<
>

Learning from or repeating history? Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer vs. Ohio State's front

1h
Last season Michael Brewer found a way around Ohio State's talented defense despite only a rudimentary understanding of the offense. Greg Bartram/USA TODAY Sports

This week, Andrea Adelson and Austin Ward are taking look at the important position matchups that went Virginia Tech's way in its victory over Ohio State last year, and what has changed as they head into their rematch Monday night in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Matchup: Quarterback Michael Brewer vs. Ohio State defensive front

What happened last year: Bottom line: Brewer made plays like a boss. Virginia Tech was not exactly a well-oiled offensive machine when these two teams met last year. In just his second career start, Brewer recalled having only a rudimentary understanding of the offense. The Hokies ran basic pass plays, and relied heavily on tight ends Ryan Malleck (led the team with six catches for 64 yards) and Bucky Hodges (two catches, 21 yards, one TD), along with fullback Sam Rogers (five catches, 23 yards, one TD). Of his 23 completions, only nine went to wide receivers. The shaky offensive line did its best to protect him, but oftentimes Brewer was scrambling for his life. He did throw two interceptions but with the game tied in the fourth quarter, he engineered the go-ahead drive in six plays, hitting Hodges for the game-winning 10-yard score. Brewer ended up going 23-of-36 for 199 yards. Earlier this summer, he said, "The one thing we did was play together as a team. We made plays when we need to. As long as we can protect the football and make plays when we need to, we feel we have a chance to play with anybody in the country."

What is different this year: The Buckeyes may wind up with one of the most destructive defensive lines in the country this season, but they probably won’t look much like it in the opener with star pass-rusher Joey Bosa serving a one-game suspension. Ohio State will still have a potential first-round draft pick anchoring the unit at defensive tackle with Adolphus Washington back for another season, and either Tommy Schutt or Joel Hale will bring some veteran experience next to him in the trenches, but the edge spots will belong to first-time starters making debuts in a hostile situation. Urban Meyer has recruited extremely well up front, and Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes all have the tools to keep the Ohio State defense humming along without its most productive player, but there’s at least a chance Brewer could be getting a slight break as he tries to duplicate last year’s upset. The Buckeyes can still blitz aggressively with linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, but if the Hokies can find a way to slow down the defensive front, perhaps Brewer will be able to make some smart decisions and avoid costly turnovers like the 15 interceptions he tossed last season.

OSU X factor: Sam Hubbard. Since arriving on campus a year ago, Hubbard has moved from safety to linebacker to tight end -- and 35 pounds of muscle later, he’s found a home at defensive end. Bosa has been like a big brother to the versatile, athletic Hubbard, and the mentor has been feeding tips to his protege throughout training camp to make sure he’s ready to take over his spot while he serves his suspension. The two have similar body types, both have been praised for their relentless energy on the field and Hubbard has the potential to a be a Bosa-like disruptor coming off the edge -- all he lacks is experience, but that is obviously coming soon enough.

Virginia Tech X factor: Center Eric Gallo. The Hokies return what should be a much improved offensive line, but their most inexperienced player is at center, where Gallo has played in three career games. For the Hokies to pull the upset again, they are going to have to play much better than they did a year ago because the Ohio State front is fierce -- even with Joey Bosa on the sideline.