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Ohio State defense struggles on third down in 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech

Junior linebacker Joshua Perry (37) attempts to tackle Virginia Tech sophomore fullback Sam Rogers during a game Sept. 6 at Ohio Stadium. OSU lost, 35-21. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Junior linebacker Joshua Perry (37) attempts to tackle Virginia Tech sophomore fullback Sam Rogers during a game Sept. 6 at Ohio Stadium. OSU lost, 35-21.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

It was a night filled with introspective discussion, historical significance and endless analysis. But despite all the circumstances surrounding it, Ohio State junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington’s short statement turned out to be the best assessment of his team’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech.

“We did OK, but we just didn’t play good when we needed to play good,” Washington said after the game.

The OSU defense may have forced three Virginia Tech turnovers and held the Hokies to fewer yards than its own team’s offense, but it also surrendered nine third-down conversions. Five of those came on plays where the Hokies needed to gain seven yards or more to extend the drive.

OSU sophomore safety Vonn Bell had an interception and five tackles in his first start of the season, but his evaluation of the defense’s third-down play struck a similar chord with Washington’s.

“(The Hokies) were just making plays,” Bell said. “We need to make plays to get off the field when we have to get the ball to the offense in those types of situations.”

Junior linebacker Joshua Perry said the third-down defensive failures weren’t just the result of one player, but of all 11 men on that side of the ball.

(Giving up a third down conversion) is something you never want as a defense. That is something we have to tighten up,” Perry said. “We have to look at what we were doing and see where we can make corrections. We have to put it on everybody to do their responsibilities.”

Coach Urban Meyer said his analysis of the defense would have to wait until later, as his focus during the game was on adjusting his offensive scheme. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell — like some of his players — pointed to those third down plays that put OSU in an early hole as the moments that changed the game.

“Ultimately, you look back and that’s what killed us. It’s not like they were third-and-two, third-and-threes,” Fickell said. “We’re talking third-and-eight, third-and-10, third-and-12, in the ideal position you’d want to be in, and we didn’t execute.”

No Buckeye football team had ever played in front of an Ohio Stadium crowd as big as Saturday’s 107,517 total. Nor had many Buckeye players ever played against the kind of triple-option offense they saw against Navy, but the more conventional style employed by Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler still gave the unit problems.

OSU co-captain and senior linebacker Curtis Grant said a combination of strategy and the play of visiting redshirt-junior quarterback Michael Brewer made the difference.

“It was hard to get to the quarterback since (Brewer) was getting the ball out so quickly. We were coming, but it was hard to get to him when it felt like he was getting the ball out after three seconds,” Grant said. “(Virginia Tech) ran a lot of aggressive misdirection routes coming to the backside. That’s something we need to correct moving forward.”

Junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington (92) tackles a Virginia Tech player during a game Sept. 6 at Ohio Stadium. OSU lost, 35-21. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington (92) tackles a Virginia Tech player during a game Sept. 6 at Ohio Stadium. OSU lost, 35-21.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Fickell also singled out Brewer’s decision-making as the x-factor on big plays.

“We lost leverage, it’s not like we weren’t pressuring him,” Fickell said. “We were coming after him to hit him. He rolled the pocket a little bit, made some plays on us.”

After giving up 21 points in the first half, the Silver Bullets kept the Hokies out of the end zone as the OSU offense came back to tie the game with 11:40 left on the clock. But the Hokies pulled out all the stops — including a reverse play that went for 17 yards — on their way to scoring the game’s winning touchdown with 8:44 remaining in the game.

Senior cornerback Doran Grant said the Buckeyes weren’t expecting a trick play like that, but he still saw the team’s first-half performance as the game’s deciding factor.

“We didn’t play well in the first half. [We] came out pretty strong in the second but it wasn’t enough to win the game.”

Grant and his Buckeye teammates are set to look to regroup from their first regular-season loss under Meyer next week when Kent State is scheduled to come to Columbus. Kickoff is set for noon on Sept. 13.  

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