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The Hokies get a big test this weekend when they travel to Columbus to take on #8 Ohio State in The Horseshoe.
Ohio State is 1-0 on the season after defeating Navy 34-17 on Saturday. That game was closer than the final score indicated, however. Navy led 7-6 early in the third quarter before the Buckeyes returned a fumble for a touchdown, and Navy also held a 14-13 lead late in the third quarter before faltering over the final 15 minutes.
This will be a big challenge for the Hokies, as the Ohio State roster is loaded with four-star and five-star players. However, Tech is very capable of staying in this game thanks to the inexperience of the Ohio State offense, starting at the quarterback position.
OXVT’s tale of the tape
We’ll start this preview with a new feature from TSL infographics guru OXVT (@OX_VT on Twitter): Tale of the Tape (click for full-size image):
The new quarterback
Braxton Miller’s injury put a lot of pressure on JT Barrett (6-1, 225, r-Fr.). Instead of starting a Heisman Trophy candidate against the Hokies, the Buckeyes will turn to a r-freshman with one college game under his belt.
Against Navy, Miller went 12-of-15 for 226 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. I don’t think the OSU coaching staff completely trusts him yet, as he only attempted 15 passes against Navy, including just four in the second half, despite the fact that Ohio State was losing late in the third quarter. One of Barrett’s passes was an 80 yarder against busted coverage, and without that play he went 11-of-14 for 146 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
His interception came near the goal line when he was pressured by Navy. Barrett didn’t get his feet set and made an ill-advised throw, and it cost the Buckeyes points. However, he did finish the game with 50 yards rushing on nine carries.
Overall, it was a decent first start for Barrett, though he showed some weaknesses. His deep touchdown to Devin Smith was badly underthrown, and was only completed because Smith was so far behind the secondary (which is unlikely to happen against the VT secondary). He also showed bad decision making when pressured in the redzone.
Barrett isn’t as fast or as explosive as Braxton Miller, though he is capable of making plays with his feet. I expect Urban Meyer to design a relatively simple gameplan for Barrett. He will most likely keep the passing game short, and he will stick to the ground game. He will try to not put Barrett in tough situations, and he will try to win the game with rushing yards, defense and special teams. Sound familiar?
Inexperienced QB surrounded by inexperienced players
Ohio State lost four starting offensive linemen from a year ago, quarterback Braxton Miller is done for the year, and Carlos Hyde is off to the San Francisco 49ers. Overall, the Buckeyes are without their top four rushers from a year ago, which is tough for a run-heavy team.
First, let’s look at the experience level of their offensive line, including the co-starters.
LT Taylor Decker (6-7, 315, Jr.): Decker is a former four-star recruit who started all 14 games for Ohio State in 2013.
LG Billy Price (6-4, 312, r-Fr.): Price is a former top 200 recruit who has one game of college experience under his belt.
LG Joel Hale (6-4, 310, Sr.): Hale has started along the defensive line for Ohio State in the past, but he moved to offensive line in the spring because of depth issues there. He’s an experienced football player, but not an experienced offensive lineman.
C Jacoby Boren (6-1, 285, Jr.): Boren is in his first year as a starter. He has a little bit of backup experience, though his redshirt was blown to play in two games as a backup in 2012.
C Chad Lindsay (6-2, 302, r-Sr.): Lindsay is an Alabama transfer who started four games in his career with the Crimson Tide. I’m guessing that nobody else can say that they have played for both Alabama and Ohio State, and for both Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.
RG Pat Elflein (6-3, 300, r-So.): Elflein started one game against Michigan State last year, but was otherwise a backup offensive lineman.
RT Darryl Baldwin (6-6, 307, r-Sr.): Baldwin moved from the defensive line prior to the 2012 season. He has only seen action in backup roles heading into this season.
That’s not a lot of experience, and overall there isn’t as much star power on the offensive line for the Buckeyes as there is at other positions. Darryl Baldin, Pat Elflein and Cacoby Boren were three-star recruits, while a couple of other players are former defensive linemen.
Experience is also lacking at other critical positions. We already covered the quarterback position. Now let’s cover the lack of experience of Ohio State’s ball carriers. The Buckeyes are without their top four rushers from last year’s team, though we all know OSU is the type of program that will always have a good back.
