage teams.


There wasn't a lot of head-scratching in this area, perhaps only in the first quarter when in the first two series, nine plays total, Edmunds never got one touch of the ball. Coles even had a carry before Edmunds did. But it was obvious coordinator Scot Loeffler wanted to give Alabama some looks it hadn't seen before. And if the receivers could have pitched in, it might have had more success. Defensively, Bud Foster has to be pretty pleased with how the Hokies allowed just 206 yards of total offense. They gave up a pair of offensive touchdowns, but the real work will have to come in special teams coverage. A more appropriate grade might be from here on out, to see how the Hokies adjust to the first-game shortcomings.


The crowd noise, as expected, was deafening at times in the Georgia Dome. But unfortunately for the Hokies, an overwhelming majority of the 73,114 in attendance was pro-Alabama. Virginia Tech had nearly the entire lower section behind the Hokies' bench and certainly got into it in the first half following Edmunds' touchdown and Kyle Fuller's interception. But for Virginia Tech, it'll be nice to get back into the comfy confines of Lane Stadium this weekend.





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