The largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history fell silent in the final minute Saturday night. You could have heard a pass drop — and plenty did.
J.T. Barrett completed only nine passes. Ohio State receivers dropped a number of balls. Virginia Tech’s defense kept more balls from hitting the turf by intercepting Barrett three times, twice as he tried to drive the Buckeyes for the tying score in the final minutes.
The passing game’s poor numbers stand out as the No. 1 reason the Buckeyes lost 35-21 to the unranked Hokies in front of a crowd of 107,517, but there is a long list of reasons OSU suffered its first loss in a home opener since 1978. Here are three of them:
• Barrett’s night: Sacked seven times, the redshirt freshman was on the run all night He completed 9 of 29 passes for 219 yards. His season completion percentage fell from 80 percent — he was 12 of 15 against Navy in week one — to 47.7.
Considering Virginia Tech rushed five players at Barrett on 79 percent of his dropback passes, according to ESPN, he was lucky he walked out of the Horseshoe in one piece. Navy blitzed Barrett 23.5 percent of the time.
Virginia Tech played a zero coverage defense, OSU coach Urban Meyer said, meaning they sent a bunch of defenders after Barrett and left their cornerbacks exposed. Had the Buckeyes been able to hit a few more long passes — and they did have a few — the Hokies would have had to change their defense.
That’s one reason Meyer spread the blame for Barrett’s numbers.
“I don’t think our wide receivers played well,” Meyer said. “We dropped a touchdown early in the game. You start hitting some of those like we did, it puts them in the zone coverage. … Gutsy effort by our quarterback. Obviously not good enough, but a quarterback is a product of those around him, and we all have to get better.
• Special teams: Freshman kicker Sean Nuernberger made his only two field-goal attempts against Navy but missed two in the first half against Virginia Tech. The first, from 40 yards, sailed wide left. The second, from 27 yards, hit the left upright.
“It set us back a bit,” Meyer said.
Punter Cameron Johnston also had a 24-yard punt in the first quarter that allowed Virginia Tech to start a drive at the Ohio State 43-yard line. The Hokies took advantage and scored the first touchdown of the game on a 2-yard rush by Shai McKenzie.
• Defensive errors: The Hokies converted 9 of 17 third downs. Maybe the biggest one came early in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State had all the momentum after turning a turnover into the game-tying touchdown — a 15-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. Virginia Tech faced third-and-7 at its own 38-yard line on the next possession, but Eli Apple was called for pass interference. Four plays later, the Hokies had the lead for good on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Michael Brewer to Bucky Hodges.
Brewer completed 23 of 36 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It was hard to get to the quarterback since (Brewer) was getting the ball out so quickly,” linebacker Curtis Grant said. “We were coming, but it was hard to get to him when it felt like he was getting the ball out after three seconds.”
The Buckeyes, who fell to No. 18 in the Amway coaches poll and No. 22 in the Associated Press media poll, suffered their first regular-season loss under Meyer after 25 straight victories. They can start a new streak Saturday with a win against Kent State, which has lost 17-14 to Ohio and 23-13 to South Alabama in its first two games.
“It’s a long season and anything can happen,” OSU linebacker Joshua Perry said. “There are a lot of games to be played across America, so we have to wait and see. We have to play Buckeye football and, if we do that, we will put ourselves in a situation for something. We don’t know what it is yet, but we’re hoping.”
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