Last September -- a year ago yesterday, to be exact -- marked the greatest moment of Virginia Tech’s season with a victory over then eighth-ranked Ohio State. The 35-21 win in Columbus was seen as a resurgence of a program that had fallen mightily since its almost-national title run following the 1999 season. But things would go downhill very, very quickly for the Hokies, who would drop their next two games and ultimately finish the season with a mediocre 7-6 record.
But the situation was quite the opposite for the Buckeyes, who had struggled week one versus Navy, and were then faced with the severe blow of defeat in just the second week of the season. The week following the loss to Virginia Tech was the worst of times for Ohio State, as they struggled against naysayers across the college football landscape who questioned not only Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes’ team, but the Big Ten Conference in general. However, the Buckeyes surged, slowly climbing back up the AP rankings until they squashed Wisconsin 59-0 on national television to win the Big Ten Championship -- showing the nation what an improved team they had become, even with a new quarterback in Cardale Jones making his first-ever college start.
But what of these quarterbacks? Just as Virginia Tech reveled in the best of times following its win over Ohio State, so had Hokies’ quarterback Michael Brewer played what would turn out to be one of his best games of the 2014 season. And while Ohio State’s young J.T. Barrett struggled in his worst performance of 2014 against the Hokies, he would improve steadily throughout the season to become one of the top quarterbacks in the country. Both Barrett and Brewer were facing their second starts with their respective schools after warming the bench the previous season. Both were coming off a week one victory. But the similarities end there.
Hence, we have 'A Tale of Two Quarterbacks'.
(Or three, if we really want to bring Cardale Jones in the mix).
Michael Brewer began his college career at Texas Tech, where he was recruited as a three-star prospect out of high school. Brewer transferred to Virginia Tech following his sophomore season after being beaten out for the starting spot in Lubbock. After graduating from Texas Tech in the spring, Brewer was immediately eligible to compete for departed three-year starter Logan Thomas’s spot with the Hokies as a graduate transfer, thus avoiding needing to sit out for a season.
Brewer beat out fifth-year senior Mark Leal and a smattering of other prospects for the starting spot who, having played behind Thomas for most of his career, hadn’t had much playing time. Brewer would ultimately start all 14 games in 2014 and enter the 2015 season as the unquestioned starter for Virginia Tech.
Against Ohio State, Brewer completed 23 of 36 passes for 199 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He was strong in the face of heavy pressure from defensive end Joey Bosa, among others, and played consistently despite facing just his second start in a new offense. In the end, Brewer finished the game with an 84.0 adjusted quarterback rating—his highest in the 2014 season.
But Brewer’s personal Cinderella story began and ended on the field at the Horseshoe on Sept. 5, 2014. The following week against Eastern Carolina, Virginia Tech went down 21-0 by the end of the first quarter. Brewer threw three touchdowns and two picks, but couldn’t finish the comeback. With -20 rushing yards, Brewer notched a 33.7 adjusted QBR against Eastern Carolina -- a drop of more than 50 points in just a week, but still not his lowest of the season. That mark would come in Virginia Tech’s double overtime 6-3 loss to Wake Forest.
Brewer continued his inconsistent play throughout the season, ending 2014 with a total of 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. While there were some flashes of life, like Brewer’s 345 yard, two-touchdown performance against Boston College, Brewer wasn’t able to translate many of these games into wins. In fact, Brewer’s only three games without picks were all losses for Virginia Tech. With five of six losses coming by less than seven points, Brewer couldn’t calm and lead his offense to score the way he had against Ohio State.
Contrast Brewer with J.T. Barrett, who Ohio State fans last saw on the field with a broken ankle in the fourth quarter against Michigan in November. Barrett finished fifth in Heisman voting, despite missing the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin. But Buckeye fans were nothing less than alarmed when Barrett was named the starter following Braxton Miller’s injury last August.
Of course, that had nothing to do with Barrett as a quarterback, and everything to do with replacing the Buckeyes’ two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. How could a redshirt freshman, coming off an ACL injury his senior year in high school, no less, fill that sizable void? Granted, when compared with Cardale Jones, whose claim to fame to that point had been his misguided tweet declaring that class was pointless for student athletes, Barrett seemed like a boy scout. As it turns out, Buckeye nation and the rest of the college football universe weren’t giving either backup enough credit.
We all remember the good Barrett -- the quarterback who emerged as the field general who effectively marched the Buckeyes to 10 consecutive victories after losing to Virginia Tech. We remember the near perfect games, like those against Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers, where Barrett could seem to do no wrong. We also remember his double overtime heroics against Penn State, where he ran for two touchdowns in consecutive overtimes. Barrett kept a cool head and gave the Buckeye defense a chance to win the game.
But we have managed to block he memory of Barrett’s performance against Virginia Tech out of our collective consciousness. The young starter completed just nine passes of 29 attempts for a single touchdown and three picks. He was sacked seven times by a strong defense as he tried to mesh with an equally young offensive line. It was trial by fire in every sense as doubters questioned if this was what the rest of the season would be like for Ohio State without Miller at the helm.
And yet, Barrett bounced back, leading to all of the aforementioned victories, among others. It was to the point where, when Barrett went down against Michigan, we all held our collective breath and again wondered what would happen to the Buckeyes without our starting quarterback, just as we had a few months before. But Buckeye Nation’s agony was short-lived, as Cardale Jones managed to not just fill the void and manage an offense that had grown especially strong, but generate play strong enough to warrant the three-headed quarterback conundrum Ohio State fans have been watching since January.
What has happened in a year? The Buckeyes got their "best of times" when they hoisted the College Football Playoff national championship Trophy in January. Led by a previously unknown J.T. Barrett, Ohio State managed to silence the naysayers who had been doubting them since their lowest point against Virginia Tech, chipping away at the icy perceptions haters had of the team and the Big Ten in general. Barrett is already a top-five candidate for the Heisman Trophy, having risen above the worst performance of his career a year ago. And for Virginia Tech? Well, Michael Brewer and the Hokies had their moment.