Last week saw Ohio State fight off a game Navy squad to pull away in the fourth quarter on their way to a 34-17 victory. This week, the Buckeyes square off under the lights in their home opener for the first time ever against Virginia Tech. Ohio State comes into this game not only having won 25 straight regular season games, but also 35 consecutive home openers.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett started his first game for the Buckeyes on Saturday, and while it was slow-going at first, he found his rhythm in the second half to help Ohio State brush off the upset attempt by Navy. The performance by Barrett, where he went 12-15 through the air for 226 yards and two touchdown passes, was enough to earn him Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week honors. This week will see Barrett take snaps in front of the home crowd for the first time, and potentially build off the improvement that Buckeye fans saw from him in the second half last week.
The Buckeye defense has to be happy that they won't be facing the triple-option attack that Navy threw at them after the Midshipmen rolled up 370 yards on the ground. While that looks like a ridiculous number, it's what Navy does often to opponents. What is encouraging about the performance by the run defense is that after a 67-yard run by Navy in the third quarter, the Buckeye defense only gave up 117 yards on the final 30 carries by the Midshipmen.
Virginia Tech comes in fresh off a 34-9 win over FCS opponent William & Mary in Blacksburg on Saturday afternoon. After what seemed like a couple decades of Logan Thomas under center for the Hokies, Thomas finally exhausted his eligibility and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer took the snaps for Frank Beamer's team. Brewer looked comfortable in his first start as the Hokies brought a more up-tempo offense to the table at times.
The Hokies had a balanced attack with 266 yards through the air and 222 yards on the ground, with a good amount of those rushing yards coming from freshmen Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams. Last year's starter Trey Edmunds is still recovering from a broken left tibia that he suffered last year in the regular season finale win over rival Virginia.
Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was a puzzling hire for the Hokies after he was in charge of Auburn's offense during a 3-9 season in 2012, but with a season in Blacksburg under his belt, Loeffler is beginning to put his mark on the offense. The Hokies sputtered at times last year, but it seems like Loeffler has them heading in the right direction. The Buckeyes can't take for granted that this is the Virginia Tech offense of years past; even VT are showing signs of trying to catch up with the fast-paced offenses that are taking over college football.
|2014 Virginia Tech Schedule|
|30-Aug||William & Mary (W, 34-9)||NR|
|6-Sep||at Ohio State||4|
|4-Oct||at North Carolina||35|
|22-Nov||at Wake Forest||83|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||19.1% (18)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||20|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 6.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (9, 6)
|2014 Ohio State Schedule|
|30-Aug||vs. Navy (W, 34-17)||65|
|25-Oct||at Penn State||37|
|8-Nov||at Michigan State||13|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||24.8% (9)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||2|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||5 / 8.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (3, 7)
Virginia Tech's biggest advantages
Defense, defense, defense. Whenever Virginia Tech is talked about, the first thing that comes to mind is the relentless defenses that Bud Foster puts out year after year. This season is no different. The Hokies may have lost four out of their five top sackers from last year, but it seems like Virginia Tech doesn't rebuild when it comes to their defense, they usually just reload.
Why Bud Foster's D will give Ohio State problems
Since Bud Foster took over the Virginia Tech defense in 1995, they have been recognized for their aggressive and attacking style of play, especially against the run. They create chaos against opposing offenses with multiple fronts, stunts, blitzes and coverages that they deploy.
Foster's first objective is always to stop the run, by limiting the offense's play selection and blocking scheme. He wants to attack the opposing offense by outnumbering defenders to blockers and also by bringing pressure from all over the field. Especially against an inexperienced quarterback, Foster wants to pressure the quarterback mentally, forcing him to make a quick decision while under duress.
The Hokie defense will mostly present two fronts, the "G" front and the "Bear" front:
The "G" front
The "G" front is a 4-4 alignment that shows eight-men in the box. It includes four down linemen, two inside linebackers and two outside linebackers known as the "whip" and the "rover". In the base "G" front, it has a free safety playing centerfield, with two-deep cornerbacks. They can play Cover 1, Cover 3, or bring the free safety down closer to the line of scrimmage, creating a nine-man front and play an inverted Cover 2, with the outside corners playing the deep halves.
