The Virginia Tech Hokies, decimated by injuries and forced to start freshmen at key positions, failed to cover what was more than a two-touchdown spread against the nation’s top team Saturday night, falling to the Alabama Crimson Tide 35-10.
The result surprised no one, and the beat down — by Vegas’ standards — was even worse than expected.
But that’s not the whole story. That’s not even a smidgen of the story.
Amongst the biggest concerns for the Hokies heading in to the opener was their young offensive line. The interior of Andrew Miller (right guard), David Wang (center) and Caleb Farris (left guard) was considered a plus — with each having extensive experience at interior positions — but it was how their tackles, who had never started a game before Saturday night, would hold up that worried most.
Jonathan McLaughlin and Laurence Gibson performed far better than anyone could’ve predicted.
“I thought we hung in there in pass protection,” said Hokies head coach Frank Beamer. “(Alabama was) bringing a lot of stuff. When they bring it, it’s good people coming at you. I thought we hung in there.
“We’ve got work to continue to do, there’s no question,” Beamer said. “But for a group, a couple of them playing their first snaps, both our tackles, you know, I thought they hung in there pretty good.”
The Hokies outgained the Tide on the ground 153-96, and allowed their quarterback, Logan Thomas, to be sacked just once.
“Those guys up front did a great job the entire night,” Thomas said. “They gave me time to throw. They blocked it up in the run game.“
At least twice Thomas’ passes were errant due to being hit while releasing, but taking into consideration the opponent and the experience level of the line, the Hokies are very pleased with the performance up front.
“(The Hokies offensive line) moved on us up front. We whiffed a few times because they have good quickness,” said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. “You know, they overloaded the sides, then would slant back.
“They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth.”
2. Running Back
For the first time since the departure of David Wilson in 2011, the Hokies have a legitimate top running back. It would be very surprising if, even after J.C. Coleman returns to full health, Trey Edmunds doesn’t receive a very high percentage of carries this year.
Edmunds exploded onto the scene against Alabama — a la Ryan Williams in 2009 — for 132 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. The 132 yards are the most ever for a Hokies running back in their debut.
The touchdown, a 77-yard burst in the first quarter, was one of few offensive highlights for the Hokies.
Hyped up since arriving on campus, Edmunds pulled away from Alabama defenders toward the end of the run, putting his elite speed on display for the first time.
“The offensive line blocked everything well,” said the Danville, Va. native. “I just ran behind them, and I saw a crease and took it. At that point I was just hoping I wouldn’t be tackled.”
It was the much shorter runs however — the two and three-yard efforts — that Tech fans should be happiest about.
Eliminating the long run, Edmunds still averaged 3.4 yards-per-carry against what many consider to be the best front seven in college football. Often, he was able to absorb contact at or behind the line of scrimmage and still gain positive yards. Last year, similar plays would often ended in the backfield for a loss.
“I think Trey is going to be a terrific back,” Beamer said. “He showed speed. He’s a powerful guy. Each and every week I think he’ll get better and better. First time he ever stepped on a college football field there tonight. Pretty good crowd he stepped out there against.”
Last year Alabama’s defense gave up an average of 76.4 yards-per-game and allowed more than 153 yards on the ground — the Hokies’ total from Saturday — to only one opponent: Texas A&M.