Virginia Tech’s defense Saturday impressed one of college football’s most respected defensive minds: Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“Defensively they're one of the toughest groups that we played against,” Saban said after the Tide’s season-opening 35-10 victory at the Georgia Dome. “They certainly did a great job against us tonight.
“They moved on us up front. We whiffed a few times because they have good quickness. You know, they overloaded the sides, then would slant back. They were running us down the backside. They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth.”
Saban singled out Tech defensive end James Gayle, a senior from Bethel High, who despite not being credited with a tackle was part of a fierce pass rush on AJ McCarron.
“Their 99 gave us a lot of problems in pass protection,” Saban said. “Pushed the pocket. We were soft. Didn't have a solid pocket. Quarterback didn't feel comfortable. Timing in the passing game wasn't what it needed to be in terms of how much time we had to throw it, how much time we had to get open. Those are the kind of things I think we really need to improve on.
“We didn't handle their pressure or movement very well. We didn't get much movement when they didn't move. Those things all add up to being not so good.”
Said Alabama guard Anthony Steen: “Virginia Tech was constantly moving sideways, and I like to come straight at you.”
The Hokies limited the Crimson Tide to 206 yards, its fewest since gaining 172 in a 2008 victory over Tulane. Tech sacked McCarron four times and had 12 total tackles for losses. Alabama’s longest drive was 49 yards.
Middle linebacker Jack Tyler led Tech with eight tackles and a sack. Linemen Dadi Nicolas, Nigel Williams and Luther Maddy recorded the other sacks.
But the best defender was arguably linebacker Tariq Edwards with six tackles and two pass break-ups. He appeared completely recovered from the stress fracture in his left leg that limited him in 2012.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Kyshoen Jarrett each had four tackles, and Fuller busted up two passes and intercepted another. Whip linebacker Josh Trimble had three tackles in his first start in place of Ronny Vandyke, who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury.
“Bud and the boys, I thought they played a terrific game,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said, referencing defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “I got a lot of respect for (Alabama’s) offense. I think they're very good.”
So is Tech’s defense, and it should get better when cornerback Antone Exum returns from a knee injury, perhaps as early as Sept. 26, when the Hokies return to Atlanta for their ACC opener against Georgia Tech.
Other notes and numbers:
* Alabama's longest play from scrimmage, McCarron's 38-yard scoring pass to Christion Jones, was at the expense of reserve safety Desmond Frye, in the game because Jarrett was sidelined by cramps
* Tech’s 13 punts were its most in Beamer’s 27 seasons and one shy of the school record, set in 1968 in a 14-7 loss to … you guessed it, Alabama. Beamer was a senior on that team.
* The Hokies’ 59 passing yards were its fewest since 48 in a 2008 victory over Georgia Tech.
* Saturday marked the first time Alabama scored two special teams touchdowns since that 2008 win over Tulane.
* Kyle Fuller said he’s game for joining the punt and kick coverage teams that allowed a touchdown each Saturday, both to Jones.
“That’s something we have to fix,” he said. “We can’t give up things like that in games like this. After the first one I just wanted to volunteer and go out there. I’m pretty sure we’ll talk about it. I wouldn’t mind doing it.”
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