Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says he meant no disrespect to Virginia Tech when he blamed the Buckeyes’ stunning home loss to the Hokies last season on his team’s “lack of preparation.”
That doesn’t figure to be a problem Monday night.
The Buckeyes, the first unanimous preseason No. 1 team in college football, get a chance to exact revenge in what promises to be a raucous Blacksburg, Virginia.
Ohio State won 13 in a row, and the national championship, after that 35-21 loss a year ago. While Meyer and most of his players downplay revenge as a motivator, quarterback T.J. Barrett has a photo of Lane Stadium as the background on his phone to remind him of what happened in 2014.
Barrett threw three interceptions in the loss, including one that Donovan Riley returned 63 yards for a touchdown with 46 seconds to go, making the Hokies the first nonconference opponent in 65 games to win at Ohio Stadium.
Barrett is not alone in admitting the loss still stings.
“They came into our house and embarrassed us,” said senior tight end Nick Vannett, who figures to loom large in the Buckeyes’ passing game because of suspensions and injuries to four receivers. “We’re out for revenge and we’re going to do the same thing to them.”
The Hokies have played the No. 1 team eight times in their history, and have lost all eight, seven by double figures. “I don’t know that there’s every been a No. 1 team in the country that’s as far No. 1 as this crowd is,” coach Frank Beamer said this week. “Real challenge to the program. Real challenge to what we’re all about here at Virginia Tech. I think our players look forward to the challenge, but what an undertaking this is.”
Some things to watch Monday night:
MILLER’S TALE: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer hasn’t said who his starting quarterback will be, but it won’t be Braxton Miller, the two time Big Ten offensive player of the year who missed last season with a shoulder injury. Miller has moved to receiver, and the Buckeyes are short-handed there with Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Dontre Wilson all suspended for the game and Noah Brown out for the season after breaking his left leg last week.
MICHAEL BREWER 2.0: The Texas Tech transfer endeared himself to Hokies fans in just his second start a year ago, throwing two touchdown passes and guiding an offense that converted 9 of 17 third-down chances. He and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler have said Brewer is miles ahead of where he was then in understanding the offense. He will need to show it against a Buckeyes defense that battered him regularly in last year’s victory.
REDOUBTABLE THOMAS: The marquee matchup of the game has Buckeyes receiver Michael Thomas, nephew of former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, going against cornerback Kendall Fuller, a third-team All-American last season, and Brandon Facyson, who is returning from a broken leg. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s defense often finds the cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups, and the Hokies can’t afford to lose too many of them to keep it close.
BUCKY’S DENT: The Hokies have dynamic receivers of their own in Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips, but their real wild card is tight end Bucky Hodges, a 6-foot-6 former quarterback whose athleticism can be problematic for a defense, especially in the red zone. Virginia Tech would love to see him one-on-one with a linebacker.
FOCUS: Being the first unanimous No. 1 can be heady stuff, as can playing against No. 1. Do thoughts of avenging a loss drive the Buckeyes, or get in the way? Does the stage inspire the Hokies’ best, or overwhelm them?