What we learned this week: Sometimes circumstances are a college football team's biggest adversary.
As such, Ohio State's 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech could be seen coming from miles away. The Buckeyes had the raw talent to win this game, but that is usually the case. They had to overcome a lot to make it happen at this point in the season, and it turns out they were not up to the task.
"This point in the season" is a useful phrase for any analyzation of this game and one to keep in mind when looking ahead. In the reaction I have seen so far, it is probably the one most forgotten.
With or without Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes were going to have some things to work around on offense this season, especially early. I actually wondered if losing Miller at the time they did could help the offense develop some cohesion earlier because J.T. Barrett had more preseason snaps than the two-time Big Ten MVP would have, but I don't think that was much of an issue either way.
The problem for the Buckeyes was more on an individual level. The difference if Miller could have played? He might have made a couple of individual plays that changed the game, such as taking an option play 70 yards instead of seven. Virginia Tech probably would have been a bit more reticent to play cover zero against Ohio State, too, because Miller is a greater run threat than Barrett, who can extend plays but is not as likely to make it hurt as badly as Miller.
Entering the season, Virginia Tech's secondary was a known commodity for the most part while Ohio State's receivers were not. The question was whether a newly built front Hokie front seven would be able as good or better than Ohio State's rebuilt offensive line, and that was answered rather emphatically. However, VT also tipped the scales in its favor by sending more men than Ohio State could block, and using a bear front to cover up the center and guards proved to be a wrinkle that was hard for the Buckeyes to overcome, in part because having no Miller made it harder to get to the perimeter.
For all its troubles, though, the offense was probably good enough to win the game for Ohio State if the defense had played up to its capability. (Stop me if you have heard that one before.)
In another turn of events that was not too hard to predict, the new Silver Bullets fired some blanks in their second time out since new Chris Ash and Larry Johnson were hired to revamp the attack up front and in the secondary.
These new assistant coaches could hardly have asked for a tougher pair of assignments to start the season, though, as Johnson's desire to see the defensive line play on the other side of the line of scrimmage had to be tempered by the misdirection and cut blocks of Navy's triple option and Ash's new Cover 4 needs time to gel because of a myriad of reads required in the secondary. The defensive backs -- including one guy who has been a full-time starter before this year -- also need time to learn how to play press coverage full time.
Oh, and by the way, Ohio State had to take a break from working on its new regular defense to prepare for Navy, something that obviously took away some of its effectiveness last Saturday night.
That meant another variable -- Virginia Tech's rebuilt passing game, featuring a pass-first Texas gunslinger instead of a glorified tight end -- would have some chances to make big plays, and the Hokies did just that.
Last season, the offense was so good the defense didn't have to be perfect. This time around, Ohio State is going to need the opposite to win games, especially early in the season. The new scheme is designed to make that happen, but it was never going to happen overnight.
What we can expect to learn this week: How the Buckeyes bounce back from a loss in-season for the first time under Urban Meyer.
I expect Virginia Tech to end up being a pretty good team this year. The Hokies will probably win their conference division. I'll still say the same about Ohio State.
The Ohio State team we saw against Virginia Tech would have its hands full with Cincinnati, so the Buckeyes need to have two good weeks to prepare for their Sept. 27 visit from the Bearcats. Before that, the Buckeyes should have no problem making it 39 consecutive wins over in-state opponents, but Kent State offers a good chance for Ohio State to work on some things, including getting some good reps for young players who have been in the lineup so far and perhaps some who have not.
Coaches are funny in that they want to see what young players can do, but they worry beyond worry about having to live with their mistakes. Meyer spent the offseason preaching about moving on from the latter as long as the effort is there he wants to see. Now he needs to follow his own words and make sure he has his best team on the field.
Balancing experience and talent is the job of any coach, especially one at a school like Ohio State. It certainly isn't easy, but I've been surprised by how conservative Meyer and his staff have been so far in playing young players. Some of those young guys showed the potential downside against Virginia Tech, but one wonders if it had to be that way, particularly considering how many members of the 2013 recruiting class are still operating on low snap counts for their careers.
The season is far from lost. The Big Ten still stinks, perhaps more than last season. Ohio State is not ready to beat Michigan State at this point, but the Buckeyes don't play the Spartans for another two months. Most indications are Ohio State has the better roster from top to bottom, but that doesn't win games itself. Michigan State has some problems of its own, and the Spartans are probably a better overall team than the Buckeyes right now, but between now and Nov. 8, Ohio State will get older and Michigan State won't get more talented.
There will be tests between now and then, but they should be manageable. After that a stretch run of Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan will not be easy, but again the better team isn't hard to pick out.
The Buckeyes have a lot of work to do but a fair amount of time to accomplish it. Will they? That's anybody's guess, but this is far from the first time Ohio State has been in this situation in recent years.
Maybe Jim Tressel, who more than anyone I've seen knew how to develop a squad for the long haul even if it endured some early bumps, left some blueprints lying around for Meyer to take a look at. Surely "Sowing the seeds of September losses to reap November wins" is a chapter in "The Winner's Manual."
The feeling since Meyer was hired as the head coach of the Buckeyes was he could bring together many of the best qualities of Ohio State's past two head coaches, matching John Cooper's ability to recruit the best of the best from across the country with Tressel's talent for building a roster to play its best down the stretch of the season.
Now it's time to find out if that is the case.
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