When the spread offense started to become a trend, Foster had to adapt, he did this by turning the "rover" into a hybrid safety/ linebacker with coverage skills and run more of a Quarters Coverage (Cover 4) to counter the spread offense.
The majority of Foster's stunts and pressures come from the "G" front.
With Barrett making only the second start of his young Ohio State career, it is expected that Foster is going to throw waves of pressure in Barrett's face. This really isn't that bold of a prediction considering Foster's track record, and also the turnover on the Buckeye offensive line during the offseason. The Bucks have the talent up front to be able to slow down the Virginia Tech rush, but do they have the comfort with each other yet to be able to stop the Hokies' blitz as a unit?
Most of the decisions that Barrett made last week were sound, but there is one play that the Hokie defense have to be licking their chops over. With Ohio State driving and in the redzone, Barrett was forced out of the pocket and made an ill-advised throw that resulted in a Navy interception. With a couple of seniors in the Virginia Tech secondary, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them bait Barrett into a couple more freshman mistakes. Watch out for Kendall Fuller in the secondary for the Hokies. As a freshman last year, Fuller was ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year after picking off six passes.
The Buckeyes' Achilles heel is their secondary. Last week saw Michael Brewer make his first start for Virginia Tech in the win over William & Mary. With Brewer starting, the Hokies showed glimpses of a more up-tempo offense than they have shown in years past. The Hokies might have a perfect field general to lead them if that is the direction they want to move their offense. Brewer transferred from Texas Tech and was also coached in high school by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
While the competition that Virginia Tech got to debut this new wrinkle against wasn't quite the same as taking on the Buckeyes, it was the perfect opponent for the Hokies to get their feet wet and gain some confidence in running at a little faster pace. The up-tempo style could be the perfect way to neutralize the strong defensive line that the Buckeyes possess.
Ohio State's pass defense wasn't tested at all last week against Navy's triple-option offense, so there are still questions about how effective they will be after some of the dreadful performances that they put on last year. If Virginia Tech takes to the air early with the up-tempo offense and finds success, it could put the Buckeyes on their heels with doubt starting to creep in. The Hokies have some talented receivers in Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges and others that Ohio State can't afford to sleep on.
The Hokies could play like they have nothing to lose. Not only does Ohio State come into this game as an 11-point favorite, but they have 64 straight wins against unranked non-conference opponents. Many aren't giving Virginia Tech a real shot to win this game, and with the number of streaks Ohio State has going, it isn't surprising to see why.
But with the consensus seeming to be pro-Ohio State, they can't afford to get complacent. Frank Beamer and the rest of the coaching staff will likely rally around the underdog mentality as the Hokies venture into a hostile environment.
This isn't a conference game for the Hokies, and as an unranked team with relatively reined in expectations, they'll effectively be playing with house money from the word go. A win in Columbus could vault them into the Top-25 and give Virginia Tech real momentum for the rest of the season. The Hokies don't necessarily have the pressure on their shoulders that the Buckeyes do, so they can afford to play loose and take some chances. A quick score or two early in the game and they could severely quiet the raucous crowd that will be on hand in Columbus.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
LeBron and 105,000 of his closest friends. Saturday night will be the first game at Ohio Stadium after the renovations that have taken place over the last few months which have added permanent lights to the stadium, as well as expanded the capacity seating to 104,944. Total attendance in the stadium could reach over 107,000 people, which would eclipse the previous record of 106,102 that was set in October 2012 against Nebraska. 85 straight Ohio State home games have seen attendance figures at over 100,000 people or more.
The type of crowd that will be at The Horseshoe on Saturday night will be one that Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer haven't seen in quite some time. The biggest crowd that Virginia Tech saw last year came in the season opener against Alabama at the Georgia Dome, where attendance was announced at 73,114. The last true road game for Virginia Tech that saw attendance top 80,000 was in 2012 when 83,338 saw the matchup between the Hokies and the Clemson Tigers at Death Valley.
