(5) Alabama 34


(7) Virginia Tech 24


Coverage: ABC

8:00 PM ET, September 5, 2009

Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA

1 2 3 4 T
#5ALA 9 7 0 1834
#7VT 7 10 0 724

Top Performers

Passing: G. McElroy (ALA) - 230 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: M. Ingram (ALA) - 26 CAR, 150 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: M. Ingram (ALA) - 3 REC, 35 YDS, 1 TD

Alabama-Virginia Tech Preview


An impressive win in the Georgia Dome to begin last season paved the way for Alabama to become perhaps the biggest surprise in college football.

For Nick Saban's team, though, the season's conclusion couldn't have been a bigger disappointment.

The fifth-ranked Crimson Tide hope to start erasing those memories by getting off to another good start Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, where No. 7 Virginia Tech looks to justify the highest preseason ranking in school history.

Alabama (12-2) took a huge step forward in Saban's second season in Tuscaloosa, going from barely qualifying for a bowl game at 7-6 in 2007 to a national title contender in 2008.

The Crimson Tide won their first 12 games, beginning with a dominant 34-10 win over ninth-ranked Clemson in the inaugural Chick-fil-A College Kickoff in Atlanta.

Alabama played very well until falling 31-20 to Florida in the SEC championship game -- also at the Georgia Dome -- a loss that dropped them from the BCS title game to a date with Mountain West winner Utah in the Sugar Bowl.

The Tide looked like a team with little to play for against the Utes, who jumped out to a 21-0 lead en route to a 31-17 win.

"We didn't finish the season like we wanted, and I'm sorry for that for (our players)," Saban said.

While Alabama used the momentum from its season-opening win to vault to the top of the polls in early December, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer doesn't see a loss Saturday as being particularly devastating.

"A win over a great program as good as Alabama would definitely be a big thing for Virginia Tech and the ACC," he said. "The other side of it, it doesn't make your season either way. If you beat Alabama you still have games to play, and if you lose to Alabama you still have games to play."

While sophomore receiver Julio Jones may be the Crimson Tide's biggest star, their focal point remains a defense which was third in the nation overall (263.5 yards per game) and seventh in scoring (14.3 points per game) last season.

Eight returning starters will be on the field Saturday, including tackle Terrence Cody and linebacker Rolando McClain -- both All-Americans. Cornerback Javier Arenas anchors the secondary, where safety Rashad Johnson was the lone significant loss.

Yet, when any talk of this potentially being Alabama's best defense ever, Saban needs only to point to his team's last two games as a bit of a reality check.

"Where it is now, we gave up 31 points in the last two games we played," said Saban, who signed an extension Saturday that will keep him in Tuscaloosa through 2017. "Even though we were going against two of the best offenses in the country, we need to do better. There's a lot of room for improvement."

One additional starter was set to return, but defensive end Brandon Deaderick was shot in the arm Monday during a robbery attempt, an injury described as "not life threatening," but still one that leaves his playing status in doubt.

Virginia Tech (10-4) also will be missing a key player, but while Deaderick may return this season, Hokies tailback Darren Evans won't. The sophomore, who ran for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, tore his ACL in preseason practice.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Williams is expected to start in the backfield.

Beamer can take solace in the fact that, unlike Alabama, which will hand the reins to first-year starter Greg McElroy, his team can turn to an experienced quarterback.

That isn't to say junior Tyrod Taylor doesn't need to improve. He threw two touchdown passes in 173 attempts last season but ran for seven scores, one in the Hokies' 20-7 Orange Bowl win over Cincinnati -- their fourth straight to close the season.

"He's exactly the type of player you want leading a football team," Beamer said.

Taylor had been in a position battle the past two seasons but has the job all to himself this year.

"It always helps you as a quarterback to be the guy," quarterbacks coach Matt O'Cain said. "From day one, you're the guy. When you are able to go through spring practice as the quarterback, go through the summer as the quarterback, come in in August as the quarterback, it's a tremendous advantage. You just carry yourself in a different way."

Alabama holds a 10-1 lead in the series but hasn't beaten Virginia Tech since 1979. The most recent meeting was the Hokies' 38-7 win in the 1998 Music City Bowl.


Passing Leaders

B. Sims64.534872810
J. Coker64.440340
M. Brewer59.426921815
M. Leal66.77710

Rushing Leaders

D. Henry1729905.811
T. Yeldon1949795.011
J. Coleman1075335.03
M. Williams1244753.84

Receiving Leaders

A. Cooper124172713.916
D. White4050412.64
I. Ford5670912.76
B. Hodges4552611.77