Sorry, I just made it back from a weekend in Atlanta. I had a great time with my boys, spent the day tailgating, and even made it onto College Gameday!
Virginia Tech fell to Alabama 34-24. It was a hard-fought game, and very exciting. Both factions of fans were out in full force, and the game carried more of a New Year’s Day bowl environment.
24 hours later, here are the five things I am taking from this game.
1. Greg McElroy is a big-time player.
The first-year starter for the Crimson Tide showed tremendous poise in this game, going 15-30 for 230 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. He was under pressure from the Hokies’ defense on every possession, and he took quite a few heavy blows.
Several times the Tech defense would strike McElroy to the ground as he was throwing the ball. The Hokies came up with two sacks in the game, and their pressure forced one interception, when McElroy was crushed during his throw, lofting the ball in the air for an easy interception by Antoine Hopkins. That interception set up a Matt Waldron field goal.
After that interception, McElroy did a great job avoiding sacks and making accurate throws.
Three plays stand out to show McElroy’s in-game maturation. On third down in the fourth quarter, McElroy threw a perfect pass across the middle to Julio Jones that would have moved the chains had the All-American receiver not dropped the perfect throw. It was the great accuracy in a tough situation with a three-point lead that was most impressive.
The next play was his two-point conversion completion to Colin Peek in the back of the end zone. That score put Alabama up by seven points, another clutch throw.
The final play to epitomize McElroy’s great play was the game-sealing touchdown pass to Mark Ingram. McElroy scrambled outside the pocket, looking as if he may need to tuck the ball and run for a first down amid heavy pressure. Instead, he found Ingram as his safety valve breaking towards open field, and hit him in stride as Ingram raced into the end zone.
It is clear that McElroy can handle the pressure of the SEC. He has an accurate arm and a toughness about him that makes Alabama look very dangerous in the national championship race.
2. The Hokies are the class of the ACC
Let’s face it; Alabama would walk over the rest of the ACC. That was not even in doubt before this game, and nobody is arguing that now. The question going into this game was if the Hokies could hang with the Tide, unlike Clemson a year ago. Not only did the Hokies hang with ‘Bama for three quarters, they looked like they could just as easily have won the game.
Granted, the Hokies were severely outgained offensively. Nevertheless, Tech played its typical style of tough defense, not allowing a lot of touchdowns (until late), and forcing turnovers.
As long as Tech continues to play that style, they will keep dominating the ACC. Even with the loss, this team looks like it could be the most talented coach Frank Beamer has had since joining the conference.
Looking ahead on the schedule, the Hokies should be able to handle Nebraska and Miami at home. The biggest test the rest of the way will come right back in Atlanta, when they take on Georgia Tech.
Judging by the way they hung with the top of the class in the SEC, it should all be downhill from here.
3. Ryan Williams is the real deal
Mark it down: there will be no more than two running backs carry the ball for more than a hundred yards against Alabama this season. Williams finished with 76 yards, including a spectacular 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Not too many running backs will see as much success the rest of the year against Nick Saban’s defense.
Williams showed both a powerful style along with the speed burst that Hokie fans haven’t seen since Kevin Jones was wearing the orange and maroon. He always fell forward, moving the pile an extra yard or two. Once he reached the corner on a few of his runs, he made big gains, including that fourth-quarter score.
Alabama has by far the best defense on the Hokies schedule. If Williams continues to run like he did Saturday night, he could make fans forget about Darren Evans very quickly.
4. Florida is still head and shoulders above the rest of the SEC.
OK, so this has a little bit to do with the Gators’ performance against Charleston Southern. Alabama was very impressive in the win over Tech, but they did not show the kind of dominating presence and intimidating style that the Gators have.
All the prognosticators and their mothers are already anointing the Gators and Tide as destined for the conference title game. While that is not a given, especially for the Tide in the brutal west division, even if both teams do indeed make it that far, Florida looks right now to be in a class by itself.
If the Gators had faced the Hokies Saturday night, it would not have been too pretty. A 50-14 post could probably have illuminated the scoreboard.
While the Tide seems to have all the pieces to be one of the elite teams in the nation, it still looks as if it is Florida, and then the other 119 teams in the FBS.
5. Something is seriously wrong with the passing game in the Tech program
The pieces are in place. They have been much of the last seven years. Ever since Bryan Stinespring as been at the helm of the Hokies’ offense, the passing game has been a huge disappointment. When you look at the receivers to come through the Tech program, and what they are doing in the NFL now, you would think the Hokies would have been one of the best passing teams in the country.
Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Justin Harper, David Clowney, and Jeff King are all making names for themselves professionally, yet none of them were expected to make such impacts when they left college. It is clear the talent has been in place, and there have been quarterbacks in the program capable of making the passes.
Finishing no better than 99th in the country in total offense over the last four years does not reflect the talent the Hokies have had.
Last night, Tyrod Taylor again dropped back and just did not look in sync with his receivers at times. The offensive line gave him time in the first half, and Taylor still couldn’t seem to find open receivers.
This is attributed to playcalling, as much as anything else. While other teams across the country are baffling opposing defenses with the spread offense, racking up huge passing numbers and blowing up scoreboards with so many touchdowns, Tech’s passing game continues to be enemic.
Xavier Boyce, Dyrell Roberts, Jarrett Boykin, and Danny Coale comprise as good a unit as you need at the wide receiver position to score plenty of points. Having said that, when the offense can’t seem to dictate a style of play, and rather lets the defense control and intimidate them, you have a giant problem.
Yes, the Alabama defense is rock-solid. Javier Arenas is a great cover corner at the college level. But if Greg McElroy can find holes in a Tech secondary littered with All-Americans, Taylor should have completed more than nine passes in this game.
With Williams looking like a stud at running back, the Hokies could be unstoppable in the ACC with a more successful passing attack. The spotlight falls directly onto coach Stinespring now, more than ever. This is a make-or-break season for the often-criticized offensive play caller, because he has run out of excuses. Stinespring is a great man and has a great football mind, but his playcalling abilities are questionable at best.