It’s been a hashtag, a rallying cry and a mantra for the Hokies and their fans this offseason: “Beat Bama.”
After a disheartening 7-6 season that was the program’s worst in the last two decades, Virginia Tech football needed a shot in the arm heading into the 2013 season.
The season’s opening contest against defending champion Alabama at the Georgia Dome has proved to be the perfect motivation for a squad that could’ve easily grown complacent.
“We have a big challenge in front of us, but our guys are excited,” said Shane Beamer, associate head coach and running backs coach. “(Alabama has) great coaches and those national championships, they’ve earned them. But our guys certainly aren't shying away from anybody."
Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide may have won three of the last four national titles, but players don’t seem to be intimidated by their championship pedigree.
“We’re on scholarship too,” said linebacker Jack Tyler. “We’re just as good as anybody around. We have the talent. We have the coaching.”
Despite their high hopes, the Hokies are acutely aware that the nation sees the team as huge underdogs in the matchup. But if Tech could pull off the upset though, the win would echo throughout college football history.
“I know we are a big underdog,” said head coach Frank Beamer. “In the big picture when you play the best team in the country, if you win it that’s a big win for the ACC and your program. But regardless, you become a better football team."
In order to shock the country with a win, the team still has a variety of key position battles to resolve in training camp.
“We certainly have a lot of question marks still on our team, it’s just how many of those can we get solved and feel good about before we open up with a team like Alabama,” Frank Beamer said. “We just need to keep practicing hard and keep improving right now, day-to-day.”
The offensive line is a key area for improvement. Both tackle positions are unsettled, with true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin slated to start on the left side, while by some combination of inexperienced redshirt juniors Mark Shuman and Laurence Gibson will likely man the right.
“Right now, that (tackle) position needs to get stronger,” Frank Beamer said. “Starting as a freshman and starting against (a team as) good defensively as Alabama, it can be a shock to your system. So I think you need to practice and get better and come down with the shock a little bit.”
New offensive line coach Jeff Grimes agrees that Alabama’s complex defense will be a challenge for the new line to handle.
"They run a lot of different types of schemes,” Grimes said. “Because of that, it forces you to prepare for more than one defense.”
After losing starting offensive linemen Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker and Barrett Jones to the NFL draft, the Crimson Tide will be tasked with fielding a relatively inexperienced line against Tech’s formidable defensive line as well. Saban’s talent for recruiting however has made replacing talent an easy task for the team.
“They can just reload every time they lose players — that it makes it tough to beat them,” said quarterback Logan Thomas.
Regardless of how the team ultimately ends up performing in Atlanta, facing the Tide will be a crucial learning experience for the Hokies.
“It will be a measuring stick for us,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “Alabama’s not a make-or-break game for us. Alabama will be a measuring stick for where we are.”