Ohio State opened its title defense with a 18-point victory on the road, despite Virginia Tech taking a halftime lead.
Cardale Jones started for the Buckeyes (1-0), ending an offseason of speculation, and Braxton Miller scored two touchdowns in his return to the field as Ohio State pulled away for a 42-24 win in Blacksburg, Va., Monday night. The Hokies (0-1) bounced back from a 14-0 hole early to go ahead 17-14 at the break, but the visitors scored 28 straight points before a late Virginia Tech touchdown.
The win came a year and a day after the Hokies beat Ohio State 35-21 in the Buckeyes 2014 home opener.
Miller, a two-year starter at quarterback for the Buckeyes, hadn’t played in more than a year after missing the 2014-15 season with a shoulder injury. He sparked the Buckeye offense with two catches for 78 yards to go along with 62 yards on the ground.
The Buckeye defense forced a three-and-out on Virginia Tech’s first drive, Jones took eight plays to guide Ohio State to its first touchdown of the season. The drive was capped by a 24-yard strike to sophomore H Curtis Samuel, who made a diving catch for his first career touchdown reception.
The drive included a 20-yard connection between jones and junior Michael Thomas as well as a fourth-and-five conversion on a short pass to junior running back Ezekiel Elliott.
After another Hokie punt, Elliott made it 14-0 with his first carry of the game, going for 80 yards to open the ensuing drive.
From there the two teams traded missed field goals before Virginia Tech got on the board with a 51-yard touchdown pass from Michael Brewer to fullback Sam Rogers.
A Jones interception on a tipped pass and an Elliott muffed punt sparked the Hokies as the scored the next 10 points, taking a 17-14 lead into halftime at Lane Stadium.
Through 30 minutes, Elliott carried the ball just four times for 105 yards while Jones completed 6 of 13 passing attempts for 95 yards, with all six completions coming on his first nine attempts. Brewer completed nine of his 13 attempts before the break, totaling 139 yards and two scores through the air.
As a team Ohio State out gained the Hokies 267-211 in the opening half, but the game’s first two turnovers made up the difference.
Despite his struggles, Jones stayed in the game to start the second half, and the move paid off quickly as he found Miller for a 54-yard touchdown on the third play of the half. The score marked Miller’s first touchdown since Ohio State lost to Clemson in the 2014 Orange Bowl.
The Ohio State defense responded by forcing a punt, but the Hokies pinned the ball at the Buckeyes’ own 3-yard line. The drive proved costly for Virginia Tech beyond the change of possession as Brewer was knocked out for the remainder of the game with an apparent collar bone injury.
Both offenses stalled until Virginia Tech running back J.C. Coleman fumbled at midfield late in the third quarter and Ohio State sophomore cornerback Eli Apple snagged the loose ball.
Miller quickly extended Ohio State’s lead as he took a direct snap 53 yards to the end zone on the first play of the ensuing drive, making it 28-17.
Less than 30 seconds later junior safety Tyvis Powell intercepted Virginia Tech backup quarterback Brenden Motley, keeping the momentum in Ohio State’s favor with a quarter to play. Jones scampered into the end zone to make it 35-17 after the Hokie turnover, paving the way for sophomore J.T. Barrett to enter the game with more than 10 minutes to play.
Barrett wasted no time making an impact, finding Thomas for a 26-yard touchdown on his first pass attempt of the game. Barrett started the first 12 games of the 2014-15 season before an ankle injury knocked him out for the rest of the year and Jones led the team to three straight postseason wins.
A late fumble from backup running back Bri’onte Dunn gave Virginia Tech its chance to score one last touchdown with less than two minutes on the clock.
Barrett finished the game with 66 total yards in relief while Elliott totaled 11 carries for 122 yards on the ground. Jones completed nine of his 18 pass attempts for 186 yards and carried the ball 13 times for 99 yards.
Sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley sparked the Ohio State defense with eight tackles and half a sack as the Buckeyes held Virginia Tech to less than five yards per play.
The Buckeyes are set to return to the field on Saturday for the 2015 home opener against Hawaii. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.