Defending the Alabama offense isn’t exactly rocket science.
They don’t have a dynamic quarterback like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel who can turn a broken play into a touchdown, nor will they run nearly 100 plays per game like Oregon.
Alabama bleeds the clock slowly and steadily with their running game and caps almost all of their drives with short touchdown runs. Add in the fact that they can throw to standout receiver Amari Cooper basically anywhere on the field, and opposing defenses often find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
The last time Alabama was held to under 100 yards rushing was when they lost at home to LSU in 2011; they ran for 96 yards. If the Hokies are going to shock the world this Saturday, it’ll start up front. And defensive coordinator Bud Foster knows it.
“We have got to be able to stop the run. That sets everything up that they do,” he said. “They have some dynamic players on the outside but their strength is running the football.”
T.J. Yeldon is great along the outside but doesn’t run between the tackles as well, so the Hokies’ defensive ends will have to consistently seal the edge and force Yeldon to run right into linebackers’ arms.
Luckily for the Hokies, they are strong and deep at defensive end, with proven starters like James Gayle and J.R. Collins. Another player to watch will be No. 90 Dadi Nicolas, who has freakish speed that may keep Alabama running up the middle, as opposed to off-tackle.
In other close games Alabama’s been in — though there haven’t been many — their opponents have forced quarterback A.J. McCarron to do more than manage the game and beat them with his arm.
Last year, Texas A&M beat the Tide by not only forcing turnovers, but also by creating third-and-long situations. McCarron doesn’t have a rocket arm and he isn’t laser accurate, but that hardly holds Alabama back since he’s not often asked to do much more than hand it off or throw check-down passes to his backs.
So how do the Hokies expose McCarron’s limitations?
Lock down their top receiver.
Amari Cooper was an All-American last season for good reason. Hokies head coach Frank Beamer and secondary coach Torrian Gray have both likened Cooper’s ability to Clemson’s Sammy Watkins.
With Antone Exum sidelined, true freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller will probably be seeing Cooper with some safety help over the top. Gray is aware of the risks that come with starting true freshmen.
“Unfortunately they are freshman, they’ll probably do a freshman thing here or there, but I honestly believe they are going to hold up there end of the bargain,” he said.
If the Hokies can stop the run, take Cooper out of the game and force McCarron to throw on third down, the Hokies will have a shot. Of course all three are easier said than done — but crazier has happened in college football.