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Finally, the 2015 football season is upon us. The Hokies will open with #1 Ohio State on Monday night in front of a national ESPN audience. After upsetting the Buckeyes in Columbus last season, Tech will play under the critical eye of the entire college football world, and they are hoping for similar results.
As usual, we’ll start you off with OXVT’s Tale of the Tape. Click for a larger image.
Both teams return almost all of their top playmakers from a year ago. This is an interesting matchup. Let’s discuss several specific topics…
This won’t be Urban Meyer’s first trip to southwest Virginia. He played shortstop for the Pulaski Braves back in 1983, hitting .250 with one homer and four RBIs in 15 games. He was minor league teammates with future World Series Champions Ron Gant and Mark Lemke, as well as future major league relievers Duane Ward and Paul Assenmacher. His time in the minor leagues was short-lived, and he began to concentrate solely on football in 1984 after he was released by the Braves. Here’s a fun fact: his release papers were signed by Hank Aaron, who was then the director of Atlanta’s farm system.
Like any young American male who grew up in his generation, Meyer likely had dreams of playing in the big leagues. As an intense competitor, part of him probably still wishes that baseball had worked out. It’s hard to argue with the results of his football coaching career, however.
2001, Bowling Green: 8-3
2002, Bowling Green: 9-3
2003, Utah: 10-2
2004, Utah: 12-0
2005, Florida: 9-3
2006, Florida: 13-1, National Championship
2007, Florida: 9-4
2008, Florida: 13-1, National Championship
2009, Florida: 13-1
2010, Florida: 8-5
2012, Ohio State: 12-0
2013: Ohio State: 12-2
2014: Ohio State, 14-1, National Championship
Total: 142-26, Three National Championships
Besides his tremendous record and his three National Championships, Meyer is 9-2 in bowl games and Playoff games. No matter how you slice it, Meyer is one of the elite coaches in college football, and perhaps the very best of them all. There is no better offensive coach in America. He never gets outcoached. Well, except for that one time last year when he went head-to-head with Bud Foster.
There’s no doubt that Meyer and his offensive coaches have already made adjustments based on how the Hokies played them last year. However, will they be able to match up with Tech’s defensive backs with so many suspended and injured wide receivers?
Suspensions and Injuries Gut Ohio State’s Passing Game
To refresh your memory, the following three players are suspended for the opener…
H-back Jalin Marshall (5-11, 205, So.): As a true freshman last year, Marshall was the second leading receiver on the team with 38 receptions for 499 yards and six touchdowns. He failed to catch a pass in only one game a year ago – Virginia Tech. He also had 25 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown.
H-back Dontre Wilson (5-10, 195, Jr.): Wilson caught 21 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns last year. He also had 100 rushing yards on 18 carries. He is a productive player, but he missed the final six games of the season.
WR Corey Smith (6-1, 195, Sr.): Smith caught 20 passes for 255 yards last season. He was expected to be one of Ohio State’s two starting wide receivers this season.
With those three key players out, the talented Noah Brown (6-2, 222, So.) was expected to assume a key role. Brown is a versatile prospect who can play wide receiver or H-back in Ohio State’s system, and he originally picked the Buckeyes over Virginia Tech out of high school. Unfortunately for Brown and Ohio State, he injured his leg last week and will miss the 2015 season.
Obviously those injuries do not help Ohio State against a very talented Tech secondary. Here’s a list of the receivers and H-backs they could use against the Hokies.
Michael Thomas (6-3, 210, Jr.): Thomas led Ohio State with 54 catches for 799 yards last season. With so many other top targets out, the pressure is on Thomas to sustain the OSU passing game.
Johnnie Dixon (5-11, 194, r-Fr.): Dixon played 41 snaps against Kent State last year, but then took a medical redshirt. He is a very inexperienced player, but he could be called upon to start against Tech.
James Clark (5-10, 185, r-So.): Clark has battled injuries in his career and has never caught a pass in a college game.
Terry McLaurin (6-1, 200, r-Fr.): McLaurin will make his collegiate debut against the Hokies.
Parris Campbell (6-1, 205, r-Fr.): Campbell will also be making his debut against Tech.
