Virginia Tech Notebook: Ohio State's Third-Down Defense Struggles

By Tim Shoemaker on September 7, 2014 at 6:00 am
J.T. Barrett and Evan Spencer following Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech.

There was no distance that seemed to phase Virginia Tech's offense Saturday when the Hokies were put in a third-down situation.

Playing on the road in front of the largest-ever crowd at Ohio Stadium, Virginia Tech went 9 for 17 on third-down conversions, including a 7-for-10 effort in that category in the first half of a 35-21 win over Ohio State.

The Buckeyes had Virginia Tech in 3rd-and-long situations on multiple occasions, but behind transfer quarterback Michael Brewer, the Hokies wiggled their way out of trouble better than 50 percent of the time.

"That's something you never want as a defense is you get them to 3rd-and-long and they convert it," linebacker Joshua Perry said. "It's just something we've gotta tighten up. We've gotta look at what we're doing, see where we can make corrections and put it on everybody to do the responsibility."

Added co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell: "It's not like we weren't pressuring him. We were coming after him, hit him. They rolled the pocket on us, made some plays and ultimately that's what  killed us. It's not like they were 3rd-and-2, 3rd-and-3s. We're talking 3rd-and-8, 3rd-and-10, 3rd-and-12 — the ideal position you want to be in."

Lack of Running Game

Ohio State's plan to replace Carlos Hyde this season was to use its bevy of young, but talented running backs on a by-committee basis, but that strategy struggled in the loss to the Hokies.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett was the team's leading rusher, carrying the ball 24 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes' running backs, though, combined for just 53 yards on only 15 carries. Ohio State ran for only 103 yards on the ground as a team.

"Up front, they were playing a double eagle where they were covering our center and both guards and basically were playing Cover 0 behind it," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "It's damn near impossible (to run on it), so we had to find some ways to get to the speed option game and we did that there in the second half, got a little momentum back on our side, but we couldn't make the plays in the end."

Grading Barrett

Barrett's numbers against the Hokies don't look great as he was 9-for-29 passing for 219 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

He was under heavy pressure in almost every passing situation, but a completion percentage of 31 is simply not going to get it done.

Barrett's receivers certainly didn't help him out, either, as they contributed a number of drops. Most notably, Corey Smith had a sure-fire touchdown clunk right off his pads in the first half.

"Gutsy effort by our quarterback," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. "Obviously not good enough, but a quarterback is a product of those around him, and we all have to get better."

Receiver Woes

Outside of Michael Thomas, who had six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, Ohio State's receivers were virtually invisible for the majority of the night.

As noted above by Herman, the Hokies were in a Cover 0 for most of the game, with no safety over the top with press coverage from the corners. Virginia Tech challenged the Buckeye receivers to beat them in one-on-one situations.

For the majority of the game, the Hokies won those battles as Barrett only completed three passes to someone other than Thomas.

Devin Smith broke free for one deep pass, for 50 yards, and Dontre Wilson made a great grab on a 40-yard completion. But other than that, Smith's 23-yard catch was the only other completion. Smith was targeted often, but only had the one catch and had a couple of drops.

Meyer kept it simple when discussing the position, saying, "I don't think our wide receivers played well."

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