There's still another day before J.T. Barrett and the rest of the Ohio State Buckeyes host Virginia Tech in the Horseshoe during prime time. The night game marks another marquee out of conference opponent for coach Meyer and his staff as their offense will be challenged throughout the course of the evening by the Hokies defense, especially the secondary.
Virginia Tech will be a different kind of beast for the Buckeyes and it should provide another night of nail biting for fans watching from home and those who are in attendance. Either way, here are five things to look for on Saturday night.
Stable roaming free
Here's a fun fact for you; four different Ohio State players had 40+ yards on the ground against Navy last Saturday. Surprisingly, redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is the Buckeyes' leading rusher after one game, with 50 yards on 9 carries. Since the loss of Carlos Hyde to graduation, it appears coach Meyer has gone back to his usual running back by committee, to help keep legs fresh and keep defenses guessing who will get the ball and when. The next highest rusher was true freshman Curtis Samuel, who had an impressive debut with seven carries for 45 yards followed by Ezekiel Elliott (who appeared to be a step slow and may have been still been trying to recover from his injury) who contributed 12 carries for 44 yards.
Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall proved to be effective, combining for 50 yards on nine carries. Wilson and Marshall were also somewhat a threat through the air, but expect the majority of their damage to come on the ground. Against Virginia Tech, the stable of running backs coach Meyer has will have to improve upon their performance from last week if they want to take pressure off of Barrett throwing the ball.
For whom the Bell tolls
The depth chart battles continue through week two of the season and in this case, sophomore Vonn Bell will get his chance at locking down the free safety spot over fellow sophomore Cam Burrows after the two split time at the position against Navy. When asked about how he thought he performed against the Midshipmen, Bell exuded confidence, citing that whenever he was in the game, he did everything he was supposed to do.
Clearly, the coaching staff agrees, as Bell was listed as the starter earlier this week on the official depth chart compared to last week with Cam Burrows getting the nod with an OR beside his name. Now, it appears it's Bell's job to lose. There's no better time to come up big than against a quality out of conference opponent, but we already know Bell is more than capable of that. Look for him to have a big night on Saturday.
Young guns ready for war
One of the more surprising notes from the Navy game was the exclusion of true freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan and true freshman wide receiver Johnnie Dixon. Both were expected to earn at least some playing time, but by the the time the final seconds ticked off the clock, neither had seen a snap at their actual positions.
Coach Meyer addressed this point in his weekly press conference and noted that both of them need to see the field much more than they did. One of the best things about coach Meyer's philosophy is that the best players will play, so it was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser when the two didn't see the field against Navy. I would expect that to change, if only for a few snaps here and there, when the Buckeyes host Virginia Tech tomorrow night.
Barrett's not-so-baby steps include offensive line
J.T. Barrett is going to be greatly tested against this Hokie secondary, there's no question about it. After a safe first half, coach Meyer opened up the playbook ever so slightly and Barrett was able to connect with senior wide receiver Devin Smith on a long 80-yard touchdown play. Against Virginia Tech, Barrett is going to have to play smarter than a typical freshman. Minimizing mistakes, such as the interception against the Midshipmen and near interception on a screen play, will be key for Barrett and Ohio State to be successful. Virginia Tech's defense will most likely roll the dice, betting on the Buckeyes to rely heavily on the run. It will be up to Barrett to make sure they can't load the box up.
Of course, just as important, the offensive line had plenty of changes during the week, with Evan Lisle being ruled out for the year as well as some shifts in positions. After a pretty dismal first half performance against Navy, the line will have to play much better to allow Barrett time to find his receivers down field. The two go hand-in-hand, and against the Hokies defensive line and secondary, it will be a tough challenge to overcome.
Sean Nuernberger had himself quite a freshman debut against Navy, striking a 46-yard field goal (his first ever attempt at the college level) to give Ohio State the first lead of the game. He would later add a 28-yard field goal in addition to his perfect 4/4 on extra point attempts. Now facing Virginia Tech, Nuernberger will no doubt be called upon again, but there isn't anything to worry about because the kid's confidence is pretty high right now.
Earlier this week Nuernberger told reporters that he was comfortable kicking it up to 60 yards, something every college coach would be lucky to have, but he still needs to earn trust from the coaching staff and nail the shorter attempts first. If things get crazy, don't be surprised if Nuernberger ends up icing the game for the Buckeyes.