It’s almost time. Can you feel it?
Ohio State kicks off the 2015 season in Blacksburg tomorrow night against the only team it couldn’t eventually bend to its will in 2014. Both the Buckeyes and Virginia Tech Hokies return a lot from the lineups that took the field in Columbus last season.
Among those players and the new ones replacing those who either departed or are unavailable for tomorrow night will be several intriguing players that may bear watching in particular. Here are three from each team that I’ll have my eye on:
Braxton Miller, H-Back
One of the players who wasn’t available for last year’s match-up, Miller is back for his senior season at a new position. The former starting quarterback brings his athleticism to the H-back role and it will be interesting to see how he does in his first college game as a non-quarterback. Miller’s running ability is well known, but will he be able to catch the ball against an aggressive Virginia Tech defense on the national stage in his first game at the position?
Tyquan Lewis, Defensive End
Filling the hole left behind by Steve Miller is Lewis, a sophomore from Tarboro, NC, who has shown signs of being an explosive player. He’ll certainly need to be tomorrow night, with Joey Bosa suspended for the opener. Virginia Tech will want to test Ohio State’s defensive line and Lewis will need to be disruptive. I’ll also be watching the guys filling in for Bosa—sophomore Jalyn Holmes and freshman Sam Hubbard.
Chase Farris, Right Tackle
The lone new starter on the offensive line will need to get up to speed quickly. Virginia Tech likes to quickly get its defensive linemen into gaps, disrupt the offensive line’s flow and gain a numbers advantage with filling linebackers and safeties. It worked last year against a Slobs unit that was just finding its feet. Now it’s a veteran unit and a strength of the team, but the line is only as strong as its weakest unit. Farris has big shoes to fill and he’ll start with a tall task against the Hokies.
Kendall Fuller, Cornerback
Lauded as one of the best defensive backs in college football, Fuller typically plays the boundary corner. In this game, however, he may be tasked with following Mike Thomas all over the field and taking Ohio State’s top receiving threat out of the game. Fuller and Thomas will likely each be facing the best individual opponent they’ll see all season. This is a one-on-one match-up which gives a big advantage to whoever can win it for their team. Fuller will also come on the blitz. He had a nine-yard sack in last year’s meeting.
Ryan Malleck/Bucky Hodges, Tight End
Virginia Tech burned Ohio State with passes to the tight end last season. Malleck and Hodges combined for eight receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Covering tight ends has long been one of the weaknesses of the Buckeye defense. Can Luke Fickell and Chris Ash lock down Malleck and Hodges and force Michael Brewer to look elsewhere?
Andrew Motuapuaka, Middle Linebacker
Tech’s Mike linebacker will be tasked with diagnosing Ohio State’s running game and running downhill into the correct gaps. If he does it well, the Buckeyes may be outnumbered at the point of attack on rushing plays and could struggle to move the ball against the aggressive Hokies’ front seven. However, if he is slow to read the play or takes a bad angle, Ezekiel Elliott, J.T. Barrett and others could have success on the ground and open up the passing game for play action.
There are plenty of talented and explosive players on both teams, but these are the ones I’ll be paying most attention to. Who will you be looking at when shoe meets leather Monday night at Lane Stadium?
It’s almost time. Can you feel it?