Alabama Virginia Tech – Three Sheets To The Win
Each week, the Lighthouse staff is going to select three offensive and three defensive players to shine a light on as keys to a victory. We are calling it “Three Sheets to the Win” because if we are wrong, we’re blaming it on being three sheets to the wind when we picked them. Make sense? Also, in sailing terms, sheets are lines. So, these three players need to be pulling the sheets in the same direction if we want to sail this ship to Pasadena! In this segment, we’ll look at three offensive players who will have to have a good game in order to gobble up the Hokies from Virginia Tech.
Austin Shepherd: If you’ve been following along during the off-season, you know that solidifying the offensive line has been priority #1 for the Tide staff. While there are guards a-plenty on the team, there are scant few players on the roster who seem to have the ability to play tackle. Cyrus Kouandjio has the left tackle position locked down but the right tackle position has been the scene for musical chairs (but no Miley Cyrus music, please). First, Austin Shepherd took the first team reps and then, after a sub-par scrimmage, big Arie Kouandjio was moved from LG to RT in an effort to get a better push at the position. Now, Shepherd is back and he gets the first crack at locking down the right side on Saturday.
While Virginia Tech is small, they have a tremendous defensive end in James Gayle. Gayle, by himself, will be a huge challenge for Shepherd. But, throw in the fact that the Hokies will be dialing up blitzes by the dozens. Saturday has the makings for a very long day for Shepherd in dealing with his one on one battles with Gayle and picking up numerous complicated blitz assignments, as well. Saturday will be a day of reckoning for Shepherd. Can he handle it? Or will we see more fruit basket turnover at the position? Getting this position settled is a key for Saturday but even more vital for the rest of the season.
AJ McCarron: I know, I know, we aren’t exactly going out on a limb by picking him. Going forward, we do hope to look at more “under the radar” match ups but this one is just too crucial to ignore. At the QB position, AJ has quite a bit of freedom to change the play in order to get Alabama into the right plays at the line of scrimmage. This means he has the responsibility to recognize when the Hokies are blitzing and adjust accordingly. At times, there will be some Hokie blitzers who are designed to come free (be unblocked) and they will be the responsibility of AJ. He must see them coming and must be prepared to get the ball out quickly to his hot receivers in order to beat the blitz.
If AJ were a freshman or a sophomore, this might translate into being a pretty big deal. But, AJ is a 5th year senior who’s been there and done this. One of his best qualities is his ability to accept that a play is bad and simply throw the ball into the stands for, as Saban preaches, punting is never a bad play. On Saturday, McCarron will be challenged with blitzes and the occasional faltering of his new offensive line so it will be of paramount importance for him to keep it (and his line) together and deliver daggers whenever he can.
Derrick Henry: So here’s your under the radar kind of guy that we want to talk about in this segment. Henry is 6’3, 245 which means he’s just as big as the Tech defensive ends and he’s bigger than all three linebackers. With the Hokies flooding the edges of the line, the weak spot to attack is going to be between the tackles and that’s where a man like Henry can excel. You see, when you are that big, that fast, and that strong, you really don’t need much room to move and you can pretty much act like a bulldozer. He may get walled in on the sides but he should always be able to hit the pedal and knock down a wall or two in front of him.
There is so much to like about Henry that we feel pretty confident Henry will be the Robin to TJ Yeldon’s Batman this season. No truth to the rumor that Yeldon will be replacing Ben Affleck in the next movie, however. Folks, get your popcorn ready because this kid is special and we’ll need him on Saturday as well as the rest of the season. Oh Henry!