Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State Complete Game Preview
The Virginia Tech Hokies, fresh off a season-opening win vs. William & Mary in Week 1, head to Columbus, Ohio, this weekend to face No. 5 Ohio State. The Buckeyes, with new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, had a tougher time than expected in a win over Navy last weekend.
When this game was agreed to a few years back, most expected it to be a duel between two of the nation's top teams. That isn't the case, however, with the Hokies coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons.
Both schools broke in new quarterbacks last week. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was efficient, completing 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Buckeyes had an excellent game plan for Barrett, calling screen passes on six of his first nine attempts to ease him into the flow of the game.
Tech's new signal-caller, junior Michael Brewer, was also good. Brewer completed 23 of 30 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Brewer completed passes to nine different receivers.
The competition for both schools will take a big leap forward on Saturday. VT's defense held William & Mary to just 193 total yards, and Barrett may be overwhelmed, at least initially, going against the Hokies' aggressive front.
Can the Hokies finally win a big game against a national power in a hostile environment?
Virginia Tech Keys to Victory
Keep Running the Football
A big part of Virginia Tech's struggles in recent years has been its inability to establish a consistent running game. In the opener, Tech ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns. The Hokies averaged over five yards per carry. If Tech can get that kind of production against the Buckeyes, it can win this game.
Freshman Shai McKenzie led VT with 106 yards rushing on just nine carries. Fellow true freshman Marshawn Williams was second on the team in rushing.
Junior J.C. Coleman struggled in Week 1, and if that continues, the youngsters will get the chance to carry Tech's running game. In any case, the running game is a major key to victory for the Hokies.
Get Brewer Comfortable
The Buckeyes played Navy in Week 1, so it was tough to gauge what type of pass defense Ohio State will have. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler must get his quarterback into a rhythm early by utilizing some of Tech's talented receivers and the tight ends. Players like Isaiah Ford, Joshua Stanford and Bucky Hodges can make big plays after the catch.
Loeffler ran the no-huddle on occasion in Week 1. That type of pace is important to keep a defense off-balance. However, to effectively maintain that pace, the quarterback must complete passes. Brewer completed his passes at a rate of 76 percent in his Tech debut. That type of success will mean good things for VT on Saturday.
Pressure J.T. Barrett Relentlessly
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster likes to bring pressure, especially against quarterbacks he believes cannot handle it. Barrett may eventually be a star, but for now he is an inexperienced freshman making his second career start. If the Hokies get pressure on Barrett early, it could rattle him and lead to turnovers.
Virginia Tech's secondary is one of the country's best. If the front four can get Barrett to throw the ball early or out of sync, Tech's defensive backs will make him pay.
Ohio State Keys to Victory
Don't Turn the Ball Over
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Of course, your chances of winning are greater anytime you don't turn the ball over. But this is especially true for Barrett in his first true test. Foster will give Barrett looks he's never seen in practice or in the film room, and he'll be aggressive.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer must employ a similar strategy as he did in Week 1 that featured several short passes and low-risk throws. Tech can force young quarterbacks into bad decisions, and that could spell trouble for OSU.
Last week, the Buckeyes ran 40 times and passed just 15 times. Against Virginia Tech, that differential will need to be closer. Foster always makes it his first priority to shut down the opponent's run game and then go from there. Meyer, of course, loves to run the ball.
The Buckeyes must come out and run the ball but at the same time take some shots down the field. If OSU can keep Tech's defense honest, then the running game will thrive.
Make Tech One-Dimensional
The Hokies haven't exactly been a powerhouse on offense in recent years. They've struggled to run the ball and had turnover issues. That could be changing now with a new quarterback and several young offensive skill players.
Ohio State should first focus on shutting down VT's running game and make Brewer throw the ball more than Tech coaches would like. In Week 1, Tech ran for 222 yards. The Buckeyes allowed 370 yards rushing to Navy. It's important to note that Navy runs the triple option, so those numbers are a bit skewed.
If OSU allows Virginia Tech to run for at least 200 yards this weekend, the Hokies could pull off the upset.
