Reading the postgame quotes from Saturday’s season opener between No. 1 Alabama and Virginia Tech, it might be hard to pick out which team won the game.
On one side of the Georgia Dome was Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who despite emerging with a 35-10 victory over the Hokies described his feelings like this: “I don’t think there’s anybody in our locker room that’s satisfied with the way they played.”
On the other end of the stadium sat Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, who came away “encouraged” despite completing just 5 of 26 pass attempts. He described a locker room in which “most of us have smiles on our face because we know how good we can be.”
So who’s right? It’s somewhere in between. But here are five observations to take away from a night in which the Hokies had their fair share of ups and downs.
1) “Beamer Ball” cost the Hokies a chance at an upset, and changes are on the way
As noted in the game story, Virginia Tech completed an unprecedented trifecta. For the first time in Beamer’s 27-year tenure, the Hokies allowed a punt return for a touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown and an interception return for a touchdown.
The first two miscues had Beamer talking about a special teams overhaul after the game because both gaffes were the result of inexperienced freshmen seeing their first game action. Beamer said he would “absolutely” consider adding veterans to his coverage teams, and senior cornerback Kyle Fuller even volunteered to play there during a postgame interview.
Beamer noted that linebacker Ronny Vandyke and tight end Ryan Malleck, both of whom were lost in training camp to season-ending shoulder injuries, had been on the right side of Virginia Tech’s punt team and were replaced by freshmen. Alabama return man Christion Jones sprinted 72 yards up the right side on his punt return touchdown.
“The points that we gave them, it shouldn’t happen in a ballgame,” Beamer said.
2) Virginia Tech’s defense looks like a potential juggernaut
Alabama’s 35 points aside, consider this: The Crimson Tide’s lowest output during the 2012 season was 305 yards against Ole Miss. On Saturday, the Hokies held Alabama to 206 yards. At times, Virginia Tech was downright dominant, particularly up front where defensive coordinator Bud Foster loaded up to stop the run.
Though defensive end James Gayle wasn’t credited with a tackle, Saban singled him out for praise because of his ability to collapse the pocket. Backups Dadi Nicolas and Nigel Williams were both credited with sacks. Freshmen cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson didn’t look out of their element, either, despite being in single coverage quite a bit.
Even better was the play of cornerback Kyle Fuller and linebacker Tariq Edwards, who both looked completely healthy after being hampered by injuries last season. Fuller had an interception, two pass breakups and four tackles. Edwards finished with six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss.
“Defensively, they’re one of the toughest groups that we played against,” Saban said.
Considering how the defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s unit finished last season, they certainly appear ready to live up to their preseason hype this season.
3) Logan Thomas wasn’t good, but his receivers were worse.
There’s no getting around how ugly Thomas’s stat line looked Saturday. He completed just 5 of 26 passes for 59 yards, threw a momentum-killing interception that was returned for a touchdown and got away with a couple other poor decisions. In his last four games, dating to last season, Thomas has now completed just 41 percent of his passes. He hasn’t completed more than 60 percent of his passes since a win over Duke last October.
After all the talk about Thomas’s improved mechanics this offseason, accuracy still remains a major issue. It was also a bit disconcerting to hear Thomas say he’s “not upset in any way” when asked about his play after the game.
But his receivers, particularly redshirt sophomore Demitri Knowles, just killed him with drops Saturday. Beamer didn’t have an official number after the game, but he felt the offense would have had a productive day if not for the team’s hands of stone. It should be noted that redshirt freshman Charley Meyer, a pleasant surprise this offseason, did not play Saturday because of a hamstring injury.
“It’s just a matter of concentration and confidence,” said Beamer. “We’re gonna throw a lot of balls this week.”
Added Thomas, “We just got to get the receivers to do their part, and they will.”
4)The offensive line looked better than anyone could have expected
Saban probably said it best when he was asked about Virginia Tech’s offensive line during his postgame news conference: “They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth.”
After Virginia Tech fans spent an entire offseason wondering what to make of the Hokies’ revamped offensive line, the guys in the trenches held their own against a stout Alabama defensive front. Thomas was sacked just once and the Hokies averaged 4.6 yards per rush. Keep in mind Virginia Tech had first-time starters at both tackle spots, including the first-ever true freshman to start at left tackle for Beamer (Jonathon McLaughlin) as well as three players playing in new positions for the first time.
Lost in the excitement over running back Trey Edmunds’s electric 77-yard touchdown run was the highway-sized hole he ran through on the play.
“We got him a good hole on that one,” right guard Andrew Miller said. “We came off, I got on the linebacker and then I seen Trey make a great cut off my left hip and he was off to the races.”
5) Trey Edmunds looks like Virginia Tech’s next 1,000-yard rusher.
Aside from the offensive line, Edmunds was the real bright spot Saturday. His 77-yard run was highlight-reel worthy, but he also showed off his power at times, pushing the pile for some tough inside runs. It was the hard-nosed approach Virginia Tech lacked a year ago when it cycled through tailbacks without ever finding a permanent solution.
That revolving door may have been stopped for good by Edmunds. He finished with a game-high 132 yards on 20 carries and played most of the game with J.C. Coleman out due to an ankle injury. In the process, Edmunds proved to be every bit as good as the Hokies’ coaches had made him out to be.
The redshirt freshman had been a bit of a mystery heading into this opener, simply because Virginia Tech didn’t give him much work during its public scrimmages. But Thomas said the Hokies have grown accustomed to his exploits in practice at this point. On Saturday, the rest of the country got a glimpse, too.
“That’s why he hasn’t done anything in the scrimmages,” Thomas said. “What I’m saying is we knew it. We just couldn’t get him hurt.”