The opening weekend of college football is almost over, but the biggest game of the weekend has just about arrived between the defending national champion and preseason #1 Ohio State Buckeyes, and the only team that beat them in 2014, the Virginia Tech Hokies.
This game may be the biggest game ever in Blacksburg, and is definitely the most anticipated game to ever be played at Lane Stadium. Blacksburg is just about ready for its moment in the spotlight for the biggest sporting event on Labor Day Weekend.
Certain matchups could have a big impact on this game while others will be heavily watched by NFL scouts. Now, let’s take a look at the key matchups for the rematch.
OSU OT Taylor Decker vs. VT DE Dadi Nicolas
This is the main matchup that NFL scouts will have their eyes on as Dadi Nicolas and Taylor Decker both project to go in the top two rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft. Decker and Nicolas both have plenty of experience, and will know that they have a chance to impress in this matchup.
Decker is going to end his college career as a three-year starter and has the potential to be an All-Big 10 First Team player in 2015 after making the Second Team in 2014. Decker is a good athlete and also has tremendous size at 6’8” and 315 pounds.
Meanwhile, Nicolas is one of the top 10 defensive ends in college football, and the best defensive end in the ACC. Nicolas has the potential to have 10 to 12 sacks and 20+ total tackles for loss this season with the potential to earn a spot on some All-American second and third teams with a big year.
Nicolas is a very dangerous speed rusher that also has the ability to make a finesse move and cut back inside. With the talent on defensive line, Urban Meyer will likely leave Decker in one-on-one blocking with Nicolas given Decker’s experience and reputation.
Decker seems ready to have a solid game, but Nicolas will do some damage and get his fair share of pressure on whoever the quarterback is. However, the bigger thing is that Nicolas will do a good job of creating space for Deon Clarke to come regularly on the blitz and make some plays.
OSU WR Michael Thomas vs. VT CB Kendall Fuller
Michael Thomas is the one Ohio State wide receiver that isn’t suspended or injured, which means he will be the guy that is covered by Kendall Fuller. Fuller is going to be a top-half first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft if he stays healthy while Thomas is also showing the potential to go in the first round.
Thomas broke onto the scene last season with a solid season of 54 receptions for 799 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns, and an average of 14.8 yards per reception. Thomas also had his best game against Virginia Tech last season with 6 receptions for 98 receiving yards and a touchdown, but Thomas was also not covered by Fuller in that game.
Kendall Fuller is one of the top three defensive backs in all of college football along with Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves and Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey. Fuller was a Second Team All-American in 2014, and is already a frontrunner for not only the Jim Thorpe Award but also is a favorite to be a First Team All-American in what seems likely to be his last season in Blacksburg.
TE Bucky Hodges vs. OSU LBs/S
Bucky Hodges is a tremendous athlete with great size at 6’6” and a very impressive vertical that makes him one of the toughest guys to cover in college football. There may not be a player who can catch a football at a higher point than Hodges in the country, which makes him especially dangerous in the red zone.
Hodges is already seen as one of the top receiving tight ends in the country, and is seen as a contender to win the John Mackey Award this season. Hodges also received a spot on the 2015 Preseason All-ACC Team after having 45 receptions for 526 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns, and an average of 11.7 yards per reception.
Hodges has had some time to develop more this offseason as a route runner. Hodges has shown that he can do more than just get up and get the football as someone that knows how to use his size on passes over the middle to make tough catches whether it be on a five-yard slant or a 15-yard post route.
Figuring out who Ohio State will put on Hodges is tricky with the Buckeyes likely to rotate some safeties and linebackers on him. Safety Vonn Bell had 6 interceptions last season and is a talented safety that seems like a very good candidate to be All-Big 10 First Team. The issue with Bell is that he doesn’t have great size, but Bell will likely cover Hodges some.
Linebacker Joshua Perry also may be covering Hodges a lot with his size at 6’4” and just over 250 pounds. The question for Perry is whether he has the speed and enough of a vertical to do a good job, but Perry has shown some talent.
Bucky Hodges is going to be a tough guy for Ohio State to defend, and could be an x-factor that makes a big difference in the Virginia Tech passing game.