Questions surround Monday night’s matchup between No. 1 Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Who will play quarterback for the Buckeyes? Will the loss of four players, including Joey Bosa, lead to another Hokies upset over the Buckeyes, or just show the depth Ohio State has on its roster? And will science be able to measure just how loud Lane Stadium gets if the Hokies do pull the upset?
Like we said, lots of questions, but Andrea Adelson and Austin Ward offer up some answers.
Key to the Ohio State offense: The running game. Having two talented quarterbacks is nice, but what truly makes it a luxury for the Buckeyes is that either guy gets to hand off to Ezekiel Elliott and play behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines. Where Ohio State is truly most effective is on the ground, and now that Elliott is fully healthy, expect the attack to lean heavily on his size, speed and a stiff arm he’s been dying to unleash. -- Ward
Key to the Virginia Tech offense: Michael Brewer. It might sound simplistic, but Brewer is the biggest reason why the Hokies pulled the upset last year, at least on offense. He made a few mistakes, yes, but mostly he was resilient and made clutch plays in the most hostile environment in which he had ever played. With a better offensive line in front of him, a deep group of backs, two go-to receivers and a plethora of tight ends, Brewer has everything he needs to take command of the offense, limit his mistakes and make those clutch plays again. -- Adelson
Key to the Ohio State defense: Experience. There are some fresh faces up front, but everywhere else on the field there are veterans oozing with NFL potential who also now have the benefit of having played a year under co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s aggressive system. A loaded group of linebackers with playmakers Darron Lee, Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan is invaluable for the Buckeyes thanks to their ability to both stop the run and defend the pass. -- Ward.
Key to the Virginia Tech defense: The defensive backs. It might seem counterintuitive because the Virginia Tech front wreaked so much havoc in the victory last year, but the reason the Hokies were able to do that is because their defensive backs were able to play one-on-one so effectively. Kendall Fuller is the only sure thing at this point. Fellow cornerback Brandon Facyson is coming off injury, Chuck Clark is in a new position and Desmond Frye is making his first career start at rover. -- Adelson
Ohio State X-factor: Braxton Miller. He’s no longer a quarterback, but the version that is returning to the field after missing a full season because of injury might be even more useful for Ohio State as a wide receiver and H-back -- particularly in the opener with the unit missing three players to suspension and another to a broken leg. Miller is truly electrifying with the football in his hands, and the Buckeyes will no doubt be looking to get it there often in his new role. -- Ward
Virginia Tech X-factor: LB Andrew Motuapuaka. The Virginia Tech linebackers are a huge component to the success of the defense, and that is especially true for the man in the middle. Chase Williams played well against Ohio State last year. Now the charge falls to Motuapuaka, who started several games last year when Williams was hurt. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is high on the 6-foot, 223-pound Motuapuaka, but there is no doubt he is facing the biggest test of his career. -- Adelson
Predictions: The Buckeyes aren’t at full strength, they’re going on the road and they lost to the Hokies a year ago. But this team has more than enough talent to overcome a few suspensions. The Buckeyes typically thrive on the challenge away from home and that defeat last season might only add more fuel to the fire. None of that is encouraging for the Hokies, who are going to have their hands full with the defending champs. -- Ward
Virginia Tech already has the game plan to beat Ohio State, but what is going to be a huge factor here is the Hokies’ ability to match up really well against an improved Buckeyes offensive line. Having four players suspended and another out for the season is not exactly ideal for the defending champions, who will enter an intimidating atmosphere at Lane Stadium. Virginia Tech will keep it close with a strong defensive performance, but it just won’t be able to score enough to win. -- Adelson