If Virginia Tech needs any convincing that top-ranked Alabama isn’t invincible heading into Saturday’s season opener in Atlanta, the Hokies need only turn to running backs coach Shane Beamer and new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes.
Beamer was a part of the South Carolina coaching staff when the Gamecocks bested the then-No. 1 Crimson Tide in 2010, and Grimes was a member of Auburn’s staff when the Tigers beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl en route to a BCS title that same year. Each talked this week about the keys to those victories: dynamic quarterbacks who could take advantage of big plays down the field and defenses that forced turnovers.
But when asked about the challenges Alabama’s defense will pose, both had similar responses.
“They got more strength than anybody else you’ll see on defense, and it doesn’t matter what position you’re looking at,” Grimes said. “In many cases they’re just stronger than the offenses they play against.”
Grimes would know. His last game at Auburn a year ago was a 49-0 drubbing courtesy of Alabama. New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was also at Bryant-Denny Stadium that day.
“I’ve played some great teams, I’ve played national championship teams, and that team last year might have been the best team I’ve played against, hands down,” Loeffler said.
Though Loeffler wouldn’t admit to being sick of game-planning for the Crimson Tide at this point, he did profess gratitude toward Coach Frank Beamer for giving him another shot after a disastrous year as Auburn’s offensive coordinator.
“The obligation and the responsibility to make things right, you want that for Coach Beamer and this program,” he said.
For his part, Beamer sees Saturday’s game as a measure of what the Hokies will need to improve upon as the season progresses. He has stopped short of conceding a victory, but also made it clear that ACC play is still his focus.
Not many, though, are giving Virginia Tech much of a chance to start its turnaround against the Crimson Tide. As defensive coordinator Bud Foster said this week, Alabama “might have the best 85” scholarship players in the country right now. He is adamant this game won’t “make or break” Virginia Tech’s season.
The Hokies are listed as nearly three-touchdown underdogs, and Friday morning running back J.C. Coleman was getting grief in class, tweeting: “In class getting killed about how we’re guaranteed to lose this game tomorrow! By the professor and students. SMH!!!”
Said Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle, when asked this week if he’s weary of all the praise being heaped on Alabama: “I can’t really say the truth, but I’m tired of it. We’re a good team also. But they’re coming off a strong season last year and the national championship, so respect should be given. I just feel like we’re not getting much on our end.”