Before a record crowd of 107,517 fans at the newly renovated Ohio Stadium, the Ohio State Buckeyes shocked many spectators when they looked overmatched against unranked Virginia Tech this past Saturday night.
Virginia Tech's 35-21 victory in Columbus reminded Buckeye fans -- and the rest of the country -- yet again that Urban Meyer's empire is far from invincible after all. All the weaknesses that a relatively weak Big Ten schedule could not expose in the past two seasons were outted in a matter of three hours.
It appeared the Buckeyes may have found a fix to their secondary woes when redshirt freshman cornerback Eli Apple intercepted Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer on his second throw of the game. Fellow redshirt corner Gareon Conley hinted that Ohio State was going to play a lot more bump and run coverage under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash -- a welcomed sight to fans who watched the secondary get dismantled in the last three games of 2013-14.
However, Ohio State continued to sit back and watch Brewer pick apart its defense, converting 9-of-17 third downs in the midst of a raucous crowd.
"We played a few snaps of extremely good football," Ash said Monday. "We have to sustain it for four quarters."
Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman did their redshirt freshman quarterback no favors against Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense. On obvious passing downs, the Hokies brought the house. They blitzed from every which way and applied severe pressure to J.T. Barrett in his first career home start.
"They made a decision to take away the tailbacks and there were nine guys within six yards of the line of scrimmage," Meyer said Monday. "And you have to make someone pay a price and come up with some of those catches."
The Hokies were determined to shut down the run game, but the coaching staff also appeared to abandon the run. Sophomore standout Ezekiel Elliott only carried the ball eight times for 32 yards, converting on a late touchdown run that tied the game at 21.
Freshman stud Curtis Samuel only carried the ball five times. Barrett led the team in rushing with 70 yards, despite being sacked seven times to take away from his true total.
The coaching staff had an obligation to make things easier on the young quarterback. Easy passes. Easy third down opportunities.
Instead, Barrett was left to handle the pressure all by himself at times. The young Ohio State offensive line could not -- somewhat understandably -- handle Virginia Tech's relentless defensive attack all night long.
Barrett's only touchdown pass of the night was on a quick slant pass to redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas that went for 53 yards, but those plays were few and far between.
Fortunately, Ohio State's schedule sets up to where they can continue to slide by even with defects all across its offensive line and receiving corp. Meyer prides himself on his uptempo offense, but their is a big question as to if he has the personnel to implement his system.
"I thought we've improved at wide receiver, and we just didn't get open enough," Meyer said.
With all the speed at the skill positions, Meyer has to use his players' strengths. The receiving corp, especially drop-heavy Corey Smith, must play better, but it is the coaching staff's responsibility to improve the offense before Ohio State's Nov. 8 showdown with Michigan State in East Lansing.
One thing is for sure: J.T. Barrett deserved better in his home debut.