The first week of the 2015 college football season concludes with a marquee matchup on Monday night, as Ohio State begins its run at back-to-back national championships with a trip to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech. In addition to beginning the quest for another national title, the Buckeyes have revenge on their mind. The Hokies upset Ohio State 35-21 in Week 2 last season.
The Buckeyes won’t be at full strength for this matchup, as four players were suspended earlier this offseason for the opener. Standout end Joey Bosa and receivers Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and Corey Smith were suspended for violation of team rules. Bosa is the biggest loss out of this group, but the three receivers will be missed. With Ohio State missing a few experienced options in the receiving corps, converted quarterback Braxton Miller will be a key piece of the passing attack on Monday night.
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This is only the second meeting between Ohio State and Virginia Tech. The only previous matchup between these two teams? The oft-discussed 35-21 matchup in Columbus last season.
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Monday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ohio State -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett versus Virginia Tech’s Secondary
Who will take the first snap of the year for Ohio State? That’s been the big question since the end of the national championship win over Oregon, as the Buckeyes had three candidates in the mix before Braxton Miller decided to move to receiver. With Miller changing positions, the two-man battle between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett continued into the fall. There’s been little out of fall practice to suggest which quarterback is in the lead. However, there’s a good chance both quarterbacks play on Monday night. And regardless of who starts or plays, this won’t be an easy matchup. Virginia Tech’s defense is arguably one of the best in the nation and held the Buckeyes to just 4.8 yards per play last season. With Marshall, Wilson and Smith sidelined, who will step up to win one-on-one battles in the passing attack? Keep an eye on the matchup between Virginia Tech cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson against Ohio State receivers Michael Thomas and Miller.
2. Ezekiel Elliott versus Virginia Tech’s Front Seven
In last year’s matchup, Virginia Tech’s defense held Elliott to just 32 yards and one score on eight attempts. Additionally, Ohio State’s offensive line had trouble containing the Hokies’ defensive line in pass protection and allowed seven sacks. The Buckeyes’ offensive line significantly improved after the loss to Virginia Tech last season and is one of the best in the nation in 2015. Will this unit and Elliott have better success against the Hokies on Monday night? This should be the matchup to watch, as the Virginia Tech defensive front has two ends capable of wreaking havoc off the edge (Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem) and talented tackles in Corey Marshall and Luther Maddy. Elliott finished 2014 by running for at least 200 yards in each of his last three games. Will he pickup where he left off? Or will Virginia Tech win the battle at the point of attack?
3. Virginia Tech’s Offense
There’s no question Virginia Tech has one of the best defenses in the nation. But contending for the ACC Championship resides on how much the offense will improve after a sluggish 2014 campaign. The Hokies averaged only 24.1 points per game and just 4.7 yards per play in ACC games. While last year wasn’t overly successful, eight starters are back, including quarterback Michael Brewer and three starters up front. Will this group take a significant step forward? Ohio State’s defense won’t have Bosa coming off the edge, but there’s no shortage of talent in the front seven. Linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry are among the nation’s best, and the Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard are slated to pickup the slack at defensive end for Bosa. If Virginia Tech is able to contain the Ohio State pass rush, will its young receivers – Cam Phillips, Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges – win one-on-one matchups against a good secondary? And don’t forget about running back J.C. Coleman. The senior emerged as the clear No. 1 option in the ground attack at the end of last season, recording at least 95 yards in each of his final four games.
This is one of the toughest games on Ohio State’s 2015 schedule. Blacksburg isn’t an easy to place to play, and the Hokies should have confidence after last season’s win in Columbus. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, the biggest concern for Ohio State has to be its ability to block Virginia Tech’s defensive line and the receiving corps against a good secondary. Expect the Hokies to win their share of battles up front and limit some of the big plays for the Buckeyes. Converted quarterback Braxton Miller is the x-factor here. However, keeping Ohio State’s offense under wraps for four quarters is too much to ask. Elliott eventually finds running room in the second half, and the Buckeyes leave Blacksburg with a hard-earned victory.