The Buckeyes will use ball carriers at both the traditional tailback spot, as well as an H-back spot. At tailback, they list three co-starters:
Ezekiel Elliot (6-0, 225, So.): Elliot rushed for 262 yards last season, with 162 of those coming against Florida A&M. He got more work than any other back last week against Navy, carrying the ball 12 times for 44 yards and a touchdown.
Curtis Samuel (5-11, 196, Fr.): Samuel played in his first college game against Navy, finishing with seven carries for 45 yards. He was a top 100 back coming out of high school.
Rod Smith (6-3, 231, r-Sr.): Smith is a fifth-year senior, and he has played in 33 career games. However, he had just 448 rushing yards coming into this season. Smith had just two carries against Navy last week, though he is listed as a co-starter.
The Buckeyes are likely to play two players at their H-B spot: Dontre Wilson (5-10, 188, So.) and Jalin Marshall (5-11, 205, r-Fr.). Wilson has a lot of speed, and the Buckeyes like to get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways. He had six carries for 44 yards and a touchdown on the ground against Navy, and he also had two receptions for 46 yards. He will also serve as the primary kick and punt returner. He is capable of breaking a big one at any moment, so the Hokies must bottle him up.
Ohio State obviously has talented players to carry the football, but they are all young and inexperienced, and they are playing behind a young offensive line. Navy hit the Buckeyes for 24 yards worth of lost yardage on rushing plays (including one sack), so it’s safe to say that inexperience could come into play against the Hokies.
A few experienced players stand out
Despite the overall inexperience of the Ohio State offense, both the wide receiver and tight end positions feature talented, veteran players.
WR Devin Smith (6-1, 195, Sr.): Smith is a big play threat who came into this season with 88 catches for 1,572 yards and 18 touchdown. He caught an 80 yard touchdown against Navy last week. He will be a challenge for “DBU.”
WR Evan Spencer (6-2, 208, Sr.): Spencer started 12 games a year ago, and he is a starter again this year. He has played in 36 career games, and he has good size.
TE Jeff Heuerman (6-5, 255, Sr.): Heuerman caught 26 passes a year ago, and he is a very good blocker at the point of attack. He is also one of the most underrated athletes on Ohio State’s team. He is in his third year as a starting tight end.
Stopping the run: Tech’s #1 focus
Bud Foster’s #1 goal will be to stop this Ohio State running game. The Buckeyes have the speed to run outside, and they also have players with the size to be very effective inside rushers. Considering the size and speed of Tech’s defense, I’m more concerned about what the Buckeyes are able to do between the tackles.
If Tech can stop the Ohio State running game and force the Buckeyes into long yardage situations with a r-freshman quarterback, then Saturday night should be fun for the Hokie defense. OSU is a talented team however, so that will be easier said than done.
A talented defensive line
William & Mary has a very good 1-AA defensive line, and I don’t think there’s any question that defensive end Mike Reilly is an FBS player. In fact, some think he’ll be drafted in the mid rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft. That said, the competition up front will take a huge leap forward this weekend in Columbus.
Many experts believe Ohio State has the best defensive line in the country. That’s probably not the case with defensive Noah Spence serving a suspension, but this will still be the best defensive line the Hokies face during the regular season. They have a lot of size and a ton of athleticism. Meet the starters:
DE Joey Bosa (6-5, 278, So.): Bosa was a national top 50 prospect who 13.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks as a true freshman a year ago. His rare combination of athleticism and size make him an elite defensive end.
DT Adolphus Washington (6-4, 295, Jr.): Washington is a former 5-star recruit who will be a full-time starter for the first time. He had four TFL and two sacks in 12 games last season, making five total starts.
DT Michael Bennett (6-2, 288, Sr.): Bennett was a top 50 prospect coming out of high school. He started all 13 games a season ago, recording 11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
DE Steve Miller (6-3, 255, Sr): Miller is a career backup despite being a top 175 prospect coming out of high school. That’s mostly because of the defensive line depth that Ohio State has possessed. He has 16 career tackles for loss. Miller will return the second team when former five-star recruit Noah Spence returns from injury.
In case you weren’t counting, that’s one five-star recruit, two guys who were nearly five-star recruits, and a top 175 prospect thrown in for good measure.
And those are just the starters. Here are the backups:
DE Tyquan Lewis (6-3, 260, r-Fr.): Lewis was a 4-star recruit and the #8 player in the state of North Carolina coming out of high school.
