After winning 35 consecutive home openers, the Ohio State football team lost to the Virginia Tech Hokies, 35-21, in its first game at Ohio Stadium this season.
While a record crowd showed up to cheer on the Buckeyes, the team struggled to move the ball in the first half and couldn’t keep the Hokies away from redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett in the second. After a come-from-behind victory in week one, the loss certainly exposed some previously unknown shortcomings of the Buckeyes while also highlighting some of their stronger points.
The Lantern sports editors reflected on the game and picked five of the most important takeaways from the loss going forward.
1. Barrett can run, but someone has to block first
One of the biggest differences between Barrett and injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller is running ability.
While Barrett led the Buckeyes with 50 rushing yards in the first week, he looked even better running the ball against the Hokies. If he can keep flashing that kind of athletic ability, he’ll be able to keep OSU in games the way Miller could do at times.
That said, he’s still not the runner Miller is — especially when he’s being constantly swarmed by the opposing defense.
OSU managed a measly 108 rushing yards against the Hokies, which Miller and former Buckeye running back Carlos Hyde were typically each able to do in any given game last season. The offensive line was dominated throughout the course of the game, especially when it came to protecting the quarterback.
Barrett is an efficient runner, but he doesn’t have the ability to escape a collapsing pocket that Miller had.
2. Talking about playoffs?
It’s still possible that OSU can make the first-ever College Football Playoff — but it’s really unlikely.
Considering the weakness of the Big Ten this season — which was exhibited by OSU, Michigan State and Michigan all losing over the weekend — the Buckeyes may have needed an undefeated record to be one of the last four teams standing by the end of the season. After the loss, junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said coach Urban Meyer told the team 11-1 is still a good record, which is true, but it just won’t quite be good enough this season.
The only way OSU — or really any team in the Big Ten at this point — can make the playoffs will be to win all of its games the rest of the way and have teams from other top conferences lose two or even three times.
Can the Buckeyes still salvage the season and challenge for a conference title? Yes.
Can they challenge for any more than that? Not likely.
3. Kicking game is suddenly a red flag
Freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger was two for two on field goals in his first game against Navy. Against Virginia Tech, he missed both his field goal tries, including a chip-shot of a 27-yarder.
Redshirt-senior kicker Kyle Clinton followed up a poor showing against Navy — he had a kickoff go out of bounds — by doing the exact same thing when the game was on the line against the Hokies.
Finally, sophomore punter Cameron Johnston — who has done little other than impress since he arrived in Columbus — mishit a punt for just 24 yards during the first half against the Hokies. On the ensuing possession, Virginia Tech marched down the short field for its first touchdown of the game.
Nuernberger failed to tally what could have been six extra points while Johnston almost directly led to the Hokies’ first score. That’s a 13-point swing in the kicking game alone. Oh, and winning the kicking game is one of Meyer’s four main points on a “plan to win” sign hanging in the team’s meeting room.
If the special teams problems continue, there will be even more pressure on the OSU offense and defense to perform going forward.
4. The defensive line is as good as advertised
Individuals both connected to the OSU team and outside of it have repeatedly suggested the Buckeyes’ defensive line could be the best in the nation. OSU didn’t get to showcase that against Navy, but the traditional attack from Virginia Tech allowed the line to flourish.
Not to say the Hokies’ offense didn’t have success, but the Buckeyes’ defense racked up 10 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks in the game. Four of those tackles for loss came from defensive linemen, and the other six were essentially made possible purely because the line occupied the Virginia Tech blockers.
The Buckeyes didn’t have a great game all around, but the main players who impressed during the game were names like sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa and senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett.
If the line can continue to improve and dominate, they might be able to make up for some of the shortcomings in other areas of the defense.
5. Running back remains a question
For back-to-back weeks, Meyer has listed three running backs as co-starters — none of which have made their case to be the permanent starter.
Ezekiel Elliot still seems to be the frontrunner; however, the sophomore running back is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry while splitting carries with redshirt-senior running back Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel.
Samuel, who has seemed the most explosive of the three backs, is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, however, he has yet to find the end zone, something Elliot has done twice already this season.
The effort to replace former Buckeye Carlos Hyde continues for now, and at this rate, might go all season.
OSU’s next game is scheduled for Saturday against Kent State at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.