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Monday is Game Day in Blacksburg! Here’s what We’ll be Jumping About

Looking at the Opener, The Buckeyes versus the Hokies, in Lane Stadium at night. There was a surprise victor last season in the Horseshoe, will there be another surprise on Worsham Field on Monday evening? Let's look at the numbers, and the challenges.

Can the Hokies Shock the World Again?
Can the Hokies Shock the World Again?
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 Season is about to start.  All the offseason research is over.  There is the wait, like a kid just before Christmas, the days drag. The nights get longer and more exciting.  It isn't cool, yet.  It's doesn't even feel like September, but Monday evening, just as twilight is fading, the sound will begin to rise just off of Southgate Drive.  The last few stragglers will be finding their seats, and as the strains of the National Anthem fade, a couple of cheerleaders will raise the signs to two sections of Lane Stadium...  LET'S GO! - 30,000 fans will shout at the tops of their lungs.  Two more cheerleaders will raise two other signs... to the other two stands.... and 30,000 plus more will shout back... HOKIES!!!!! You will see it and hear it all over the huge beautiful Virginia Tech campus, and it will be repeated... four, five.... six times... and then you hear the guitar... the ominous riff... rising in volume as the drums and bass begin their rhythmic addition.. the entire stadium, all 65,000 or so will start jumping in time to the music as the band forms a welcome tunnel... and then... maybe 10 measures in... as the stadium shakes, and the crowd looks like an undulating pulsating mass...

It is electric!  It's joy! It's determination, and pride in a program, a school, and a tradition.  And so the 2015 Season will begin...

The question remains; how good a beginning is it going to be?  The original reasons for the match-up between Virginia Tech and Ohio State were probably more about TV, money, and national exposure than winning or losing.  Until last year when a Hokie football team, struggling with spotty talent and a new quarterback imported from Texas, took the field in the Horseshoe, and made history.  If an entire season was determined by one game, the first game, this was it.  All of the numbers and all of the charts said that Ohio State University was fielding one of the very best football teams in the nation.  (Of course we know the rest of that particular story.)

This year the Buckeyes (Who has a chocolate coated peanut butter candy for a mascot?  Oh, ok, never mind...) come to our house.  That comes with an element of danger folks.  You see, the national champions were undefeated... oops, er um ALMOST... last season, and they are up for some serious revenge.

So, let's look at what we are facing as an objective review.

The Ohio State Buckeyes

On the Offensive side of the ball OSU fielded three different quarterbacks last season.  They have not, as of the 3rd of September, declared their preference for a starter.  We will be facing either (or more probably BOTH) J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones*.  These young men combined for 259 completed passes out of 406 attempts and a total of just under 3700 yards.  Both finished with completion ratings in the 60-65% range, and passed at an average of 9+ yards per catch.  They combined for 41 touchdowns and 12 picks (Barrett throwing 10 of those - but played more games than Jones).  I don't care where you come from, what school you root for, or what league you are interested in those numbers are impressive and significant.

Our biggest problem is that the passing game is not Urban Meyer's stock in offensive trade.  His teams run the ball.  They run the ball hard for lots of yards; and they score touchdowns on the ground. (41 rushing TDs last season, to be exact)  Be very aware that last year OSU's second leading rusher with 938 yards on 171 carries for a 5.5 yard average and 11 Touchdowns (and that wasn't a full season) was J.T. Barrett.  Cardale Jones was fourth with 296 yards on 72 carries for 4.1 yards.  He only scored one TD, though (at least there is a single bright spot there).  Those two combining for over a thousand yards at better than scheduled yardage is bad enough, but their leading rusher Ezekiel Elliot carried the ball 273 times for 1,878 (yes, that is almost one thousand nine hundred yards) with an average gain of 6.9 yards (ok, why quibble.. it's basically 7, one tenth is a rounding error).  He scored 18 touchdowns on the ground.

That's the Buckeye Offensive Backfield.  For the passing game, no receiver or running back catching the ball more than once averaged less than 8 yards a catch.  Most of them averaged in the double digits.  The fact that most 3 of these receivers (Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith) are not going to be playing on Monday should not be an insignificant loss to OSU, but it is hardly a reason for over confidence.

On Defense, OSU is stacked and loaded with decent talent.  The loss of Bosa for the opener will be slightly painful, but with OSU, for every four or five star starter there's a three or four star backup waiting.  Their roster is long, and experienced; more than deep enough to fill the hole for a game or two.

The following chart says it all - supplied by OSU's Defensive Statistics listing on their web site for 2014 season stats:

Score by quarters

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

OT

Total

Ohio State

182

172

156

148

14

672

Opponents

83

76

72

92

7

330

The chart speaks volumes; a 2 to 1 scoring advantage in nearly every quarter of football played.  That Virginia Tech managed to break that cycle for one game is a remarkable feat.  It's also an incitement to revenge.

