Here’s how the story starts:
BLACKSBURG — Unbeknownst to him, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer started a Twitter firestorm Monday night when he declared Alabama the best team the Hokies have ever played.
What about Matt Leinart- and Reggie Bush-led USC in 2004? The ridiculously stacked Miami team of 2001 that produced 17 first-round NFL Draft picks? Bobby Bowden’s 1999 Florida State squad that beat the Hokies on the biggest stage?
Surely he’d simply overlooked them.
“This is the best team that we’ve ever played,” Beamer reiterated Tuesday, “and that counts all those Miami teams, and the Florida State teams and Southern Cal when they won the championship.”
Whether Beamer is speaking from the heart or doing his best Lou Holtz impersonation, talking up the opponent as much as possible, remains open to debate.
But Alabama’s recent accomplishments certainly put it in the conversation for the best team the Hokies have played. The Crimson Tide have won three of the last four BCS titles, including two straight.
I also looked at Alabama’s most-recent losses — five in the last four years — and what some common traits are. Here are the things that I found teams that beat the Tide did in those games:
- Don’t turn the ball over: This can be true of any game, but in every one of the Tide’s losses in the past four years, the opponent either won or was even in the turnover battle. It’s a big deal because Alabama has ranked 23rd or better nationally in turnover margin in each of the past four years.
- Get a big game from your quarterback: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel accounted for 345 yards and two touchdowns last year. Auburn’s Cam Newton threw for three scores in 2010. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia did the same earlier that year. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas will need a strong game for the Hokies to have a chance.
- Capitalize on big-play opportunities through the air: The 2010 Iron Bowl took a turn on a 70-yard touchdown pass by Newton to Terrell Zachery to start the second half, a pass that should have been intercepted. LSU had a 75-yard touchdown catch by Rueben Randle in its ‘10 win. South Carolina had a couple of big touchdown grabs by Alshon Jeffery. Alabama doesn’t give up big plays often. Teams need to take advantage.
- Run the ball: All five of the opponents who beat Alabama in the past four years topped the 100-yard mark in rushing yards. That doesn’t sound impressive, but considering the Tide have held opponents to 80 rushing yards or less on average in four of the past five seasons, getting to 100 is a tall task.
- Stop the run: The Crimson Tide didn’t have a 100-yard rusher in any of those losses and averaged 3.3 yards or less in four of those five games. Looking at Alabama’s average yards per carry the past five years (5.59, 5.49, 5.09 and 5.01), you can see why that’s significant.