DT Donovan Munger (6-4, 300, r-Fr.): Despite being the lowest-rated of Ohio State’s defensive linemen, he still had scholarship offers from Auburn, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, etc.
DT Tommy Schutt (6-2, 295, Jr.): Schutt is actually listed as a co-starter with Michael Bennett. He was a top 75 prospect coming out of high school. He is a very talented guy who will play a lot on Saturday night.
DE Rashad Frazier (6-4, 272, r-Sr.): Frazier is a transfer from Purdue who has been held back by injuries. He will likely slide back to the #3 defense when Noah Spence returns.
Though Tyquan Lewis and Donovan Munger are inexperienced, they are still talented players who had big offer lists coming out of high school. Ohio State’s starters will get the majority of the work on Saturday night, but I believe these backups are very capable of giving those guys a rest.
Ohio State’s linebackers are big and impressive.
MLB Curtis Grant (6-3, 238, Sr.): Grant is a former five-star recruit and was ranked the #1 player in the state of Virginia. He hasn’t had the career that most envisioned for him. Nevertheless, he is in his second year as a starter, and he has great size on the inside.
SLB Darron Lee (6-2, 228, r-Fr.): Lee was only a three-star recruit, but it didn’t take him long to move up Ohio State’s depth chart. He is an athletic player who had a 61 yard fumble return for a touchdown last week against Navy. He also had seven tackles and two tackles for loss during that game.
WLB Joshua Perry (6-4, 252, Jr.): Perry is a returning starter at the weakside linebacker spot. He had nine tackles in the season opener against Navy, and is one of the most experienced players on this defense.
Though the linebackers don’t get nearly as much hype as the defensive line, this is a very big group of players. I think the Hokies could take advantage of some matchup issues here with Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck, but the offensive line is going to have to give Michael Brewer time to execute. Can they?
This is going to be a tough matchup for the Tech offensive line. I believe offensive tackles Laurence Gibson and Jonathan McLaughlin are capable of playing well, but I also think Ohio State has a big matchup advantage on the inside. David Wang, Caleb Farris and Augie Conte played well against William & Mary, and they took a big step forward from last season. However, this is going to be a very tough matchup for them. If the Hokies can hold their own up front against the Buckeye defense, that will be a good sign for the rest of the season.
A Questionable Secondary
Last season, Ohio State’s defense was one of the worst in the country against the pass, statistically speaking.
Passing yards allowed: #110
Pass efficiency defense: #83
The Buckeyes gave up too many big plays through the air, even to teams who had no business competing with Ohio State (Cal is a good example).
It’s hard to know exactly how much this secondary has improved since last season. The Buckeyes faced Navy last week, and the Midshipmen rarely throw the football (they went 2-of-4 for 20 yards against OSU). Michael Brewer and the improved Virginia Tech passing game will be their first real test of the season.
CB Doran Grant (5-11, 193, Sr.): Grant was a starter last season and was an Honorable Mention Big Ten performer. He is the only returning full-time starter in the Ohio State secondary (which might be a good thing). NFLDraftScout.com views him as a second or third round pick next April, so it might be wise for the Hokies to gameplan in another direction.
S Tyvis Powell (6-3, 208, r-So.): Though he only started five games a year ago, Powell played 953 plays at Ohio State’s nickel position. He gained a lot of experience as a very young player, and should be much improved as a result.
S Cam Burrows (6-0, 210, So.): Burrows was a national top 50 player who played special teams and a handful of defensive snaps at cornerback in 2013. He is making the move to safety in 2014. Because of his youth and his position change, he could be a player Scot Loeffler chooses to target.
S Vonn Bell (5-11, 200, So): Bell was a five-star recruit who started one game at nickel a year ago. He is listed as a co-starter with Cam Burrows, and we can expect to see them both on the field.
Gareon Conley (6-0, 190, r-Fr.) and Eli Apple (6-1, 198, r-Fr.) are listed as the co-starters at the cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant. Obviously both are very young players, like most of the rest of Ohio State’s secondary.
NB Armani Reeves (5-10, 198, Jr.): A former four-star prospect who played corner and special teams in 2013, Reeves will start at nickel for Ohio State against the Hokies.
