2007 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Ohio

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Saturday, September 15th, 2007, 1:30

TV: ESPN360

Forecast (from WeatherUnderground.com):
Click the “Blacksburg Weather” link to the right.
Game time forecast, as of 3:00 pm Wednesday: Partly cloudy with a 10 percent
chance of rain. Temperature 74.


Click here for TechSideline.com’s VT/Ohio roster card


Game Preview: #17 Virginia Tech (1-1) vs. Ohio (2-0)


by Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com

The Hokies will look to get their season back on track this Saturday in Lane
Stadium when the undefeated Ohio Bobcats come to town. Tech beat Ohio 45-0 in
Blacksburg back in 2005, but the Bobcats have improved a lot since then under
Frank Solich. The Hokies will get their best shot on Saturday.

Ohio is coming off a 9-5 season. They finished the regular season 9-3 with
losses to Rutgers and Missouri. They went to the MAC Championship Game, where
they lost to Central Michigan, and then got knocked off by Southern Miss in the
GMAC Bowl, dropping their record to 9-5 for the season.

Ohio returns five starters on each side of the ball, and although that isn’t
a lot, they are key returnees. Four of their top players hail from the
Commonwealth of Virginia, and they’ll be looking to have big games when they
return to play in their home state.

The Bobcats enter this game 2-0. They knocked off Gardner Webb 36-14 at home
to open the season and beat Ricky Bustle and Louisiana Lafayette 31-23 this past
Saturday on the road.

The Ohio Offense

Ohio’s
offense has been very balanced so far. They rank #38 nationally in total
offense, averaging 424 yards per game. They are #44 in passing offense,
averaging 245 yards per game, and #44 in rushing offense at 179 yards per game.
They are also 25th in turnover margin, and are averaging 32.5 points per game.

Quarterback Brad Bower (6-2, 215) is a senior who got some starting
experience last season. He is a transfer from Illinois, where he started four
games for the Fighting Illini in 2004. For the season he has completed 60.4% of
his passes for 444 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. That’s a
high completion percentage and good average per game, though against weak
competition.

Bower has also shown in the past that he has mobility. He had 13 carries for
84 yards against Miami of Ohio last season.

The key to Ohio’s offense is establishing All-MAC senior running back Kalvin
McRae (5-11, 208). McRae has run for over 1,000 yards each of the last two
seasons and is well on his way to making it three years in a row. He is
averaging 113 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry on the season, and barring
injury, he’ll end his career as Ohio’s All-Time leading rusher. He currently has
3,190 yards for his career.

McRae was named the 2006 MAC Offensive Player of the Year by
CollegeFootballNews.com. His 1,252 rushing yards was the second most in a single
season in school history. He’ll get the bulk of the carries against Virginia
Tech. No other running back has more than eight carries on the season. McRae can
also catch the ball. He had 29 receptions last season.

So far, Ohio’s top receiver has been sophomore Chris Garrett (5-8, 174).
Garrett, who hails from Bristow, VA, has seven catches for 51 yards so far on
the season. Don’t let his low number of yards fool you. He can be a big play
receiver.

Garrett was a Third Team Freshman All-American as a return specialist. He led
the MAC in punt returns, averaging 14.5 yards per return, good for seventh in
the nation. He had an 88 yard punt return for a touchdown against Western
Michigan, and he also averaged 25 yards per kick return. He has ability in the
open field. He played for Stonewall Jackson High School in the state of
Virginia, and later Fork Union.

Senior receiver Justin Fitzgerald (6-3, 198) is another Bobcat player from
Virginia. He hails from Hermitage High School in Richmond. He has just one catch
for 64 yards this season, but he missed the first game against Gardner Webb. He
had 15 catches last season and 19 as a sophomore.

Other top targets for Ohio include junior tight end David Carter (6-4, 246,
transfer from Vanderbilt by way of Fork Union) with four catches for 67 yards,
Chido Nwokocha (6-0, 186) with four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, and
Taylor Price (6-1, 184) with four catches for 49 yards.

The Ohio offensive line is solid, starting three seniors and two juniors. The
top offensive lineman is senior right guard Matt Miller (6-3, 312). Miller is
from Mechanicsville, VA, where he played for Atlee High School. He is an
excellent offensive guard who has started since his r-freshman season in 2004.
He did not allow a sack as a sophomore or junior, an impressive Jim-Pyne-like
stat.

Miller starts next to senior right tackle David Shelby (6-4, 296). Shelby
started all 14 games for the Bobcats last season. He and Miller make the
strongest side of Ohio’s offensive line.

The Ohio Defense

Ohio’s defense has not played as well as they are capable of playing,
allowing 431.5 yards per game, including 171 on the ground and 260.5 through the
air. They allowed 534 yards against Louisiana-Lafayette last week, including 277
on the ground.

Ohio’s defensive front is smallish, especially at defensive tackle, which is
just what the Hokies need to see right now. However, Ohio does have one very
good defensive tackle in senior Landon Cohen, despite his relative small size
(6-3, 274). Cohen was named Second Team All-MAC last season, and he racked up a
total of 14 tackles for loss in 2006. He has started the past two seasons, so he
has experience in the trenches.

The other starting defensive tackle is senior nose guard Brett Sykes (6-2,
273). He has past starting experience at defensive end. Ohio’s backup defensive
tackles are senior Alan Goff (6-4, 266) and junior Jacob Williamson (6-4, 283).
As you can see, they’ve got plenty of experience, but they lack size.

Junior defensive end Jameson Hartke (6-4, 262) is also regarded as one of the
top defensive linemen in the MAC. He had 13 tackles for loss last season. The
other starting defensive end, sophomore Kris Luchsinger (6-4, 250), has been
very production this season. He has been credited with three tackles for loss
and two sacks, both team highs.

