The Other Side: Virginia Tech

Ohio State and Virginia Tech have never met on the gridiron, so what can OSU fans expect from the Hokies this week? We found out in our usual edition of The Other Side.

Ohio State begins the home slate Saturday night with a prime-time matchup with a Virginia Tech team that enters Ohio Stadium with a 1-0 record and is receiving votes in both major polls.

So what can the Buckeyes expect from the Hokies? We enlisted the help of Mason Naumann of VT blog The Key Play to find out.

1. It appears the Virginia Tech offense has struggled in the past few years, but there's a new quarterback in charge in Michael Brewer. How did he look vs. William & Mary and what does it appear his strengths will be in leading the VT attack?

Michael Brewer looked pretty good in his first game, completing 23 of his 30 pass attempts for 251 yards and two touchdowns. His one interception was on a pass that got tipped at the line of scrimmage before falling into the hands of a linebacker. It’s hard to judge what Brewer is capable of because William & Mary came out with a very conservative defense. Brewer spent most of his day happy to dump it off underneath and let his playmakers run with it. He appears to be a heady guy who is focused on picking up what yardage is available to him and not turning the ball over.

2. How do the Hokies try to attack opponents schematically? What are some of the callings cards of the offense?

Loeffler runs an NFL-style multiple offense. He doesn’t have a “system” like Georgia Tech or Oregon. Instead, he assesses what the strengths of his offense are and he builds his plan around that. Loeffler wants to control the football, both by running the ball (using both zone and man blocking) and throwing high percentage passes underneath. If the defense starts overreacting to the run game, Loeffler has a very strong play-action game that he relies on to exploit single coverage.

He does his homework though, looking for any tactical advantage that he can find. Loeffler will normally show up on game day with a wrinkle or two that he hasn’t shown on film that season and tries to surprise the defense. He has a pretty high success rate with these wrinkles and so many new talented freshmen to play with this year, I expect that trend will continue.

3. Much has been made here about how much the Hokies and Bud Foster like to blitz. Is this a fair reputation? What kind of blitzes can OSU expect?

Bud Foster does like to bring pressure (especially against freshmen quarterbacks) but he isn’t reckless with his blitz packages. Foster values speed over size in his defensive linemen, which means that even when he’s not blitzing the front four are normally good at pressuring the quarterback. When he does bring extra guys, Foster likes often likes to use zone blitzes. He’ll bring two blitzers from one side of the formation and drop the defensive end from the other side into zone coverage. His entire defensive philosophy is predicated on stopping the run and putting the quarterback into obvious passing situations, so he uses a lot of run blitzes on early downs as well.

4. Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson picked off a ton of balls last season. What makes those two stand out and how are they so impactful in the passing game?

Those two players are both future NFL players, and will both be picked fairly high in the draft. Kendall Fuller is one of the best cover corners I’ve seen at Tech. He has a very high football IQ and has all the physical tools needed to match up against any wide receiver. In my opinion, Fuller is the best corner in the country.

Facyson won’t blanket a receiver like Fuller will, but he has the best closing speed I’ve seen since Brandon Flowers. Facyson also does a great job at pattern recognition and uses his quickness to beat the receivers to their spot. This duo has great ball skills as well, something that comes in handy when trying to turn the ball over. If they’re in position to make a play on the ball, they’ll come away with an interception more often than not.

It helps that they’re playing in a Bud Foster defense as. They get lots of interceptions because they get lots of chances. Foster and his secondary coach Torrian Gray have built a complex coverage system that confuses a lot of opponents. Combine that complexity with a Foster’s ability to pressure the quarterback, and those corners are going to consistently be in advantageous situations.

5. Virginia Tech has been down a bit from when it had eight straight 10-win seasons from 2004-11. What is the current sense of just how good this Hokies team can be among VT fans and what do you think about the team's chances in Ohio Stadium?

There were a lot of reasons the Hokies have struggled the past two seasons and most of those reasons were on the offensive side of the ball. Frank Beamer went through a rare staff reshuffling after the 2012 season and we are starting to see the benefits. The offensive game plans are more coherent and the recruiting has improved dramatically (there’s a reason so many freshmen are playing large roles in the offense). 2014 should see significant improvement in offensive production for the Hokies. Bud Foster always fields a solid defense. Even with the departure of most of Foster's front seven, there is hope in Blacksburg that this defense can be as good as last years elite unit. The secondary is the best in the country and the defensive line should be able to get after the quarterback. The linebackers are untested and are probably the biggest question mark on the defense. If the offense improves from awful to average, I think this could turn into a pretty special season for the Hokies. The red zone offense will have to improve, but if the running game can find a way to punch it in near the goal line this offense will cause problems for a lot of people.

I actually like Virginia Tech’s chances in this game. Michael Brewer doesn’t come across as the type of quarterback you need to worry about throwing multiple interceptions in one game. With freshmen Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie named as co-starters for the game Tech should have two very talented players touting the rock. Ohio State has one of the best defensive lines in the country but against Navy I saw the linebackers and safeties miss an awful lot of tackles. If the ground game can stay ahead of the chains, don’t be surprised if the passing game finds some success down the field. There’s a reason it’s rare to find a freshman who has success against Foster. He’s the best defensive coordinator in the country and he fields elite defense after elite defense, usually without the benefit of elite talent. J.T. Barrett isn’t as explosive as Braxton was on the ground and against Navy I saw him complete passes to a lot of wide open receivers. I doubt that his targets will be as open this Saturday as they were last. If Tech finds a way to prevent the running game from reeling off explosive play after explosive play, I would expect Barrett to struggle against this secondary. My prediction is Virginia Tech, 27-17.

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