After letting Ohio State back into the game with 14 unanswered second-half points, Virginia Tech rallied late for a 35-21 upset of the eighth-ranked Buckeyes in Columbus. The win snapped the Hokies' 0-34 road record against top eight teams and capped off a very dark day in Big Ten history. Here are three thoughts on Virginia Tech’s win.
1. Urban Meyer outsmarted himself
Meyer said before the game that the Buckeyes were looking forward to Virginia Tech’s aggressive defensive style. Bud Foster’s group is not afraid to send extra bodies after the quarterback, which Meyer hoped would lead to big plays for the Buckeyes. That could work … if your quarterback is Braxton Miller and your offensive line can block anyone. If not, well, Meyer found out what happens in that case.
Though redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has a cannon for an arm, he didn't give his receivers opportunities to make plays in single coverage throughout the night. Barrett finished 9-for-29 for the night, yet Meyer consistently called for his inexperienced quarterback to throw deep. It occasionally paid off, most notably on Barrett’s 53-yard touchdown completion to Michael Thomas, but Barrett’s 31-percent completion rate stalled too many drives. Nine Buckeyes possessions ended in punts or interceptions.
The Barrett-centric offense kept the ball out of dynamic running back Ezekiel Elliot’s more-experienced hands. Elliot got just eight carries, bouncing one of them outside for a 15-yard score that tied the game at 21 early in the fourth quarter.
While adapting a game plan to take advantage of a defense’s potential vulnerabilities can be crucial, it’s also essential to make sure the game plan still fits the players’ strengths. Meyer got too far away from that Saturday.
2. Game plan aside, Ohio State has several notable flaws
No matter the game plan and no matter the quarterback, the Buckeyes were going to struggle to move the ball behind an offensive line overwhelmed by Virginia Tech's front seven. Barrett was bombarded whether he stayed in the pocket or tried to escape to the outside. He was sacked three times on Ohio State’s final drive alone.
Overall, Ohio State had trouble getting its pieces to function well at the same time. When Barrett was good, his receivers were not. The best example was a dropped pass by an open Corey Smith in the end zone in the first half. Several other times, it was Barrett who struggled. As the Ohio State offense started clicking with two touchdown drives to tie the game, the defense that had forced two turnovers caved on a six-play, 65-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter that put Virginia Tech up 28-21. Each position group had its moments when it performed well. Those moments just were frequently offset by another group’s slump.
3. Virginia Tech looks like a serious threat to win the ACC Coastal Division
It’s easy to get caught up in this result’s impact on Ohio State, a preseason playoff contender, and the Big Ten, a full-blaze dumpster fire of a conference. But the win holds major significance for the Hokies, who appear poised to rejoin the ACC’s elite after two down years.
Virginia Tech’s defense was exceptional Saturday night and should keep the Hokies in just about every game this season. In addition to the seven sacks Virginia Tech compiled, the defense picked off three passes. Two of them were by senior Kyshoen Jarrett and one was by junior Donovan Riley, which he returned for a victory-clinching 63-yard score. Though Barrett missed on many of his deep throws, the Hokies’ secondary played excellent man coverage to break up would-be completions.
Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer is no Heisman threat, but did enough to contribute to the winning effort by keeping his passing simple. His stat line – 23-of-36, 199 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, one fumble – wasn’t the leading factor in Virginia Tech’s win. But as the final result showed, it didn’t cost the Hokies the win either. In a Coastal Division that lacks any truly complete team, that might be enough.