The backup defensive ends are junior Eric Kenkel (6-3, 254) and sophomore
Conor Reilly (6-3, 247). Like defensive tackle, the Bobcats aren’t all that big
at defensive end either.

Ohio’s most experienced linebacker is senior middle linebacker Taj Henley
(6-1, 232). Henley attended George Wythe High School in Richmond, VA. He had
eight tackles against Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium in 2005. He and offensive
guard Matt Miller will be game captains for Ohio this weekend, and both are from
Virginia.

Ohio’s best linebacker is junior weak side backer Jordan Meyers (6-0, 220).
He was limited by injury last season, but still had 27 tackles and 3.5 tackles
for loss in a backup role. He has 16 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack
so far this year. The weak side linebacker makes a lot of plays for Ohio, as
backup weak side backer Lee Renfro has 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and one
sack, making him almost as productive as the starter.

Junior Mark Parson (5-10, 188) is Ohio’s best cornerback, and guess what, he
is from Virginia. He played football for Monacan High School, and later Fork
Union. He had 17 passes defended last season, ranking him 18th nationally. He
and Brandon Flowers are two of the most prolific pass defenders in the nation,
and they’ll both be on the same field on Saturday. Parson had a sack against
Virginia Tech in 2005 as a true freshman.

The other starting cornerback is r-freshman Julian Posey (5-11, 183). This is
the guy the Hokies should attack, as he’ll be playing in just his third college
game. His backup, sophomore Idris Lawrence (5-8, 170) lacks size. If he’s in the
game, Tech needs to exploit that.

Senior free safety Todd Koenig (6-2, 214) is the leader of the secondary. He
has been starting since the 2005 season. Although he isn’t from Virginia, he is
familiar with the Hokies. He had a career-best 10 tackles against Tech in 2005.
Junior Michael Mitchell (6-1, 217) joins Koenig at strong safety. Mitchell is a
returning starter. He and Koenig form one of the most effective groups in the
MAC.

Special Teams

As mentioned above, Ohio has a very good return specialist in native
Virginian Chris Garrett. He’ll be looking to make a big play against Virginia
Tech’s famous special teams in his home state.

Ohio has a weapon on special teams in senior placekicker Matt Braunstein
(5-6, 198). Braunstein started for the Washington Huskies last season, where he
went 10-of-12 for the season with a long of 47. He was allowed to transfer to
Ohio without sitting out a year because he has already graduated, although that
rule has since been tossed from the books. He has played well against very good
teams in the past. He was 2-for-2 against both Oklahoma and USC last season.

So far this year, Braunstein is 3-of-3 with a long of 42. If Ohio manages to
turn this game into a field goal kicking competition, they will have the
advantage.

R-freshman Matt Schulte (6-0, 179) has done a solid job with his punting this
year. He is averaging 40.2 yards per punt, with a long of 58. Four of his 11
punts have been downed inside the 20.

Conclusion

The Hokies will try to get back to the basics against Ohio. I don’t expect
Tech to blow the Bobcats out of Lane in the first quarter. Ohio is a
well-coached football team that has learned how to win under Frank Solich. They
are scrappy, and they have some talented players, many of whom are from the
state of Virginia and will be looking to play well on their home turf.

I see this game being somewhat similar to last year’s Cincinnati game, which
Tech won 29-13. The Bearcats were game in the first half, but their lack of size
and depth up front on defense eventually wore them out against Tech’s big
offensive line and Branden Ore. Ohio lacks size up front, and they lost all
three starters from last season at linebacker, so I think the Hokies will have
some running room in this one, especially in the second half, when the Bobcat
defense will be tired from chasing around Tyrod Taylor all day.

I do think that Ohio will come out with a better defensive effort than they
displayed in the first two weeks. They are better than they have been playing,
and should challenge for the MAC East Championship again this year. However, it
will take a great game from Ohio, and a lot of mistakes from the Hokies, for the
Bobcats to pull this one out.

I think the Hokies will gradually pull away in a three touchdown victory as
they break in new quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who I believe will have a good game
as a first time starter.

Predictions: Virginia Tech 31, Ohio 10

Will Stewart’s Take: This game is going to be interesting, to say the
least. Defensively, I think VT will step it up. I’m not saying they’ll dominate
Ohio, hold them to 150 yards, and shut them out. It’s hard to imagine the
defense we saw last Saturday night dominating an opponent like that, though I do
look for them to improve as the season goes on, to the point where they’ll be a
pretty stout unit by the end of the year.

Then again, Xavier Adibi gave
the team a rousing speech
in a players-only meeting, so maybe the D will get
fired up, after all.

Offensively, the Hokies have to walk a tightrope here. They’ve got the
challenge of integrating Tyrod Taylor into the offense, getting him some work,
and teaching him some things, without trying to cram too much into the game
plan. If this were next week’s opponent, William & Mary, the Hokies could
play looser and push the envelope a little bit, but it’s dangerous to mess
around with Ohio.

I don’t envy Tech’s offensive coaching staff, with the challenge they face.
They still very much want to win the ACC, of course, which means the clock is
ticking on getting Tyrod ready for the meat of the schedule, which starts on
October 6th at Clemson. (And it might not be wise to dismiss Tech’s Sep. 29th
date with UNC so easily — isn’t it funny how a 48-7 whipping and a true
freshman starting quarterback will rock the foundations of what you usually
believe and expect?)

This game is hard to predict, for three reasons: (1) lack of familiarity with
Ohio; (2) uncertainty concerning a Tech defense that was previously thought to
be rock-solid; and (3) uncertainty surrounding the offensive game planning and
execution with a new, true freshman QB.

I’m going more conservative than Chris on this one.

Will Stewart’s Prediction: Hokies 27, Ohio 12

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