Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy drew eye rolls and chuckles when he guaranteed the Hokies would go into Columbus and beat Ohio State last year.
Maddy and his teammates have stayed away from the guarantees going into their Monday night (8 ET, ESPN) showdown in Blacksburg, Virginia, but the confidence level remains the same. Everybody inside the Virginia Tech locker room believes they will do what many have deemed unthinkable and stun the Buckeyes again.
They already have done it once -- on the road no less -- with their 35-21 upset in September 2014. Nobody outside their circle thought it was possible last year, and even fewer believe it this year. Indeed, Virginia Tech is a bigger underdog at home than it was on the road in 2014.
Of course, much has changed since the Hokies beat the Buckeyes last season. Ohio State not only ran the table and won the national championship, it found two quarterbacks capable of leading their team to a repeat.
Coach Urban Meyer said he will not announce whether Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett will start, and well, that means nothing to defensive coordinator Bud Foster. He anticipates seeing both quarterbacks, possibly even Braxton Miller out of the Wildcat.
“Our plan does not change,” Foster told reporters last week.
Virginia Tech faced Barrett last year in what was a forgettable performance for both the then-freshman quarterback and the Buckeyes' offensive line. Foster ran various formations that placed a heavy emphasis on winning in the trenches and loading up the box to eliminate the run threat Barrett possessed.
Barrett ended up carrying the ball a season-high 24 times, although seven were technically sacks. He averaged 2.9 yards per carry, the constant pressure forced him into mistakes in the passing game, and Virginia Tech played terrific one-on-one coverage.
Barrett completed just 31 percent of his passes (9-of-29, 219 yards) and threw three interceptions. After Barrett got hurt in the regular-season finale against Michigan, the Buckeyes turned to Jones. Though he has the ability to truck defenders, they did not use him nearly as much in the run game. Part of the reason is they didn’t have to, as Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a dominant workhorse.
Still, Jones is known as a better passer, and that could put more pressure on a Virginia Tech secondary that is less experienced than it was a year ago. Kendall Fuller, a preseason All-American, is the only known commodity. Brandon Facyson is coming off a leg injury; Desmond Frye is making his first career start at rover; Chuck Clark has shifted from cornerback to safety.
When asked how close to 100 percent Facyson is, coach Frank Beamer did not exactly give a ringing endorsement.
“We'll know more after a game like Ohio State, where you've got to cover some great people. You've got to make some tackles,” Beamer said. “You've got to get singled up a little bit. You've got to make a tackle.”
Facyson was beaten on several big plays last year against Ohio State, a harbinger of things to come for the Virginia Tech defense. The Hokies gave up 48 pass plays that gained 20 yards or more and 21 of 30 yards or more, their highest totals going back to 2010.
Ohio State, of course, had a knack for making those plays throughout last season -- no matter who played quarterback. Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray told reporters that the Hokies might play more zone in their matchup this year to “mix it up a little bit.” It could also be a way to try to avoid giving up as many big plays.
Whether it is Barrett or Jones or Miller, expect Foster to load up the box and trust his defensive backs to get the job done.
Same as last year.
Time will only tell whether that plan guarantees another win.