Jeff Greene (6-5, 220, r-Sr.): Greene is a transfer from Georgia Tech. He caught 18 passes in his career for the Yellow Jackets, and he caught all of one pass last season for the Buckeyes.
As you can see, there isn’t a tremendous amount of experience at wide receiver. Here’s a look at the H-backs…
Braxton Miller (6-2, 215, r-Sr.): Miller has plenty of experience as a college football player, but he’s never played a game at a position other than quarterback. Still, Miller will likely start, and he’ll probably play a huge role in Ohio State’s game plan.
Curtis Samuel (5-11, 200, So.): Samuel had 58 carries for 383 yards as a freshman last season. This year he’ll play H-back, and he’s expected to assume more of a pass catching role. Because of his experience level relative to the wide receivers, we can expect him to play a big role on Monday night.
The Buckeyes could also choose to get big tight end Nick Vannett (6-6, 260, Sr.) involved more. Five of his 19 receptions last season went for touchdowns. He’s expected to be drafted next year, and he’s ready for a big senior season.
Ohio State recruits very well year in and year out, so they obviously have talent at wide receiver. Still, there is no substitute for experience, and I don’t think these guys are going to fare very well against Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Chuck Clark.
Rather than attacking those guys, I expect Ohio State to focus on true sophomore nickel Greg Stroman, and r-junior rover Desmond Frye. They aren’t proven players at this point, and Stroman in particular is just as inexperienced as most of Ohio State’s receivers.
Buckeyes are Short on Defensive Ends
Joey Bosa, the potential #1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has been suspended for this game for a violation of team rules. He has 34.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks in his two-year career. With Bosa out, Ohio State’s top four defensive ends have combined for 3.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks in their careers.
Tyquan Lewis (6-4, 260, r-So.): 201 defensive snaps, 9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks. Lewis played many of his 201 snaps in a mop up role. The Buckeyes blew out almost everybody last year, so they had that luxury.
Sam Hubbard (6-5, 265, r-Fr.): First career game. Hubbard has been a safety and a linebacker, but the former 5-star recruit has certainly grown into a defensive end. He’s untested, but obviously talented.
Jalyn Holmes (6-5, 265, So.): 11 games, 11 tackles, 1 TFL. Holmes is a former Virginia Tech recruiting target who got some time in mop up situations as a true freshman last year.
Darius Slade (6-4, 255, r-Fr.): First career game. Slade was a middle of the road 3-star recruit, but he did have a big offer list, including one from Virginia Tech.
There is talent at defensive end, but virtually no experience. The two guys with the most experience – Lewis and Holmes – got almost all their snaps when the game wasn’t on the line.
It’s certainly possible that one of these guys could have a great game and prove himself ready to be the next great Buckeye defensive linemen. It’s also possible that they could make youthful mistakes. It’s quite likely that none of those guys are as good as Joey Bosa at this stage in their career, so Tech’s offensive tackles caught a break.
It will be interesting to look back at the tape after the game and determine how well these guys played. Will their inexperience cost the Buckeyes? We’ll see.
A Much-Improved Offensive Line
I realize the last two sections didn’t paint Ohio State in a very favorable light, but they have a ton of talent at every other position, as well as plenty of experience. It starts up front, where the Buckeyes are in much better shape than they were a year ago when they played the Hokies.
Last season, OSU was breaking in a new offensive line and they couldn’t respond to the quickness of Tech’s defensive line, nor could they adjust to the swarms of blitzers that Bud Foster sent. The game has slowed down for them since then.
LT Taylor Decker (6-8, 315, Sr.): Decker is entering his third year as a starter. He’s a likely first round pick next year. He’ll match up with Ken Ekanem in this game.
LG Billy Price (6-4, 315, r-So.): Price started all 15 games at guard last season. He struggled early in the season, but he’s a veteran player now.
C Jacoby Boren (6-2, 285, Sr.): Boren enters his second season as Ohio State’s starting center. He’s undersized, but a good player.
RG Pat Elflein (6-3, 300, r-Jr.): Elflein started all 15 games for the Buckeyes last season, and he has experience at both guard spots.
