Chase Complete: The 'Albatross' of Virginia Tech

By Patrick Maks on January 27, 2015 at 1:20 pm
J.T. Barrett, Evan Spencer, and Devin Smith sing Carmen Ohio with deflated spirits.
Chase Complete: Recapping Ohio State's Improbable Title Run

Call it the perfect storm or comprehensive failure, Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech might go down as one of the weirdest events to program history. 

In what was supposed to be a showcase night for a renovated Ohio Stadium — which received a $13.7 million facelift that included the addition of permanent lights, 2,600 new seats in the south stands, new field turf and a swanky tunnel to run out — the Buckeyes sunk to perhaps their greatest nadir under the direction of head coach Urban Meyer in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a football game at the Horseshoe. 

After the game, Meyer said he "a little bit disappointed. I don't know, coaches don't get surprised, (they) get disappointed." He added: “We just have to do a better job. I know that sounds redundant or coach speak, but I'm not sure what else you say.” And considering how few expected a struggling Virginia Tech program to leave Columbus with a win, there wasn't much that could be done to justify what had happened less than an hour earlier. 

After a solid but seriously flawed win against Navy in Baltimore the weekend before, Ohio State was out-played and out-coached by a middling Hokies team that embarrassed their offense and frustrated their defense. 

The loss, which looked like it might capsize Ohio State's championship aspirations at the time, would later be known as an "albatross" according to the College Football Playoff selection committee. 

For as much as people get sick and tired of rehashing this hot September night, it's a critical moment to truly appreciate what the Buckeyes did in 2014 

  1 2 3 4 F
#8 OHIO STATE 7 0 7 7 21
VIRGINIA TECH 14 7 0 14 35

Player of the Game: Michael Thomas

Even looking back on this game almost five months later, it's still hard to pick a player who stood out on a night that was so spectacularly average for the Buckeyes.

With that said, wide receiver Michael Thomas was the lone bright for an offense that amassed 327 yards and ran the ball for only 108 yards on 40 attempts. 

Thomas, making his second start after redshirting the year before, caught six passes for 98 yards. In particular, Thomas's 53-yard catch and run for a touchdown late in the third quarter sparked a listless team back to life. After heading into halftime down, 21-7, the play was an electrifying burst that suddenly put Ohio State within a touchdown of tying a game that felt so out of reach. 

Also note: In his second start, J.T. Barrett, the redshirt freshman quarterback charged with replacing Braxton Miller, had 289 combined passing and rushing yards and two touchdowns in what Meyer called a "gutsy" performance. His three interceptions, however, doomed the Buckeyes.

"Obviously not good enough, but a quarterback is a product of those around him, and we all have to get better," Meyer said.

Linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry combined for 24 tackles and four tackles for loss, but Ohio State's inability to stop Virginia Tech on third down watered down such an effort. 

Critical Play of the Game: Michael Brewer's Touchdown Pass to Bucky Hodges in the Fourth Quarter to Go Up, 28-21

After falling into a 21-7 hole before halftime, Ohio State stormed back late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter to even the game up. And after Ezekiel Elliott scored on 15-yard run in which three or four defenders bounced off of him on his way to the end zone, the Buckeyes had momentum for the first time in the contest. 

With the din of the home crowd behind them, it appeared they might escape Virginia Tech and look back on the night as just a great scare. 

Instead, Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer, who finished the night with 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 23-of-36 attempts, engineered a backbreaking six-play, 65-yard march that lasted less than three minutes.  On second and goal, he dropped back and lobbed a 10-yard pass to Bucky Hodges, who snagged the ball over sophomore safety Vonn Bell.

It duly sucked the air out of an Ohio Stadium that had come back to life.

Now down, 28-21, midway through the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes unraveled. J.T. Barrett was sacked five times and threw an interception that was returned 43 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Donovan Riley.

The series was emblematic of a game in which Virginia Tech vexed Ohio State's offense and gutted its defense in converting 9-of-17 third down attempts. 

"They made some plays, we lost leverage, it’s not like we weren’t pressuring them: we were coming after them, hitting them," co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said after the game.

"They rolled the pocket a little bit and made some plays on us. Ultimately when you look back on that, that’s what killed us," he continued. "It’s not like the were third and two or third and threes, we’re talking third and eight, third and 10, third and 12 in the ideal position you’d want to be in. We didn’t execute.”

What it Meant

After the clock struck zero, Meyer jogged over to sing a sad and quiet rendition of Carmen Ohio with the team in front of the student section.

While Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech looked like it might derail any sort of hope of a national title, it was also a realization of its worst fears in life without star quarterback Braxton Miller, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury 12 days before the opener.

Before August, Columbus buzzed with talk of the Buckeyes making a run at the Big Ten championship and the sport's biggest prize. After Sept. 6, some wondered how many games the team would win without Miller at the helm.

Yet Meyer remained optimistic after the game. 

"We don't blame people. We just gotta get a lot better. And that starts tomorrow. We had a good meeting as a team. You really find out about people," he said.

And despite obvious defects, Meyer said, "I still have confidence."

"We have enough skill on this football team to get by people," he continued. "It didn't look like it, but we have to get by people or you're going to see what you saw today you'll see every week."

Players also offered hope. 

“It’s a long season, anything can happen. There’s a lot of games to be played across America and we just gotta wait and see," junior linebacker Joshua Perry said.

Curtis Grant, the senior linebacker and captain said the locker room after the game was "very quiet right now, but it’ll change tomorrow."

"Everybody’s hurting right now but if we live in the past, there’s no telling what could happen to us," he said, "but if we prepare for the future, we’ll be all right.”

Until the College Football Playoff selection committee chose Ohio State as its fourth and final team in the sport's first-ever postseason tournament of sorts, the Virginia Tech loss hovered over the team like a dark cloud. 

Even after the Buckeyes toppled No. 8 Michigan State in early November in East Lansing, questions over whether they should be considered among the sport's best lingered. 

Of course, they answered them emphatically in the postseason.

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