With a new quarterback, and a pair of freshman listed as co-starters on the depth chart at running back, the crowd noise could be a major factor in the game. The offensive unit of the Hokies might not be totally comfortable with each other yet, and with more than 100,000 fans screaming every time the Hokies have the ball, the tough task of winning at Ohio Stadium becomes even tougher. It isn't easy to come into Ohio Stadium and win at all, but it's historically been even tougher at night, as the Buckeyes currently have a five-game winning streak under the lights at home.
One of the nation's best defensive line is hungry and pissed off. Last week against Navy, Buckeye fans didn't get to see the full force of one of the best defensive lines in the country due to the type of offense that Navy threw at them. Joey Bosa mostly was forced with trying to occupy blockers and string out runs to give defenders in the second level the chance to work through the gaps to make tackles. On Saturday, we should see Bosa chase around Michael Brewer with the same kind of pressure that we came to expect from him during his freshman season in Columbus.
Not only will the Buckeyes have Bosa pressuring from the outside, they'll also have Michael Bennett filling the middle of the line. Bennett came into this season with high expectations and Saturday night under the lights in The Horseshoe is the perfect opportunity for him to add to his highlight reel. With the inexperience of the running backs from Virginia Tech, Bennett should be able to bottle up the middle of the line, forcing any inside runs to the outside where there could be a number of Buckeye defenders waiting to make the tackle.
One area of the offensive line of Virginia Tech that the Buckeyes might be able to exploit is the right side, where the Hokies have a couple sophomores starting at right guard and right tackle. The center and left side of the line might take a little more work to penetrate, with a senior, redshirt senior, and sixth-year senior in the mix. Even with that experience on the left side of the line, it'll still be hard to stop the athleticism and power that the Ohio State defensive line has to offer. Look for Virginia Tech and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to try and use some quick-release passing plays to try and offset that pressure that Ohio State is capable of bringing.
The student's become the master. Despite Virginia Tech's sterling reputation on special teams, the Buckeyes' are one of the team's real strengths.
Even the more casual college football enthusiasts in the Columbus area likely remember the late 90s/early 2000s when it seemed like Virginia Tech was recording a punt block every other week or so. When Urban Meyer was a special teams coordinator at Notre Dame in the late 90s, he patterned the philosophies of his unit after what Beamer was doing at that time. The work that Meyer has put into his special teams unit has paid off, as his teams have blocked 60 kicks since 2001, including nine in his first two years at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes also have one of the best punters in the country in Cam Johnston booming kicks for them. Johnston has been very impressive in his brief time in Columbus, and it feels like unless there is a catastrophic breakdown on punt protection that the Hokies might have a tough time getting to him.
The offense might have a tough time moving the ball on the Virginia Tech defense, so this would be the perfect week for return specialist Dontre Wilson to break one of those long returns Ohio State fans have been waiting for. Wilson certainly has the speed to make it happen, and setting the Buckeyes up with a short field could be instrumental to Ohio State keeping their regular season and home opener winning streaks going.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 32, Virginia Tech 24
Win Probability: Ohio State 72%
The win probability for the Buckeyes falls just three percentage points from the 75% win probability that they had last week against Navy. The Hokies shouldn't be taken lightly, as they have what it takes to push the Buckeyes to the limit in Columbus
The defense that Virginia Tech offers up should be able to force the Buckeyes and J.T. Barrett into a couple turnovers that will keep them in the game at Ohio Stadium. This is the first time that Barrett will face heavy pressure, and we saw what it did to him at times against Navy last week. With the experience and skill that the secondary of Virginia Tech has, the redshirt freshman has to be smart with the football and not try to force it into heavy traffic areas.
Last week saw Virginia Tech commit 10 penalties for 75 yards against William & Mary. With the frenzied crowd that'll be on hand at Ohio Stadium, and a quarterback only making his second start for the Hokies, it wouldn't be surprising to see a number of procedural penalties on Virginia Tech simply because they'll have a hard time hearing the calls from Brewer.
The Buckeyes should be able to survive the upset attempt of Virginia Tech, but they'll definitely have to work for it. This Virginia Tech team is a good team, and could even be a nine or 10-win team by the time the season is over. This game, the stakes, and the atmosphere might just be a bit much for a team that is still a little green at some of their skill positions, however.