TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For months, the hype has built.
By the end of the night, Alabama will have a good idea of where its football team stands after facing seventh-ranked Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. in the Georgia Dome.
“Once you get that good first lick in,” Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer said, “those jitters will be gone, and you’re ready to play football.”
Ultimately, the marquee game of college football’s first weekend pits two of the nation’s best defenses against offenses with unproven players stepping into prominent roles.
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First-time starting quarterback Greg McElroy will be in the the brightest spotlight, as he inherits an offense with its share of playmakers and question marks. Just how much time he’ll have to find receivers like Julio Jones and Marquis Maze could be the biggest issue with three new starters up front.
The challenge, McElroy said, is fun.
“If we want to be one of the better offenses in the country,” McElroy said, “we have to beat defenses like this.”
Such defenses bring players like end Jason Worilds, who blew through offensive lines in 2008 to rack up 18 1/2 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. He’s one of eight returning starters from a Tech defense that helped guide the program to an Atlantic Coast Conference title and an Orange Bowl win.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also played a prominent role in last season’s late push. The team’s second-leading rusher picked up 738 yards with his feet and 1,036 more through the air by completing 99 of his 173 pass attempts.
The junior’s speed makes him a threat. Saban said defensive discipline will be paramount when trying to contain a dual-threat player such as Taylor, who likes to throw more when he leaves the pocket than run.
“The thing that impresses me the most is his ability to avoid the rush in the pocket, scramble and still throw the ball,” Saban said.
Last year’s leading Hokie rusher Darren Evans will not be an issue for Alabama after suffering a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament tear in August. What’s left is an unproven group of three running backs.
Only Josh Oglesby has college experience with 88 rushing yards on 38 carries while redshirt freshman and former high school All-American Ryan Williams appears to be stepping up in preseason practice.
“He’s got a good future,” Tech coach Frank Beamer said. “We’ve just got to get him in there and see what happens. … Opening up with a defense like Alabama’s, that’s not going to be easy.”
Rushers will face an Alabama that returns most of the pass defense that ranked second a season ago.
Nose guard Terrence Cody played a big role in clogging the middle, and he will line up across from a first-year starter in center Beau Warren, who will give up more than 65 pounds to the player dubbed “Mount Cody.”
Beamer’s advice to Warren: “Make sure you’ve got that head gear on tight.”