ESPN’s Spielman breaks down Tech-Alabama

BLACKSBURG – When this year’s football matchup between Virginia Tech and Alabama was announced two years ago, it looked like a marquee game, one that would grab a national audience.
Virginia Tech’s dip to 7-6 last season, while Alabama was romping its way to a second straight national title, suddenly slapped some of the luster off Saturday’s affair.
Still, ESPN analyst Chris Spielman, who will be doing Saturday’s broadcast with Sean McDonough and Shannon Spake (sideline reporter), said Tech has the chance to be competitive if senior quarterback Logan Thomas plays well.
“On paper, it doesn’t look like much of a game,” Spielman said Tuesday morning. “But if he plays to the potential he’s shown at times in the past, he can keep a team in a game.”
The 1988 Ohio State graduate and former Detroit Lions linebacker took a break from de-skunking his dog Tuesday morning to help breakdown the Hokies’ season opener, which is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome and will air on ESPN.
Spielman said that, while questions linger in his mind about Tech’s offensive supporting cast, he thinks the key for the Hokies is for Thomas to rebound from his disappointing junior season.
“I think it still has the potential to be a marquee game,” Spielman said. “I think Logan Thomas surprised so many people last year when he played so poorly. I think everyone, I think Logan thought he was going to be much better.”
Spielman expects nothing but good things from Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has a pair of national championship rings and is looking for a third.
“I’m not the only one who says this, I think their quarterback is underappreciated,” Spielman said. “I don’t think people realize how good he is.”
Monday, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he hasn’t found any weakness in Alabama’s team, so I asked Spielman if he sees any.
“First of all, they’ve got to replace a lot on defense,” Spielman said. “But what do they replace them with? Futures stars. They just haven’t had the chance to shine yet.
“I would normally say their secondary, but I know Nick [Saban] has a strong hand coaching the secondary and I know the talent they have in that area. They’ve always been strong in the back end.”
I’ll be writing later in the week on the advantage Virginia Tech might gain from having a new offensive coach staff, how difficult that might make Alabama’s preparation. So I asked Spielman if he thinks that gives the Hokies any edge.
“I don’t think so,” Spielman. “I think Alabama is at the point, and they’re certainly good enough to be there, of ‘Lets do what we do.’ Unless there’s a totally new offense that’s been invented, I don’t think it’s an advantage.”
Finally, I asked Spielman how concerned he’d be with Tech starting (at least) two true freshmen against Alabama. (Three if the offense opens with fullback Sam Rogers and four if the defense comes out in a nickel package with Brandon Facyson on the field.)
“I’d be more concerned with the guy at left tackle because of the speed he’s going to see off the edge,” Spielman said. “You can’t simulate game speed in practice because everybody naturally kicks it up a gear.”
Spielman said the key for McLaughlin is getting off to a good start.
“If he’s successful early on, that will do wonders for his confidence, saying, ‘I can be here, I can do this,’” Spielman said.
As for Fuller, Spielman said his position makes it easier to have success at a young age.
“I’ve always thought that corner is the position where a rookie can go in and play right away or a freshman can play right away,” Spielman said.
How might Fuller handle a matchup with Alabama star receiver Amari Cooper?
“I hope he’s young enough where he doesn’t realize how big the challenge is and just goes after him,” Spielman said. “And if he gets beat deep, have a short memory.”