RT Chase Farris (6-5, 310, r-Sr.): Farris has moved back and forth between the defensive line and offensive line in his career. He played around 200 snaps last year, but mostly in a mop up role when games got out of hand. He’s a senior, but his experience playing meaningful downs is limited. He’ll match up with Dadi Nicolas.
The Buckeyes have plenty of experience up front this year. Watch that matchup between Farris and Dadi Nicolas. Nicolas is a very tough player to block, and he has a decided experience advantage over Farris.
The Key to the Game
The #1 question I’ve been asked in the offseason is “who is going to start at quarterback for Ohio State?” To be perfectly blunt, I don’t care. The Buckeyes will have a very good and very capable player under center no matter who Urban Meyer decides to start.
Personally I would rather face Cardale Jones (6-5, 250, r-Jr.) than JT Barrett (6-2, 225, r-So.), but it’s somewhat like splitting hairs. I’d rather face Jones because he has only thrown 92 passes in his career, and he’s never started a game in an opponent’s home stadium. He’s an inexperienced player with most of his top receiving targets suspended or injured, and he’ll be playing on the road for the first time against the best defensive coordinator in college football, who coincidentally has had the whole offseason to prepare for him. If I’m Urban Meyer, I trust JT Barrett more in that situation, though Meyer obviously sees them every day at practice, and I don’t.
No matter which quarterback plays, the most important thing Virginia Tech can do in this game is slow down running back Ezekiel Elliott (6-0, 225, Jr.). He rushed for 220 yards against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, 232 against Alabama in the Playoffs, and 246 against Oregon in the Championship. Cardale Jones played well, but with that kind of running game, it’s hard for a quarterback to not play well. For the entire season, Elliott had 1,878 yards, averaged 6.9 ypc, and scored 18 touchdowns. He is arguably the best running back in college football.
Urban Meyer didn’t know what he had early in the 2014 season with Elliott. He only had eight carries against Virginia Tech, and just seven the following week against Kent State. He finally got the football 28 times against Cincinnati and produced 182 yards, and he never looked back.
Virginia Tech’s Bear Front really messed with Urban Meyer’s mind last year. The Buckeyes only attempted 15 rushing plays with anyone not named JT Barrett. Even if Tech shows a similar front this year (I expect they will), don’t look for Meyer to abandon the run so quickly. He’ll stick with it, especially with so many new faces at wide receiver and H-back. He’ll have to get creative to find Elliott running room, as Bud Foster will most certainly sell out to stop the run.
Mark it down: if Tech stops Elliott on Monday night, they will win the football game. If they don’t, Ohio State will win relatively easily.
Talent Abounds on the OSU Defense
Though they are inexperienced at defensive end, there is a ton of talent at every other position on the Ohio State defense. This will be a major challenge for the improved Tech offense, though let’s face it, the Hokies are still very young and lack depth on that side of the ball.
DT Adolphus Washington (6-4, 290, Sr.): Washington is an outstanding interior lineman. He is arguably the best defensive tackle in the country. He will be a great challenge for Tech’s interior line.
DT Tommy Schutt (6-3, 290, Sr.): Schutt has been a career backup, but he moves into the starting lineup as a senior. He’s got plenty of experience, and should have a solid senior season.
LB Darron Lee (6-2, 235, r-So.): Lee had 16.5 TFL and 7.5 sacks as a freshman last season. Enough said. This guy is a big time linebacker.
LB Raekwon McMillan (6-2, 240, So.): McMillian had 54 tackles, 6.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks last year as a true freshman. He’ll take over the full-time starting role in the middle this season. He’s still very young, but he’s extremely gifted.
LB Joshua Perry (6-4, 254, Sr.): Perry is a veteran who led the Buckeyes in tackles last season with 124.
CB Eli Apple (6-1, 200, r-So.): Apple started 14 games as a freshman last season, intercepting three passes and breaking up 10 more. He is one of the best young cornerbacks in the country.
CB Gareon Conley (6-0, 195, r-So.): Conley played 160 snaps in mop up duty last season as a backup corner. He moves into the starting lineup this year. He was the #1 player in the state of Ohio coming out of high school. He’s the most unproven member of the secondary.
