Last season’s 35-21 Virginia Tech victory over eventual national champion Ohio State stood as 2014’s biggest upset, and now the two squads are set to meet up again exactly a year and a day later.
The Buckeyes and Hokies met in Columbus last season for a Week Two matchup. An inexperienced redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett struggled to the tune of 9-of-29 passing with three interceptions, and he was sacked seven times by a relentless Virginia Tech rush.
Although the scene is shifting from Columbus to Blacksburg, Virginia, safety Tyvis Powell said last year’s game is something that will be fresh on the players’ minds Monday night.
“It is definitely set up this year for us to have a lot of motivation and a lot of excitement because of what happened to us last year,” the redshirt junior said. “We’ve got a chance to try to get back at them, try to get them to feel the same way, so it’s definitely set up for us to have an advantage on the excitement side.”
Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, which has a capacity of 66,233, has never hosted a top-ranked team before.
Hokies coach Frank Beamer said he has used the magnitude of the game to try to inspire his players, as he knows how devastating the Buckeyes can be.
“We have probably the best football team that’s ever played in Lane Stadium coming in here this coming week,” Beamer said during a Wednesday teleconference. “Talented, well-coached, No. 1, ran the table last year, got a lot of guys back, so we understand the challenge, we understand that games like this don’t come very often.
“It’s been my experience over the years that playing a team like this helps you as far as the focus for the game. We’ve got smart guys around here, they turn the tape on and they understand that we’ve got to play a great football game to have a chance to win this thing.”
OSU senior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said he expects a nearly unmatched atmosphere at Lane Stadium on Monday, but that is something he and OSU coach Urban Meyer — who has not lost a road game in his three years with the Buckeyes — thrive on.
“Personally I love away games,” Schutt said. “I love walking into a place where people don’t necessarily like you and boo you when you walk into the stadium. I think that’s fun, and it really adds adrenaline and excitement for the game, and it definitely puts a chip on your shoulder.”
When OSU’s depth chart was released on Tuesday, the word “or” appeared at five different starting spots:
- Quarterback: Barrett or redshirt junior Cardale Jones
- Wide receiver: Redshirt sophomore James Clark, redshirt freshman Johnny Dixon or redshirt freshman Terry McLaurin (opposite redshirt junior Michael Thomas)
- H-back: Redshirt senior Braxton Miller or sophomore Curtis Samuel
- Defensive end: Redshirt freshman Sam Hubbard or sophomore Jalyn Holmes (opposite redshirt sophomore Tyquan Lewis)
- Kicker: Redshirt senior Jack Willoughby or sophomore Sean Nuernberger
Debuts and returns
Monday’s game stands to be the OSU debut of Hubbard, McLaurin, Willoughby and redshirt freshman wide receiver Parris Campbell.
Additionally, Miller, who started 36 games at quarterback for the Buckeyes from 2011-2013 and was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, is set to play a prominent role at his new H-back position. The Huber Heights, Ohio, product is also listed with Samuel as the team’s punt returner.
Willoughby, a transfer from Duke who is slotted in as the kickoff specialist, could see a role as a long-yardage field-goal kicker, with Nuernberger, who converted just five of 10 field goal attempts from 40 yards or more last year, handling shorter kicks.
Meyer said on Monday that Campbell and McLaurin will be on the field with the special teams, as well.
On July 30, the team announced redshirt senior wide receiver Corey Smith, redshirt sophomore H-back Jalin Marshall, junior H-back Dontre Wilson and junior defensive end Joey Bosa were suspended for the opener at Virginia Tech due to violations of athletic department policies.
The biggest loss is Bosa, a unanimous 2014 Associated Press All-American who piled up 13.5 sacks last year. Smith, Marshall and Wilson also take a hit on an already-thin offense that lost two of its top three receivers from a year ago to the NFL and lost another — sophomore Noah Brown — for the season last week with a broken leg.
Hubbard and Holmes should split time picking up the slack for Bosa, while Clark, Dixon, McLaurin, Campbell and redshirt senior Jeff Greene will likely get snaps at wide receiver.
Greene — who had one catch last season for 13 yards — represents the lone player among those filling in — plus Miller — who has pulled in a single reception for the Scarlet and Gray.
Quarterback Michael Brewer, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 199 yards and a pair of scores against OSU last year, will be back under center for his redshirt senior season. Senior safety Donovan Riley, whose 63-yard pick-six interception of Barrett in the game’s final minute sealed the win for the Hokies, who once again will be lined up in coverage across from the OSU quarterback — whoever that may be.
Redshirt seniors Dadi Nicolas and Derek Di Nardo — who each sacked Barrett twice in last year’s game — as well as All-ACC cornerback Kendall Fuller, also will be out there again for the Hokies. Fuller should play a big role on Monday, as Beamer plans to match him up one-on-one with Thomas for the entirety of the contest.
After the season-opening meeting with Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes are scheduled to host Hawaii five days later in their home opener. Kickoff for the matchup with the Hokies is set for 8 p.m., with the game against Hawaii scheduled for 3:30 p.m.