The feeling was sickening. No player wants to feel unprepared. No coach wants to be surprised by an opponent's game plan. Yet that's what happened last year when Virginia Tech snookered Ohio State in the second game of the 2014 season.
The feeling was sickening.
No player wants to feel unprepared. No coach wants to be surprised by an opponent's game plan.
Yet, that's what happened last year when Virginia Tech snookered Ohio State in the second game of the 2014 season. Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster enhanced his reputation as one of college football's top defensive minds with his "Bear Zero" system used in a 35-21 upset of the Buckeyes.
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Foster didn't invent the Bear Zero. The Hokies used a variation of the aggressive system that Buddy Ryan used with the dominating 1985 Chicago Bears. Virginia Tech crowded the line of scrimmage, moved its safeties up to help against the run and relied on its cornerbacks to play man-to-man coverage with little or no help.
Its gamble paid dividends. Ohio State's inexperience at quarterback, offensive line and receiver was exposed. In only his second start, J.T. Barrett completed 9 of 29 passes, threw three interceptions and was sacked seven times. It was ugly.
If Ohio State struggles again on Monday night in Blacksburg, Va., it won't be because of a lack of preparation. A year ago, the Buckeyes had to spend much of their summer preparing for their opener against Navy, which uses the triple-option offense and some odd looks on defense.
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"Last year, we spent a lot of time mastering the triple-option in the first weeks of the (preseason)," safety Tyvis Powell said, "so it was tough to jump from that to a regular spread the next week. It has been nice to be able to focus on the type of offense we'll be seeing the most this season."
The top-ranked Buckeyes are confident that they will be prepared for whatever Foster throws at them this time. Coach Urban Meyer said the last time he remembers preparing as much for a season-opening opponent was his second year at Utah in 2004, when the Utes faced Texas A&M.
"Our focus has all been on this one," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes haven't been looking at just 2014 video of Virginia Tech.
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"Our coaches are looking at film from years ago," linebacker Joshua Perry said, "just to see what kind of wrinkles they've put in game plans before. You also take things that maybe hurt you last year and work on that because you know people are going to try to put that in their game plan for the first game."
Other 2014 opponents had little success in trying to replicate Virginia Tech's results with the Bear Zero against Ohio State. The element of surprise was gone, and the Buckeyes matured quickly.
Still, watching video of last year's game remains painful, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said.
"At the end of the day, though, it helped us in some ways evaluate our offensive philosophy, our offensive game-planning, preparation and practice habits," he said. "It allowed us to grow quickly and understand that we weren't maybe as good as we thought we were, or weren't where we needed to be. So we expedited and changed kind of our teaching and how we prepared, and it helped us grow in the long run."
First games always include surprises, and the Buckeyes expect Foster to try to catch them off guard again. But Ohio State plans new looks for the Hokies, as well.
"We've definitely got some wrinkles in there," Perry said. "We want to be really aggressive this year, and so we've found some new ways to do that.
"We've got really, really good players, great athletes who are confident in what they do and in the guys around them, so we'll be able to have some change-ups this year and hopefully be able to cause some confusion."