Playing under the now-permanent lights at a renovated Ohio Stadium in front of a record crowd of 107,517, the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies spoiled the party and ruined No. 8 Ohio State’s night with a 35-21 upset victory. It was the first time the Buckeyes lost a home opener since 1978 and the first time they lost at home to an unranked nonconference foe since falling 34-17 to Florida State in 1982.
It was a poor night all around for the Buckeyes. Several special teams miscues hurt Ohio State throughout the game, and neither the offense or defense shone. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett produced 289 yards of total offense but completed only nine of 29 passes and had three throws intercepted. Barrett’s 70 yards rushing was more than the rest of Ohio State’s ball carriers combined (53 yards between Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson).
The Ohio State revamped defense faced its first major challenge of the season and allowed 320 yards to the Hokies. The Buckeyes did produce three turnovers, but Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer threw a pair of touchdown passes, including one that capped a crucial go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The Hokies opened the scoring on their second drive of the game. Taking over at the Ohio State 43-yard line after a short 24-yard punt by OSU sophomore Cameron Johnston, Virginia Tech embarked on a 10-play touchdown drive that lasted nearly five minutes. The biggest play of the drive came on a third-and-6 at the Ohio State 26. Brewer avoided a blitzing Buckeye pass rush, rolled left and found Ryan Malleck for a 13-yard gain to the 13.
Four plays later, Shai McKenzie plunged up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown run that, following a Joey Slye extra point, gave the Hokies a 7-0 lead with 7:05 remaining in the opening quarter.
It did not take the Buckeyes long to answer the opening score, however, with a touchdown of their own. Barrett might not have been known as a major running threat prior to the season, but the redshirt freshman used his legs to get Ohio State on the board. He carried the ball five times for 61 yards and reached the end zone on a 2-yard keeper up the middle. A PAT by freshman Sean Nuernberger tied the score 7-7 with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Another special teams miscue set up Virginia Tech on its next drive. Following the Barrett TD, the Hokies took over at their own 42 thanks in part to a late hit personal foul on Ohio State junior Ron Tanner on the kickoff return.
Brewer converted a pair of third downs on completions of 11 and 8 yards on the drive, one that was capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Williams. Slye’s extra point made it 14-7 in favor of the visitors with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
The trading of scores ended on Ohio State’s next drive, which concluded with a Nuernberger field goal attempt that sailed wide left from 40 yards. The freshman from Buckner (Ky.) Oldham County missed his second of the night early in the second quarter, hitting the left upright from 27 yards.
The offenses remained dormant until near halftime when Virginia Tech extended its lead with another touchdown.
Again starting with solid field position following a 35-yard punt return by Greg Stroman, the Hokies marched 61 yards on eight plays en route to the end zone. Brewer completed 5 of 8 passes on the drive for 61 of those yards. His final completion went to Sam Rogers for a 10-yard touchdown. The PAT with 1:09 left in the second quarter gave VT a 21-7 halftime advantage.
The stats at the break were not pretty for the Buckeyes. Barrett rushed 13 times for 69 yards in the first half. Everyone else on the team –Elliott and Samuel, specifically – had four carries for 5 yards. The defense also struggled, allowing Virginia Tech to convert seven of its 10 third downs.
Ohio State also had several key miscues in the first half that could have changed the momentum. In addition to Nuernberger’s two missed field goals, the Buckeyes failed to put any points on the board in the second quarter on a drive it started at the VT 34. Ohio State lost 9 yards in three plays and was forced to punt. Prior to Nuernberger’s second missed field goal, Corey Smith dropped what would have been a touchdown reception in the end zone.
Ohio State attempted to seize momentum by opening the scoring on its third drive of the season half. Taking over at the OSU 14, Barrett led the Buckeyes on a six-play, 86-yard drive that was capped by a 53-yard touchdown reception by sophomore Michael Thomas. The wide receiver from Los Angeles caught a pass on a slant route and outraced the Virginia Tech secondary down the field for a score.
Nuernberger’s extra point boot with 3:01 remaining in the third quarter cut Virginia Tech’s lead to seven, 21-14.
The Buckeyes maintained their new-found momentum on Virginia Tech’s ensuing drive when sophomore safety Vonn Bell, who was making his first start of the season and second of his career, stepped in front of a Virginia Tech receiver made a leaping interception of a Brewer pass near midfield.
Unfortunately for Ohio State, the Buckeyes went three-and-out on its next possession. But the defense then made a big play when sophomore Joey Bosa came through the right side of the Virginia Tech defense and hit Brewer on a second-and-12 play. Brewer fumbled the ball, and fifth-year senior Rashad Frazier fell on it at the VT 15.
Two plays later, Elliott took an option pitch from Barrett raced 15 yards into the end zone to wake a sleepy Ohio Stadium crowd. Nuernberger’s PAT knotted the game with 11:40 left in regulation.
Virginia Tech silenced the crowd, however, by driving for a go-ahead touchdown. Ohio State fifth-year senior kicker Kyle Clinton hit the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, allowing the Hokies to start the march at the VT 35. It took Virginia Tech six plays to drive down the field, with Brewer capping the march with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Bucky Hodges. Slye’s PAT gave the Hokies a 28-21 advantage with 8:44 remaining.
Ohio State had three shots to tie the game in the final minutes. The Buckeyes had their first possession after the Hodges touchdown end with a three-and-out and a punt. After forcing the Hokies into a three-and-out, Barrett had a pass intercepted with 4:47 remaining. Virginia Tech missed a field goal on its next drive, but any hopes of a Buckeye comeback ended when Barrett threw his third interception of the night with 46 seconds remaining.
VT cornerback Donovan Riley picked off that pass and returned it 63 yards for a game-icing touchdown.