Over the weekend, we looked back at the offenses of the 2009 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff, which pitted Alabama against Virginia Tech, and compared them to the offenses the teams will put out there in 2013. Today, we do the same, except on the defensive side of the ball.
Analysis: Alabama had a lot of star power up front in 2009, namely Mt. Cody, who quickly became one of the best players in the country when he transferred into Tuscaloosa from junior college. He was the prototype nose tackle in Nick Saban's system and commanded double and triple teams.
Deadrick was the other star, and he made an impact in the 2009 game despite being shot in the arm the Monday before kickoff. This year, Stinson is the key returning starter after recording 8.5 tackles for loss last season. However, the other two players, Ivory and Pagan, don't bring the wow factor that would have given them the edge over the 2009 bunch. Cody was just too dominant. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: There are a lot of similarities between the two here. Worilds and Gayle compare favorably; I even expect Gayle to do his best Worilds impression prior to this game and stand hulking at the 50-yard line staring at the Alabama sideline. Thompson and Hopkins are similar, unheralded, yet talented and important players, while Graves and Maddy are talented and much talked about tackles.
Finally, Brown and Collins almost never get talked about because they don't do anything special, but are merely solid players. The Hokies are even young on the second unit as someone like Woody Baron could play the role of Antoine Hopkins, a redshirt freshman at the time who had a big interception in the first half against Alabama in 2009.
The difference could be the presence of Dadi Nicholas. VT did not have someone extra like him in 2013 and he could be a big factor in this game if he can pressure quarterback AJ McCarron as a co-starter with Collins at defensive end. Advantage 2013.
Linebackers Alabama 2009: OLB Cory Reamer, ILB Rolando McClain, ILB Dont'a Hightower and OLB Eryk Anders 2013: OLB Adrian Hubbard, ILB Corey Mosley, ILB Troy DePriest and OLB Denzell Devall.
Analysis: For the Crimson Tide, the linebacker depth charts in 2009 and 2013 are very similar. The outside linebackers get nearly none of the glory and aren't big names. The names up the middle get most of the attention and for good reason.
In 2009, it was the stellar duo of McClain and Hightower, who were two elite level college linebackers. This year, it's Mosley who leads the way as the star of the entire Alabama defense and DePriest, who was recently suspended for violating team rules but is expected to be back for the game.
Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart relies on his defensive line to control the line of scrimmage and his linebackers to run just about everywhere on the field making plays. Besides Mosley and DePriest, the guy that could cause problems is Hubbard, who recorded seven sacks last year as a pass rushing outside linebacker. These guys will make plays. However, the McClain/Hightower pairing in the middle gives that year the edge here. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: It is ironic that Jake Johnson had his best game in a Virginia Tech uniform against Alabama. He led the team in tackles with 13 and nearly had an interception early in the game. However, he eventually lost his spot and transferred.
Rivers was about as solid as it gets at the start of 2009 and Grimm remains the best WHIP Virginia Tech has ever had. The Hokies are still trying to replace him. Tyler is a slight upgrade over Rivers at mike and Edwards is an upgrade over Johnson. However, the WHIP position decides this one.
Grimm played every single down for the Hokies. He had a key strip in the first half that prevented another Alabama score in 2009. Because of Ronny Vandyke's injury, the Hokies are forced to slot Trimble, a former walk-on, at WHIP. I don't expect him to play much, as the Hokies will likely rely heavily on their nickel package with Kendall Fuller. However, Saban loves to pound the ball on the ground and wear down opponents, which may forced Bud Foster to use Trimble just to get some size in there. Because of Grimm's prowess, I have to give the edge to his year. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: The strength of Alabama's secondary in 2013 is at safety; Clinton-Dix and Sunseri are two top-flight safeties. Clinton-Dix may be the safety in the country. The strength of Alabama's secondary in 2009 was the whole thing. Barron and Jackson were first round picks, Arenas a second rounder, and Woodall recorded seven tackles in the win over VT, second on the team.
While the Crimson Tide's 2013 corners are talented in their own right, the Jackson/Arenas combo is one of the better combos in recent memory. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: Virgil and Carmichael are two of the more underrated corners in VT's recent history, but they combined to hold Julio Jones to four catches for 46 yards in 2009. Meanwhile, Kyle Fuller is one of the more highly regarded corners despite his struggles with injuries in 2012. Facyson is quickly developing into a budding star as has followed up a great spring with an even better fall.
With the Hokies low on WHIPs, expect Kendall Fuller to play a lot of nickel back, leaving Facyson as the second corner for assistant coach Torrian Gray. Chancellor was a terrific rover for the Hokies, but never seemed truly comfortable at free safety. That might be a solid comparison for Detrick Bonner, although he never was as good as Chancellor at rover. Bonner went through some growing pains last year, but will need to be on top of his game this year. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: Tiffin was about as good as it gets and made numerous clutch kicks late in his Alabama career. Entering 2013, the Tide have a pair of kickers in Foster and Griffith would could both wind up being the primary kicker; Nick Saban hasn't announced it publicly yet.
Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones are certainly talented return men, but they won't come close to Arenas, who was one of the best and most feared return men in college football back in 2009. Advantage 2009.
Analysis: The Hokies didn't know what they had in Waldron when things kicked off back in 2009, which is completely opposite from the situation they have entering 2013. Journell has tons of experience and has made just about every kick asked of him in a Virginia Tech uniform. Hughes has stabilized the punting position after a disastrous 2011 season; he is expected to have a big season, but I wouldn't say he does anything better or worse than Bowden.
The Hokies have a big unknown at kick return entering 2013, as two of the young guns are likely to return kicks, although Jarrett is an option there, too. He was terrific on punt returns in 2012 and provides the same home-run ability that Hosley provided. However, Hosley didn't start the 2009 game as the punt returner.
The job originally belonged to Ryan Williams before he muffed the first punt of the game and subsequently removed himself from the role. In 2013, the Hokies have solid specialists and a little bit of big play ability in the return game, much like they did in 2009. Advantage neither.