The Ohio State football team’s season-opening 34-17 win against Navy was a tale of two halves.
The Midshipmen led, 7-6, at halftime — which certainly taught us all a lot about this year’s Buckeyes. The comeback run in the second half might have taught us even more, but there will be much more to watch for when the Buckeyes take the field next.
The Lantern’s sports editors picked five keys to OSU’s matchup with the Hokies that could decide whether the team moves to 2-0 or suffers an early-season loss.
1. J.T. Barrett round two
To be completely honest, redshirt-freshman quarterback Barrett did as well as can be expected for his first career game. The man had not taken a competitive snap since his senior year of high school — when he tore his ACL — and still threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns.
Barrett wasn’t Braxton Miller last week, and he won’t emulate the injured senior quarterback against the Hokies either. But that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes are out of luck.
If you’re looking for ankle-breaking running ability or a cannon for a right arm, Miller is still your guy. But Barrett was smoothly efficient and deceptively productive in his first start.
After leading the Buckeyes with 50 rushing yards and going 12 of 15 on pass attempts with just one interception, look for the offense to open up for Barrett going forward.
2. Will Bud Foster’s defense shut down Buckeye offense?
Ever since defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s arrival in Blacksburg, Va., the Hokies have been a model of consistency on defense.
Despite losing, 35-10, to then-defending national champion Alabama last season, the Hokie defense held the Crimson Tide to just 206 yards of total offense, including just 110 passing.
As Barrett enters his second start, Foster’s ability to dial up confusing blitzes will prove a tough challenge for not only for the quarterback, but also a young and inexperienced offensive line.
The Buckeyes only managed six first half points last week, which marked the first time OSU had been held without a first half touchdown since the 2011 Buckeyes were held to just three first half points against Illinois (a game in which they completed just one pass).
A similar performance could very well mean the first home loss under coach Urban Meyer.
3. Which running back earned the carries?
When Meyer released the team’s first depth chart of the season, sophomore Ezekiel Elliott, redshirt-senior Rod Smith and freshman Curtis Samuel were all listed as co-starters at running back.
Against Navy, Elliott earned offensive player of the game honors by carrying the ball 12 times for 44 yards and a touchdown, but actually finished the game behind Barrett and Samuel in rushing yardage. Samuel had 45 yards and averaged 6.4 yards per carry while Smith carried the ball just twice, but impressed Meyer by holding a block for 11 seconds during a special teams play.
According to the Buckeyes’ new depth chart released this week, all three are still co-starters at the position.
With one full game out of the way, it’s hard to believe Meyer and his staff have not picked a true favorite at the position. If they have, look for that player to have a breakout game against the Hokies. If the coaching staff really hold all three in equal esteem, look for the running back carousel to continue all season long.
4. Record crowd expected
Ohio Stadium has been a landmark for college football since being built in 1922, and it is set to break another record Saturday night.
With the final touches being made to a $13.7 million renovation project that added 2,600 seats as well as new lighting fixtures, OSU is expecting a crowd of more than 108,000, a number which would crush the current record of 106,102, set during an Oct. 6, 2012, game against Nebraska. The Buckeyes prevailed, 63-38, in that game.
One of the expected 108,000 is believed to be Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who has made previous appearances at OSU football games against Texas in Austin (2006) and in Columbus last season against Wisconsin.
If nothing else, the atmosphere, along with the world’s greatest athlete, should be a great recruiting pitch for Meyer and his coaching staff.
5. Hokies represent last big test until late October
If the past is any indication, Saturday’s game against the Hokies will be the biggest test the Buckeyes will face until traveling to Happy Valley in late October.
OSU’s following games after Virginia Tech include matchups against Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers. The only road game of those four comes against Maryland. Not exactly murderer’s row.
If the Buckeyes have national championship hopes, they will need to impress the selection committee of the newly-installed College Football Playoff against the Hokies before playing what most believe is a mediocre schedule at best, until taking on Penn State on Oct. 25.
OSU’s game against Virginia Tech is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.