S Vonn Bell (5-11, 205, Jr.): Bell is a ball hawk who had six interceptions last season, as well as 92 tackles. If he declares for the draft, he’s expected to be taken in the first three rounds.
S Tyvis Powell (6-3, 210, r-Jr.): Powell has been starting since his r-freshman season, and he too would be drafted if he declares after the 2015 season.
Overall, the Buckeyes have a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball, and it will be extremely difficult for the Tech offense to consistently move the football. Ohio State finished #19 in total defense a year ago, and they should be better this year.
Despite winning the National Championship, Ohio State did not have a single player picked in the first round of the NFL Draft. That’s because almost all their major contributors were sophomores, or even freshmen in some cases. Urban Meyer has recruited as well as you can possibly recruit, and the Buckeyes should (on paper) be better in 2015 than they were in 2014.
Ohio State actually holds the record for most players drafted in one year, with 14 selections back in 2004. If all their underclassmen declare after 2015, they could break that record in the 2016 class, or at least threaten it.
Virginia Tech is going to be facing a loaded, experienced football team that has a lot of talent at every position. Obviously some of it is inexperienced talent at defensive end and wide receiver, but it’s still talent nonetheless.
A Tough Time in Lane for First-Time Visitors
Since the early 2000s, or what I’d call the “Enter Sandman” era, teams who have never played in Lane Stadium, or who haven’t played in Lane Stadium in a long time, have had a very difficult time winning in their first trip.
2002 LSU: Hokies won 26-8
2003 Texas A&M: Hokies won 35-19
2004 Maryland: Hokies won 55-6
2005 Georgia Tech: Hokies won 51-7
2005 UNC: Hokies won 30-3
2006 Clemson: Hokies won 24-7
2007 Florida State: Hokies won 40-21
2009 Nebraska: Hokies won 16-15
Only NC State in 2004 was able to come into Lane in their first trip since 1992 and knock off the Hokies. This will be Ohio State’s first trip to Lane, and though there will be a number of Buckeye fans in attendance, the home crowd is going to be amped up and very loud.
Can the Hokies do to Ohio State what they’ve done to so many teams in the past who weren’t used to playing in Lane? We’ll see. The Buckeyes certainly have more talent than those teams listed above.
Ohio State’s Efficiency
The numbers tell the tale. Here are Ohio State’s efficiency numbers from last season, using two different metrics…
S&P+ Defense: #11
FEI Defense: #7
S&P+ Offense: #1
FEI Offense: #7
FEI Special Teams: #22
FEI Field Position Advantage: #5
When you look at those numbers, it’s easy to see why Ohio State won the National Championship last season. They were very efficient in every phase of the game.
When this series was announced, I thought Tech would lose at Ohio State, but I thought they would pull the upset at home. The Buckeyes were always the “elite” team that I wanted to play at home, because I thought Virginia Tech could match them in speed. This series was scheduled at least 12 years ago. Here’s an excerpt from our future schedules page from August 11, 2003…
“Still scheduled are games against Wisconsin (2008, 2009), Illinois (2012, 2013) and Ohio State (2014, 2015).”
Two of those three series never happened, though Wisconsin supposedly will happen in 2024 and 2025. Fortunately it was the Ohio State series that actually got played, and not the other two, though I am looking forward to the Wisconsin trip if it actually happens.
This is an interesting matchup. I know a lot of people think that Bud Foster can’t use the same game plan that he used a year ago. I disagree. I think he’ll stack the line, and I think we’ll see Bear Fronts. Where I think it will be different is in the secondary. I still think Tech will play quite a bit of man coverage, but I also expect Foster to mix up his coverages quite a bit, including some inverted Cover 2, which features the safeties and corners switching responsibilities post-snap. The quarterback thinks he sees the cornerback in man coverage, when actually the cornerback is dropping back into a deep zone while the safety is charging forward to pick up man coverage responsibilities. Tech killed Tennessee with this coverage in the 2009 Chick-fil-A Bowl, and it would be a look they didn’t show Ohio State last season.
That’s just one possibility, of course. I’m not as smart as Bud Foster, obviously, and it will be interesting to see what he breaks out for this game. Urban Meyer is a certifiable offensive genius, and you can count on him being better prepared than he was last season. I expect the Foster vs. Meyer matchup to end in a draw.