Virginia Tech Players to Watch
Tight End Bucky Hodges
Hodges, the former quarterback, made his college debut in grand fashion last week, catching six passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. It's not about the yards with Hodges; it's more about how many times Brewer looked his way. He is going to be a big part of the offense this season.
At 6'6", 244 pounds, no one on the field has a skill set quite like Hodges. He's not only big, but he's fast and has great hands, too. The Hokies must do a good job of getting Hodges one-on-one with a linebacker, a matchup he'll never lose. Expect to see several balls go his way on Saturday.
Running Back Shai McKenzie
Have the Hokies finally found their next great running back?
That remains to be seen; however, the true freshman did run for over 100 yards on just nine carries in his college debut. He won't have that kind of average every week, but it has been a few years since Tech has seen a runner with his natural skills.
Last year's starter, Trey Edmunds, should return to the mix this week. If he struggles at all, he will lose carries to McKenzie. Look for McKenzie to be more involved early against the Buckeyes, perhaps at the expense of Coleman.
Defensive End Dadi Nicolas
The 6'4", 231-pound junior got off to a big start last week, registering four tackles, a sack and two quarterback pressures in his first game as a full-time starter.
Against Ohio State's speedy offense, Nicolas may be Tech's most important player this weekend. Not only is he a strong pass-rusher, he can drop into coverage and make an impact, too, giving Barrett looks he has yet to see.
Expect Foster to turn Nicolas loose on Saturday. His matchup with Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker is one to watch and may play a big role in the outcome of this game.
Ohio State Players to Watch
Quarterback J.T. Barrett
If Braxton Miller were starting this game, picking the Buckeyes would be a breeze. However, Barrett is only making his second career start against a team that is known for playing outstanding defense. Barrett's play will likely determine who wins this football game.
Avoiding 3rd-and-long situations will be crucial for Barrett. It will force the defense to be more honest and keep him in favorable situations. The more third downs he faces, the greater the chances are for VT to pull off the upset.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott is a hammer. The 6'0", 225-pound runner is similar to Carlos Hyde in style. In Week 1, he ran the ball 12 times for 44 yards and a score. However, he averaged under four yards per carry, and 20 of those yards came on one carry.
The Buckeyes need more from Elliott against Virginia Tech. He needs to take advantage of every carry and help keep Barrett in manageable situations by converting short-yardage opportunities.
Linebacker Curtis Grant
The Virginia native is finally blossoming into the player he was recruited to be. The starter at middle linebacker, Grant finished with seven tackles and a sack last week. However, he was part of a unit that allowed 370 yards on the ground.
As the middle 'backer, he must be sound in all areas. A lack of concentration hurt Grant in the past. Athleticism is not the issue for the senior. He is above-average in coverage but must do a better job of wrapping up the ball-carrier and diagnosing plays at the line of scrimmage. Tech's bigger running backs will present a challenge to Grant and OSU's defense.
What They're Saying
Ohio State fans may be concerned about freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, but Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is very impressed with the young signal-caller, per Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times:
"They lost their dynamic guy, but this guy’s not far behind,” Foster said. “He’s Braxton Miller as a redshirt freshman. I just want you guys to know that’s who he is."
Beamer Ball is something that's been around for a long time. And I would like to think we've patterned ourselves after that ever since whenever that was, 1999, I think. That's when my appreciation for special teams (developed) and then I see what Virginia Tech did for so many years.
Had senior quarterback Braxton Miller been playing this weekend, predicting the outcome of this game would likely be a bit easier. However, Miller's injury put OSU in an unfavorable situation, at least early in the season.
With that being said, the Buckeyes are a more talented team than Virginia Tech and are also playing at The Horseshoe. Also, Tech's reputation for its lack of big wins in head coach Frank Beamer's tenure bodes well for Ohio State.
This game will be close, but OSU will pull away midway through the fourth quarter. Both quarterbacks will turn the ball over, but the Buckeyes' running game will help them pull away.
Ohio State 24, Virginia Tech 16