The Fighting Gobblers of Virginia Tech

Now for the important things to Hokies, let's go over Tech's 2014 stats.  We are bringing back many players from last season, and touting that as our strength.  It is a useful exercise to get some idea of what sort of numbers we put up offensively last season.

We had exactly one quarterback last season, Michael Brewer.  Brenden Motley seldom took the field and completed as many passes as punter A.J. Hughes.  So for all practical purposes the rawhide tough Brewer was it.  I understand that Mr. Brewer was criticized for some issues with ball control and passing accuracy, but the stats really don't show it.  He attempted 441 passes (many heaved away in desperation) and completed 262 for a nearly 60% completion percentage.  He also passed for almost 2700 yards.  That might surprise some folks.  For all the interception machine accusations, Brewer threw 15, but 18 passes went for touchdowns.  That actually results in QB rating of 117.4.  It isn't stunningly great, like in the 160s for OSU's two, but it actually wasn't horrible (He needs to improve that number, folks.  "Not Horrible" might be damning with faint praise to some.) for a young man who spent most of his time trying to avoid getting crushed for losses.

Now for the truly disappointing reality, we didn't run the ball well at all.  In fact, if you took away our passing game we'd have scored exactly 60 points on the ground.  That is 10 touchdowns between three running backs.  J.C. Coleman managed 107 carries for 533 yards, for a season end 5.0 respectable yards per carry.  Marshawn Williams managed 124 carries for 475 yards; Shai McKenzie only had 53 carries for a total of 269 yards. Folks, our entire team didn't run the ball for much more than OSU's lead back, Ezekiel Elliot.  It is painful to see the difference.

I don't want to dwell on our record last season.  We know what it was.  We were "Three and Out on 3rd and hopeless" too many times, and the defense collapsed at critical junctures of several games; East Carolina and Georgia Tech were prime examples.  We must do better, at all levels.

On a brighter note on the analysis, Tech is fielding one of the best defensive lines in the nation.  We also have a super squad of defensive backs.  Our season long challenge is that we have no true middle linebackers, and facing a maximum speed running team like the Buckeyes is going to present a serious problem at the second level.   Bud Foster looks like he's already making adjustments.  Coach Foster is one of the best "Adjusters" in FBS football.  As we walked through each of the rosters this Summer we saw something at each level that was a bonus, and something that needed work.  This game will present a difficult challenge for our defense.  Every bonus must be advantaged, and every challenge met.

All of the bragging and puffery will be over by halftime - and that goes for both teams.

We start with a clean slate on Monday.   It is always important to remember that in college football it's a different team every single year.  College teams' consistency will always be their head coach's (unless he's been replaced) system.  It's truly difficult to put a finger on something called the "Virginia Tech System" but there is an "Urban Meyer System" it's the spread option that he's been running into championships for his entire career with two different FBS schools.  Imagine if Logan Thomas had Urban Meyer's offense.

It is telling that Urban is refusing to announce his quarterback choice for the opener.  It means that the Hokies would be advised to prepare to be attacked 2 to 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage by both Quarterbacks.  We are guaranteed to see a huge dose of Ezekiel Elliot - who's bound to be running a serious chip on his shoulder.  He has something to prove against the only team that stopped him last season.  It might be the story of the game.

Keys to the game:

Ohio State wins in a walk (or a run-away) if it can execute its yardage schedule especially on the ground, get the ball to the second level, and keep its quarterbacks from having to throw against the Tech secondary.  If it does those things, the Hokie Offense won't matter.

Virginia Tech wins in a wrestling match if the Defense can keep the running back - quarterback combo under pressure, stuff both near the line of scrimmage, and knock out OSU's passing game downfield with minimal coverage.  Of course the Hokie O must score more points and gain more yards than it's used to.

From a Hokie fan's perspective, the following questions must be answered effectively:

  • Is the Offensive Coaching staff going to call an aggressive downfield fast attack game, or is it going to "stick to the game plan"?
  • Can the Offensive Line keep Michael Brewer on his feet for at least "5 Mississippis"?
  • Can the Defense get the critical stops, especially the Defensive line keeping the backs out of the 2nd level?
  • Can Michael Brewer "see" downfield this season; so that he makes quality throws?
  • Turnovers; can we keep from making them, and can we induce OSU to make them?

These questions will be the main topics for Tuesday morning's Game Review Summary.

* Jones was taken to the hospital with a severe headache the evening of 9/3/2015 - His status for Monday might be difficult to pin down for a few days.  If the condition persists, Only the combination threat will change.  Jones is the lesser experienced QB.

Source for 2014 Season statistics for both teams: ESPN