By Rich Bergeron
Through much of the first half of Saturday’s stunning 35-21 Virginia Tech win over 8th-ranked Ohio State, the Buckeyes just could not seem to advance the ball down the field after their first touchdown, which was a 2-yard run by Quarterback T.J. Barrett (9-29, 219 yards, TD, 3 INTs, 70 yards rushing, TD) to cap off a 7-play, 83-yard drive. When the offense did manage to get close enough for field goal attempts, Kicker Sean Nuernberger shanked them wide twice in a row.
Virginia Tech’s defense controlled the pace of the game, and their offense used smart play-calling, great running in spots (two running scores in the first quarter), and a fantastic passing game to go into the locker room at the half with a 21-7 lead.
Ohio State’s response to the deficit was to depend on longer passing plays with Virginia Tech defenders smartly placing their hands and arms into the receivers’ field of vision at the most precise moments, negating most big-play pass attempts. Early in the third quarter a long bomb by Barrett fell into the hands of Virginia Tech Defensive Back Kyshoen Jarrett”s hands, one of two Jarrett interceptions.
Interceptions wouldn’t be Barrett’s only mistakes of the game that made it easier for Virginia Tech to come away with the victory. During a crucial drive in the first half, Barrett fumbled the snap. The loss of yardage came at the worst possible time, coming on Ohio State’s final drive of the half with the seconds ticking away. The run-happy Barrett also suffered his fair share of sacks in the game.
A run at redemption for Barrett came late in the third quarter thanks to a 53-yard connection with Michael Thomas (6 rec., 98 yards, TD). The receiver shook off the first tackle attempt and scampered all the way to the end zone to put Ohio State within one touchdown of tying the game. Ohio State would need to really turn it on in the fourth quarter to avoid the first home-opener loss in Coach Urban Meyer’s career with the team.
Virginia Tech Quarterback Michael Brewer (23-36, 199 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 16 yards rushing) looked much sharper in the first half than he appeared in the second. He seemed to get a little bit more roughed up during his rushes in the second half. Just after gutting out a tough run that put his team in a third-and-inches scenario and left him getting up slowly, Brewer picked up two more yards on the quarterback sneak that followed. He would throw it all away on the resulting first down, panicking under pressure from two Ohio State defenders breathing down his neck. The Buckeyes recovered the Brewer fumble at the Virginia Tech 15-yard-line. A slick outside sweep off an option pitch to the left side of the field by Sophomore Running Back Ezekiel Elliot (8 rushes, 32 yards, TD) tied the game at 21 with the successful extra point.
Brewer threw an interception on the drive prior to his handing Ohio State an early Christmas gift. The next drive saw Brewer get a little help from his friends. First Virginia Tech Running Back Deon Newsome (4 carries, 38 yards) barreled down the field for a spectacular 24-yard gain, and then Fullback Sam Rogers pulled off a picture-perfect end around for a 17-yard gain. Rogers nearly turned the play into an impromptu flea flicker, and the pump fake might have helped him gain an extra yard or two on the run. It was the only rush of the game for Rogers, but he also caught five receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown.
Right after surprising Ohio State with the Rogers ramble, lucky Number 7, Receiver Bucky Hodges (2 receptions, 21 yards, TD), caught the go-ahead score in the back left corner of the end zone after a brief juggle. Hokie Wide Receivers Ryan Malleck and Willie Byrn also combined for 11 catches for 115 yards through the air.
A few drives later Ohio State would get the ball back with just over three minutes left after a missed 46-yard field goal by Virginia Tech. The fifth sack of the night for the Virginia Tech defense put the Buckeyes in yet another 3rd-and-long bind. Barrett converted the first with a masterful run up the middle. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Virginia Tech earned their 7th and 8th sacks off the ballgame on the way to forcing another 3rd-and-long. With no viable receiver anywhere in the area, Barrett tried to be the hero again on 3rd-and-16 by heaving up a bomb caught by Cornerback Donovan Riley, who just had just come into the game for an injured player. Riley returned the interception 63 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
The Hokies came into the contest without a top 10 ranking, never mind a spot anywhere among the top 25. There is no doubt that next week they will have a number next to the school name. They marched into a very formidable opposing team’s home field and played the perfect strategic game, pulling off what might be the greatest upset so far this season in college football.