Though Ohio State was very young at some spots in the secondary last season, they appear to be just as young in 2013. They play three sophomore safeties, two of which are true sophomores, as well as a pair of r-freshmen at one of the cornerback spots. I think it’s fair to say that the secondary will be their weak link again in 2014, though I doubt their numbers will be anywhere near as bad as they were a year ago.
Like the Hokies, Ohio State has a freshman kicker named Sean Nuernberger (6-1, 230, Fr.). He has a big leg, and he kicked two field goals against Navy from 46 and 28 yards.
At punter, the Buckeyes’ starter is Cameron Johnston (6-0, 195, So.). Johnston is a native of Australia who averaged 44 yards per punt last season, with a long of 71. He has a big leg, and is one of the better punters in the country.
In the return game, watch out for sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson. He has great speed, and he will return kicks and punts. Tech’s coverage teams will have to be on top of their game this weekend.
At first glance, this is the #8 team in the country facing an unranked team at home. I think most people will just glance at that fact and then pick Ohio State to win the game comfortably. However, the Hokies have some advantages in this game, and if they can take advantage of them, they have a chance to pull the upset.
Virginia Tech will be facing an inexperienced offensive line that allowed some penetration against Navy last weekend. If Bud’s defense can force JT Barrett into long yardage situations, they can capitalize on his inexperience and try to create turnovers. Of course, Urban Meyer knows that as well, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him call for draws and screens if the Buckeyes do face those long yardage situations.
That’s why it’s critical that Virginia Tech’s offense play well this week. If the Hokies show they can’t move the ball against Ohio State’s defense, then Urban Meyer can afford to play conservative football with his quarterback. However, if the Hokies show that they can move the ball and put some points on the board, Meyer won’t have any choice but to put TJ Barrett into high stress situations. At that point, Bud Foster can unleash his whole bag of tricks.
On the other hand, this Virginia Tech offense is still really young. Asking a team that features so many freshmen playing key roles to go up to The Horseshoe and come out with a win is asking quite a bit. The Hokies have a big disadvantage with their offensive line against the Ohio State defensive line, and that could negate whatever advantage Tech might have over the Buckeye secondary.
Special teams is still a question mark to me as well. The jury is still out, and we should have a much better idea of where we stand there after Saturday’s game.
I think the Hokies can be very competitive with Ohio State, and if things go their way, they definitely have a chance to win. However, the Buckeyes still have more overall talent, and Tech is still too inexperienced on offense for me to pick the upset.
Chris’ Prediction: Ohio State 27, Virginia Tech 17
Will Stewart’s Take: This is going to be a very interesting game, and by interesting, I mean close and intriguing. If the Hokies can stop the run, they can keep the Buckeyes around 20 points or fewer. If the Hokies can keep the Buckeye DL off of Michael Brewer and give him room to work, Tech can put 20 points or more on the board.
Defensively, the Hokies don’t even need to stop the run consistently. They just need to force OSU into third and long situations here and there, make it hard on J.T. Barrett when they do, and end drives when given the opportunity. Bend but don’t break. A few well-timed and well-placed blitzes, both in the run game and the pass game, could yield nice benefits. Tech is very fortunate that they have a stellar DB crew to lean on, and they can gamble a little with the line and linebackers.
Offensively, if the Hokies employ a quick passing game like they did against William & Mary and get wide receivers isolated against Ohio State DBs, anything can happen. I don’t expect Tech to have much success running the football, but with Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams toting the rock, I also don’t think Tech will get totally shut down.
The difference in this game could be turnovers from the quarterback position. If Brewer continues to play smart and under control, and the Hokies can force some bad decisions and turnovers by Barrett, the upset could happen.
I’ll make a prediction, but I’m not going to pretend that I know how this game is going to go. In the end, I’m going to side with Ohio State’s depth and talent, especially along the defensive line, but a Hokie victory is very achievable and wouldn’t surprise me.
Will’s Prediction: Ohio State 24, Virginia Tech 17
What's your prediction for the Ohio State game?
- Hokies win by 20+ (2%, 51 Votes)
- Hokies win by 10-19 (7%, 152 Votes)
- Hokies win by 1-9 (43%, 920 Votes)
- OSU wins by 1-9 (20%, 422 Votes)
- OSU wins by 10-19 (21%, 451 Votes)
- OSU wins by 20+ (7%, 140 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,136