Given the revealing nature of interviews with Urban Meyer and his assistants on Monday morning, I sat down with the thought this would be one of the more interesting film reviews I have done. Coaches telling reporters pretty specifically what their opponent did to cause them problems is not a common thing, so this seemed like it would be a great opportunity to learn.
Whatever there was to learn about schemes was overshadowed by a reminder that the game almost always comes down to players performing, though. That's because more than anything, what Virginia Tech's defensive coaches did was tell their players, "Hey, beat that guy across fro you." They said your blockers are not going to be able to help each other on the inside, and our defensive backs don't need help on the outside. That means your plans to outnumber us with the option won't work because we'll have someone for the quarterback and the running backs even if you option one of our guys up front.
Ohio State was not drawn dead at that point, it just had to face the fact an offense that is designed to put defenses at a disadvantage in the running game would not really be able to do so. And that meant it was back to the essence of team sports: winning enough one on one matchups to add up to overall success.
Meyer knows this is something teams can do to try to stop his offense, and that is why he emphasizes recruiting the way he does. I could probably make the case that what he wants more than anything is to have those one-on-one matchups on the perimeter because as much as he admires old-school, smash-'em-up football, he is really enthralled by big plays and speed. His offense is based on making you stop the inside run, but he loves watching the big plays.
Hearing him talk about how Virginia Tech often defended the Buckeyes with no free safety, I was reminded of a passage in the biography of him written while he was still at Florida about how rarely teams would do that, but when I went back to look for that quote, I stumbled across one more telling.
"If they play no deep," Meyer told author Buddy Martin, "that gives them a one-man advantage. Except for one thing. This guy is Percy Harvin, that's Bubba Caldwell, that's (Cornelius Ingram) and that's Louis Murphy. Do you really have four players who can cover our four best receivers?"
The answer is supposed to be no, but Saturday night for Virginia Tech it was yes, at least well enough to dodge most of the bullets Ohio State threw at the secondary with a quarterback playing his second real game in almost two full years.
J.T. Barrett did a lot of good things. He showed a great deal of toughness along with adequate athleticism and arm. He had a few throws I bet he would like back, though, some that made defending his receivers who looked like they had a step easier. The Buckeyes weren't always able to get open, but there were times they did that the throw as not where it needed to be. Other times it just wasn't caught, and others still a great defensive play simply was made. It added up to an effective formula for Virginia Tech, but there is no doubt the Hokies played with fire and I'm sure came away happy to only get singed.
Virginia Tech showed Ohio State the benefits of playing a style of defense like the Buckeyes spent the entire offseason saying they want to play. The Hokies also showed the potential downsides, considering Ohio State hit three big pass plays and quite likely should have had at least a couple more. Is the tradeoff worth it? Probably. The difference between the performance of the two defenses was one suffered a few mental breakdowns while the other did not.
Other notes and observations:
The wrinkle of the "bear" front worked for Virginia Tech to really bother the Ohio State running game because it prevented the Hokies from getting overpowered in the middle and they have athletic enough ends and linebackers to keep up on the perimeter. Over and over again it was hard to tell if Barrett was reading the zone reads and inverted veers correctly because of how VT ends squeezed their gap. They were athletic enough to confuse the read and recover after Barrett made his decision, and the undersized linebackers were fast enough to run inside out and avoid blocks. Even Curtis Samuel was caught on one option pitch by the rover.
After Ohio State tied it up, there was a big sequence with the bad kickoff, pass interference on Apple and then an unfortunately timed double A-gap blitz when the Hokies were running a jet sweep. Virginia Tech's go-ahead touchdown not bad coverage but a great throw and catch. Buckey Rogers is going to be a matchup problem for a lot of teams. He also caught a fade for a TD the week before.