If that’s the case, then the game will be decided in several different ways…
1: Redzone efficiency. Tech scored four touchdowns in their four trips to the redzone last season.
2: Turnover margin.
3: Special teams.
4: Field position.
Virginia Tech has generally scored their biggest victories when winning those four battles. A game like that is right up Frank Beamer’s alley. However, some of our biggest and most memorable losses came when those four categories didn’t work in our favor. Think Boise State, Kansas, etc.
I believe the Hokies match up well with Ohio State on the defensive side of the ball. However, as much improved as I believe the Tech offense is, the Buckeyes still have more talent on defense than the Hokies do on offense. I think Scot Loeffler’s bunch is going to be a lot better this season, but I think they’ll show it more in the next 11 games, rather than the first one. I don’t think they’ll play poorly against Ohio State, but I do believe they’ll be overcome by a more talented and more experienced defense.
I think Virginia Tech will play well in this game, and they’ll show everybody that they are a legit contender in the ACC. Unfortunately, I think they’ll fall a little bit short.
Chris’ Prediction: Ohio State 27, Virginia Tech 20
Will Stewart’s Take: This should be a great game. I’ll be disappointed if it’s not, and by “not,” I mean “if Ohio State runs Tech off the field by three touchdowns or more.”
For the last 2-3 weeks, people have been asking me, “What’s going to happen [against Ohio State]?” I keep telling them, “The spread is 11 or 12 points. That sounds about right to me.” Especially once Bosa and the wide receivers were suspended, and then Noah Brown got injured.
The one matchup that favors the Hokies is Tech’s defensive backs against OSU’s wide receivers, and removing Bosa from the equation mitigates what had the potential to be a huge mismatch in Ohio State’s favor. So that’s good.
But there’s a whole lotta other matchups that favor the Buckeyes. Chris detailed them in his preview above. Zeke Elliott against Tech’s linebackers, especially Andrew Motuapuaka is a big one. We’ve talked about that one a lot on this site, so I won’t wear it out.
Let’s talk about coaching, instead. Bud got the drop on Urban Meyer and company last year — that’s been well-documented — but don’t forget what a great offensive game Scott Loeffler called, and how well the Tech offense executed. Loeffler pulled out all the stops, with end-arounds to Deon Newsome and trick plays from the multi-talented one-man arsenal (unknown at the time) named Sam Rogers.
That was before a lot of film existed on the Hokie offense and its players. Now there’s an entire season’s worth, and Ohio State’s coaches can be well-prepared, because they know all Tech’s personnel and what they can do. Loeffler doesn’t have those tricks up his sleeve this time, so he’ll have to find something else new, plus his older, wiser players will simply have to execute well, without the element of surprise. They’ve been telling us all spring and all summer that Brewer, his receivers, and his offensive line are better, especially Brewer. Monday night will provide some evidence, one way or the other.
Regarding Bud’s defense and OSU’s offense: like many, I think Bud will still run the Bear Front defense again, perhaps with some minor differences. Why not? The core element of that defense is DBs who can match up one on one with receivers, and that matchup is in Tech’s favor. I think Bud will put that defense out there, see what adjustments Urban makes, and then try to counter those adjustments. If you like tactical coaching matchups, Bud vs. Urban is on par with Bud vs. Paul Johnson. I’d pay $100 to listen in on those two headsets (Bud and Urban) Monday night. That’s high coaching drama.
I could go on and on, but let’s get to the pick. My head says Ohio State by 10-15, but what the heck. It’s the season opener, everyone’s undefeated, and the sky is the limit. I can always go back to using my head next week.
Will’s Heart’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, #1 Ohio State 24
Who will win the Virginia Tech-Ohio State game?
- Virginia Tech by 1-9 (42%, 1,011 Votes)
- Virginia Tech by 10-19 (9%, 224 Votes)
- Virginia Tech by 20+ (3%, 78 Votes)
- Ohio State by 1-9 (19%, 457 Votes)
- Ohio State by 10-19 (21%, 516 Votes)
- Ohio State by 20+ (5%, 113 Votes)
- No opinion/I don't know (1%, 35 Votes)
Total Voters: 2,434