Alabama’s Nick Saban and Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer said it differently, but both had the same message on Monday as their teams prepare to meet in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the Georgia Dome: They are ready to see what their teams are capable of doing.
Saban said it’s the time they find out. “Are you going to be the real thing, or are you going to be someone who’s just out there? Are you going to be a blinking light, someone the opposition can take advantage of, or are you going to be disciplined and be a part of the team?”
Most know Alabama’s capabilities. The Tide won national championships in three of the past four years and are the preseason No. 1 this season. They return 13 starters from last year’s 13-1 team.
“They are as solid as the day is long and really good,” Beamer said.
There are a few more question marks about Virginia Tech, which went 7-6 last year. It was the most losses for a Virginia Tech team since 1992. Beamer said he’s excited about the chance to measure his program against the best.
“In college football, the first time you play for real, you are playing another opponent … it’s not preseason scrimmages or games or whatever,” he said. “That first ball game, you get a great evaluation. You put Alabama in there and now you have a tremendous team (and chance) to see how they respond. We will learn a lot here Saturday.”
New starters: One matchup to watch Saturday will be how Alabama attacks Viriginia Tech’s offensive tackles: freshman left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin and redshirt junior right tackle Laurence Gibson, who played mostly on special teams last year.
Beamer said he can’t remember ever starting a freshman at the key position of left tackle. McLaughlin, 6 feet 5 and 313 pounds, enrolled at Virginia Tech in January after spending the fall semester at Fork Union Military Academy.
“The type of kid he is, he’s a tough guy who will give his best effort,” Beamer said.
McLaughlin takes on such a critical role because the Hokies have gotten thin on the line. Beamer said they are in the process of rebuilding the depth. Backing up Gibson is redshirt freshman Augie Conte.
McLaughlin and Gibson (6-6, 290) will have a tough task. Alabama led the nation in total defense last year, allowing 250 yards per game. Alabama also had 35 sacks last year. The group returns seven starters. The Hokies allowed 25 sacks last year.
Saban implied that the Tide won’t give the Hokies the same looks very frequently.
“When you play defense, it’s a little bit like pitching in baseball,” he said. “You can’t throw a fastball every time. Sometimes you have to disguise your coverage. Sometimes you have to play man to man and sometimes you have to play zone.”
Thomas improvement: Another key to the game will be how Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas plays. After passing for 3,013 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 games in 2011, Thomas passed for 2,976 yards with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in 13 games last year. His completion percentage decreased from 59.8 percent in 2011 to 51.3 last year.
“I don’t think it’s as much Logan as it is people around Logan,” Beamer said. “When you have a lot of long-yardage situations it’s bad on any quarterback. Sometimes he tried to force things, do too much and put the team on his shoulders. He’s learned from that. We have to play to our strengths and Logan will help us do that.”
Saban said Thomas is an “outstanding player” who is “one of the challenges for our defense.
“We know he’s capable of playing well if we don’t do the things we need to do to play winning football.”
Saban unhappy: One of the funnier moments — and one that re-inforced Saban’s public persona of being a bit of a Type A/worrier — in Monday’s teleconference came when he warned the media not to read too much into a depth chart that he recently put together.
“It’s a chore for me,” he said. “Don’t ask me questions about it. I’m telling you about it, it’s for you. It’s not really for our team, it’s for you. You can write about it and you can talk about it, but don’t ask me. You made me do a depth chart when I didn’t want to do one.”
Memories?: Neither coach remembers too much about their previous meeting in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, a 34-24 season-opening victory for Alabama in 2009 that started its run of three national titles in four years. Alabama is 11-1 all-time against Virginia Tech.
Saban said most of the players and a few of the assistants have changed, so it likely wouldn’t do much good to spend too much time reviewing it.
Beamer said he remembers that it was a physical, hard-fought game.
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