A few thoughts from tonight's game:
- Greg McElroy played very well in his debut tonight. He got off to a slow start -- though it was largely not of his own doing -- but he came around and ultimately played well. Aside from the one interception, he did exactly what we needed. He made smart decisions, rarely forced throws, and took off running when protection broke down. But with that said, it should also be mentioned in addition that McElroy, on down the stretch, made some great plays in his own right. He transcended the game manager label as the game wore on, and he made some very big plays in his own right. I think it's safe to say he generally played better tonight than John Parker Wilson did a year ago.
- The offensive line, despite the gaudy offensive numbers, actually struggled for a good part of the night. We never really could block the Hokies off the edge in the passing game, Barrett Jones struggled a fair amount, and the Hokies were almost constantly stuffing our running game on the early downs in the first three quarters. Making matters worse, we had several costly penalties, and Vlachos' bad snap to Ingram in the Wildcat formation ending a promising drive. We popped off some big runs and started to take over the game physically late in the fourth quarter, but it was far from pretty. We've definitely still got some work to do up front, but for now just take solace in the fact that will be the best front seven we face for many weeks.
- At times, this was quite possibly the most frustrating Alabama game I've watched in ages, and we were seemingly committed to beating ourselves. The list of dumb mistakes include, but is not limited to: A kick-off return for a touchdown allowed, an interception deep in our own territory, bad safety play giving up a touchdown run, Marquis Johnson / Mark Barron's blown coverage on the deep pass, another deep kick-off return added to by a late hit, Rolando McClain's meltdown, Julio Jones' key drop on a deep third down pass, Roy Upchurch fumbling after a long run, Roy Upchurch running right into a VT defender when a cut either way means he scores, and Leigh Tiffin's shanked field goal. If you look at the yardage data, this game should have been as dominating of a blowout as last year's Clemson game, but unfortunately we kept Tech in the game with a ton of unbelievably stupid mistakes.
- And, in particular, the kick-off returned for a touchdown by Tech was incredibly frustrating. We butchered that kick coverage the whole way. Rod Woodson, Courtney Upshaw, and Chris Rogers stayed more towards the middle of the field despite the kick going to the right, Roy Upchurch ran himself out of the play on the right sideline, and Chris Rogers was sealed off with a block. Mark Barron was supposed to force it back inside, but he too was sealed off by a block, and Leigh Tiffin screwed it all up by getting sucked too far in, thus giving him a terrible pursuit angle trying to knock him out of bounds. Marquis Johnson's whiff on the tackle further down field was frustrating as hell, but by the same token you really hate to blame it all on him as some undoubtedly will. He chased down the returner all the way from the opposite side of the field, and it was the collective effort of seven other players that let him get free in the first place. Just frustrating as hell, period.
- Credit goes to the VT coaching staff on so many things, but in particular the way they handled Julio Jones. They bracketed him high and low almost all night long, and it got the job done. That's the only way you'll stop him, and they got the job done. They couldn't hang on to get the victory, but they didn't let our best player beat them.
- Nick Saban's defense lived up to the hype, period. I know Virginia Tech doesn't have a great offense, but the Hokies basically had two big plays all night long -- both on 'Bama mental errors -- and that was it. From there, it was a complete shutdown in all phases of the game. Tyrod Taylor ending up with 65 total yards on 30 touches, and the Tech offense barely had 150 yards. And they did exactly what they needed to do with Taylor... contain, contain, contain. Just a great performance by the Tide defense, period. If we can stay healthy this year, this defense has the chance to be something truly incredible.
- And speaking of Tyrod Taylor, I was highly critical of his abilities as a passer in the pregame analysis, but I will give credit where it is due and Taylor deserves some tonight, despite his bad statistical showing. I don't know that he made a bad throw all night long, really, his main problems were receivers completely and totally unable to get separation, and a laughable offensive line. I swear, that offensive line is absolutely pathetic. I counted at least three times in the fourth quarter that those guys allowed a defensive end to go untouched on a passing play. None of that is Taylor's fault, of course, he did the best he could with what he had around him.
- And I also said in the pregame that I didn't think that Mark Barron could spy Taylor, and that too was right. Barron is an NFL caliber athlete in his own right, and on the three times he was matched up with Taylor in the open field, he never laid a finger on the fleet-footed quarterback. Taylor is an elite athlete in every sense of the word, period. You'll see him with the ball in his hands on Sunday, I'm sure.
- Obviously it was an absolutely terrible offensive line, but we still racked up 5 sacks defensively on only 20 passing attempts. Incompetent offensive line or no, we haven't rushed the passer like that in a long time.
- Our kick coverage has to improve, period. With the caliber of athletes that we can put on the field, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be stuffing opponents inside their 20 yard line.
- At the risk of tooting my own horn, I said in the pregame analysis that our offense could be much different than many expected, and I nailed that one. Far from the three yards and a cloud of dust strategy that most expected, we mixed things up constantly. Ingram spent a lot of time in the Wildcat, we used lots of motion, we ran a lot of snaps from the Pistol, and McElroy spent a lot of time in the shotgun as well. I see no reason not to expect all of that to continue as we move forward.
- The Tide signed another #1 recruiting class last February, but how many of those true freshman played in the season opener? I saw Rod Woodson make a tackle on special teams on the opening kick, and Trent Richardson did some garbage time late in the game, but if another true freshman played tonight (including Dre Kirkpatrick), I missed it. And keep in mind no one is saying that this class has disappointed, far from it in fact. That ought to tell you just how much talent we have on hand not counting the incoming freshman. Saban and company have done not only a great job with the 2008 class, but also with developing the Shula era players that they inherited.
Darius Hanks... a practice star no more. With his performance tonight, he's the #3 receiver on the team right now.
- The Alabama offense did well tonight, as a whole. It struggled early, but those guys deserve credit. Even with the Hokies completely taking Julio Jones out of the game, we still racked up nearly 500 yards and 34 points against a damn fine defense. And we did that despite all of the mistakes we made, and a slow start. If we can play anywhere near that well on the offensive side of the ball the rest of the year, this will be one of the best offenses we had in years.
- And, good job by the 'Bama coaching staff tonight on the offensive side of the ball. They saw we couldn't play smashmouth with the Hokies and dominate at the line of scrimmage like we did last year, so instead of trying to shove a round peg into a square hole, they mixed things up and made some things work with what they had. Most of the staffs we've had in the post-Bryant era wouldn't have done that, and these guys did. Thankfully they were rewarded with a big offensive output and the victory, all well deserved.
- All in all, it wasn't always pretty, but the victory came nevertheless and oh was it ever sweet. With the big win over the Hokies tonight, we'll move up to at least #4 in the country, and you really have to like how the schedule works out from here. If we can eliminate the mistakes from tonight, this is a team that could win a lot of games this year, and at the moment the potential is really unlimited. Again, though, we still have some improvements to make, and upsets can come at any given time, so hopefully the team just remains focused on the task at hand and doesn't get punch drunk on all the lovely what-if scenarios.
- Finally, to close, hats off to Brandon Deaderick. Not only did you play with two bullet holes in your body, less than five full days from getting shot at point blank range, you played hard, physical football in a high intensity game against a good opponent, and you played well. With all due respect to Lane Bearden, you are now officially the toughest man I've ever seen put on the crimson and white.