Virginia Tech came into Columbus last season and put up a season-high 35 points. No, quarterback Michael Brewer and co. did not dominate the Buckeye defense, but they converted nine of 17 third downs and took advantage of favorable field position due to three J.T. Barrett interceptions and good Hokie defense. Brewer managed the game well, completing 23 of 36 pass attempts for 199 yards, while throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Hokies' actually outgained the Buckeyes on the ground, recording 125 yards to Ohio State's 108. The "Silver Bullets" will look to build upon last year's late success, when they stifled the high-octane Oregon Ducks to a season-low 20 points in the national championship, as they take on VT in a rematch.
Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler is a familiar name for Buckeye fans, as he played quarterback at the University of Michigan from 1993-1996, before joining Lloyd Carr's staff as a graduate assistant until 1999. After bouncing around professional and college football for a few seasons, he joined Urban Meyer's Florida staff as a quarterbacks coach, turning Tim Tebow into a more polished passer. Tebow finished the 2009 season with a career best 67.8 completion percentage. Tom Brady, Tebow, Brian Griese, Chad Henne, Drew Henson, John Navarre, and Logan Thomas were all developed under Loeffler.
Loeffler runs a modernized pro-style philosophy with a hurry-up tempo. His offense looks similar to the one currently ran by his former player, Tom Brady, in New England. He likes to keep the defense on their heels by getting to the line and getting the ball out quickly. Loeffler will resort to quick hitters such as slants, crossing routes, ins and out patterns.
Another big part of his offense are the versatility of his tight ends and fullbacks, who line up all over the field. They try to get those big and athletic players out-wide on the perimeter or out of the backfield against smaller defensive backs to create a size mismatch.
Here is an example of the Hokie offense using a full-back rather than a tailback in the backfield, along with a tight end in 11-personnel.
Here is the fullback in the slot, with the tight end flexed right:
Hokie offense vs. the Ohio State defense
After the Hokies shocked the Buckeyes last season, one would believe that Ash, Fickell and the rest of the defensive coaching staff has been preparing around the clock for this rematch.
Virginia Tech returns two versatile tight ends Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck, their important fullback Sam Rodgers, while also returning wide receiver Isaiah Ford, who led the team with 55 receptions. They also return a stable of running backs who had 100-yard games in 2014, with J.C. Coleman, Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie.
Even without All-American Joey Bosa, the talented Ohio State defensive line should have their way with the smaller Virginia Tech offensive line, which averages 301 pounds across the board, especially in the run game. Even without stacking the box, I predict that the Buckeyes will be able to keep Virginia Tech to under 100-yards rushing.
To limit the Hokies' quick passing game, the Buckeyes will have to be physical on the perimeter to disrupt timing. After being shredded in the middle of the field last season by Virginia Tech, I would expect a lot of physical, press coverage, not allowing the pass catchers to get a free release. The Ohio State defense returned the majority of their defense from last year, which faced Alabama's pro-style offense and also kept Oregon under wraps. Physicality was the key to limiting both passing games, which should carry over to this season.
Darron Lee versus the two-headed-monster that is Hodges and Malleck will be the key match-up of the game. Lee will line-up across from Hodges or Malleck when one is positioned in the slot on the field side. Lee will use his blend of size, athleticism and physicality to throw off timing and frustrate Brewer. Loeffler will look at tape of the Ohio State defense after last year's match-up and see how dominant Lee became as the season went on. He may choose to keep the tight ends away from Lee and run their routes into the boundary or use them in flex positions or out of the backfield to give them a free release. If Lee can eliminate Brewer's safety valves and force him to hang onto the ball and look downfield more often, the Buckeye defense should succeed.
Loeffler won the chess-match last year, lets see if he can defeat the defending national champions a second time.