Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

Teel Time: Hokies ought to be cautious with injuries entering Alabama game

Virginia Tech opened its 2004 football season as a decided underdog against reigning national champion Southern California at neutral FedEx Field. In two weeks, the Hokies commence 2013 as three-score puppies against two-time defending champ Alabama at the Georgia Dome.

“We had a lot of question marks on both sides of the ball,” said defensive coordinator Bud Foster, noting the similarities to 2004 and ‘13. “Lost a really close football game to a national champion in Southern Cal with Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and crew. Ended up winning the ACC.”

Foster is right. The 2004 Hokies were coming off a disappointing 8-5 season in their Big East farewell, but after the 24-13 setback to USC — the Trojans were favored by 17 — Tech went 10-1 to claim the ACC and earn a Sugar Bowl bid opposite undefeated Auburn.

Foster’s overarching point: “Alabama’s not a make-or-break game for us. … This game, yeah, it can really do big things for our program, but, it’s not going to make or break our season.”

Indeed, for a team that harbors no serious national aspirations but could contend for the ACC championship, there’s minimal downside to playing the consensus preseason No. 1, even if the margin gets, to swipe a Frank Beamer phrase, “out of whack.”

All of which is a long winded preamble to suggesting that the 19-point underdog Hokies, bruised and battered like no August in memory,and unranked in preseason for the first time since that '04 year, exercise caution as they prepare for the Crimson Tide.

First and foremost, J.C. Coleman. With 492 yards rushing last season as a true freshman, he’s Tech’s top returning tailback. Though likely to back up redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds this year, Coleman remains a vital presence.

So with two ankle sprains — the left is especially problematic — the last thing Coleman needs is exposure to Alabama’s defense when his mobility is compromised.

In announcing the injury Thursday night, trainer Mike Goforth said having Coleman return in less than two weeks is “very optimistic.” But Goforth also said “we think he’ll be ready and back in time for the Alabama game.”

The Hokies face the Crimson Tide on Aug. 31, so in order for him to get even limited practice snaps during game week, he’d have to meet that “very optimistic” timetable.

No matter that Michael Holmes’ dismissal from school, Joel Caleb’s one-game suspension and Tony Gregory’s career-ending fourth ACL tear leave Tech alarmingly thin at tailback for the opener. No matter that Chris Mangus, another redshirt freshman, likely would be the No. 2 tailback against Alabama if Coleman is unavailable.

There’s just no sense pushing Coleman this early in the season against a non-conference opponent. Better to nurse him slowly and hope he’s full-tilt for the opening ACC stretch against Coastal Division rivals Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Pittsburgh.

Not to advocate white-flagging against Alabama. If Coleman is healthy, play him. And who knows, if the Hokies can score on defense and special teams, and if Logan Thomas channels Ben Roethlisberger … 

But also understand that recent injuries to offensive lineman Mark Shuman (knee) and outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke (shoulder) further damage Tech’s prospects and increase the demands on true freshmen such as offensive tackle Jon McLaughlin and cornerback Brandon Facyson.

“We have a great program here,” Foster said last week at media day. “We’ve had one for a number of years. Take a lot of pride in that. We’ve played Alabama before. Had a chance to beat them when they won a national championship (in 2009). We’ve opened up against Southern Cal when they won a national championship.

“As a coaching staff, we’re not new to this. But we do have some question marks on this football team. It will be a measuring stick for us.”

Measuring stick, yes. Final barometer, no. Plan accordingly.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
College SportsCollege FootballAlabama Crimson TideFootballVirginia Tech HokiesUSC Trojans
Comments
Loading