Virginia Tech may not have many advantages on paper heading into the season opener against defending national champion Alabama, but the Hokies got a lucky break last weekend.
The Crimson Tide’s sophomore cornerback Geno Smith has been suspended from playing in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff after he was arrested for driving under the influence on Aug. 18.
Though he may be young, he was largely regarded as an emerging star on Alabama’s defense. He made two starts in 2012, along with nine tackles, and emerged as a starter for the Tide’s nickel defense package during fall practice.
With the news of Smith’s injury, the Hokies have one less top player to contend with, but they’re not going to let up in practice.
“We know that (Geno Smith) is suspended but Alabama, they recruit big each year,” said receiver D.J. Coles. “They’re going to have someone to come in that’s just as good to take his spot. We’re still game planning whether he’s in there or not. We still have to go out and play our game.”
Quarterback Logan Thomas agreed that it would unwise to underestimate the Tide’s depth.
“They’re good in every position,” Thomas said. “They can just reload every time they lose players, that makes it tough to beat them.”
For the Tide, they’ll need to rely on their experience at the position, as seniors John Fulton and Deion Belue will man the starting cornerback spots.
However, the team will still acutely feel Smith’s absence.
“We’ve never had an issue with Geno,” head coach Nick Saban said when he announced the suspension. “He’s an excellent person. When you make a bad choice, sometimes the consequences of that choice can really have a negative effect. Some of these guys don’t have enough foresight to understand cause and effect, but Geno has been a really good person in the program and just made a bad choice.”
Smith’s teammates were taken aback by the move, and could feel the affects of the abrupt change in scheme.
“To be honest, when I heard, I was really shocked because Geno is a great guy,” senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood said. “He knows that it’s a lesson learned.”
While Smith would likely not have been matched up against Tech’s top receivers, Coles and Demetri Knowles, he would probably have worked against the Hokies’ tight ends and slot receivers.
Accordingly, if anyone stands to benefit from playing against Smith’s backups, it’d be tight ends Ryan Malleck and Zack McCray, and receivers Charley Meyer and Joshua Stanford.
“I think the tight end is going to make or break the offense sometimes,” McCray said.
Saturday may just be one of those times. Stanford is also preparing for a big game against the depleted defense.
“I’m working on concentration, becoming a better blocker, making sure my routes are crisp and reading defenses,” Stanford said.
However, even without Smith, Saban’s defense can still prove unpredictable.
"They're a very multiple defense so they run a lot of different types of schemes,” said offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. “It forces you to prepare for more than one defense, we may not see another defense that runs that much odd front till five weeks down the road.”
But as the game inches ever closer, all that’s left for the Hokies to do now is prepare for the intensity of the game.
“For my first college game, being in the kickoff game in Atlanta (in 2009), it was loud,” Coles said. “It’s going to be loud, and it’s going to be a good experience for the guys traveling for the first time.”