By Jim Naveau
BLACKSBURG, Va. – For almost a week, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he was leaning toward playing two quarterbacks, so it was no surprise when he did in No. 1 Ohio State’s 42-24 win over Virginia Tech on Monday night.
The surprise was that he played three.
Months of suspense ended when Cardale Jones jogged on to the field as the starting quarterback instead of J.T. Barrett for Ohio State’s first series.
It was the end of 19 months of quarterback waiting that took center stage in the Buckeyes’ win, though, when Braxton Miller reminded people of what he used to do before two shoulder surgeries put him on the shelf.
Miller caught two passes for 78 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown catch that gave Ohio State the lead for good, at 21-17 early in the second half, against a Virginia Tech team that had rebounded nicely after falling behind 14-0.
But it was what Miller did while running the football from the quarterback position that produced the signature move of the game.
With OSU’s lead still only 21-17, Miller lined up at quarterback and made it feel like it was 2013 again when he went 53 yards, including a spin move that left two defenders grabbing nothing but air, for a score that made it 28-17 with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
And after the lead grew to 35-17, Barrett came on to throw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas to make it 42-17.
“I would like to say this, “I love Braxton Miller,’ ” Meyer said. “He was very emotional in the locker room. He has ridiculous athletic ability.”
He said the competition between Jones and Barrett came down to thinking that Jones ended last season as the starter and Barrett would have to beat him out for the job, but didn’t.
“It was very close. We met during the journey in training camp. Cardale was ahead, but J.T. closed it. Cardale finished the season as the starter and I figured he had to get beat and he didn’t. But it was real close,” Meyer said.
He also said he thought the 250-pound Jones’ size would allow him to run the ball better against Virginia Tech’s strong defensive line.
“Both guys handled it great. They said, ‘Whatever we can do to help the team,” Meyer said.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, “They’re a great football team. I guess that goes without saying. I still like our team but there is work to do. We gave up too many long plays tonight, there was lack of execution. We’ve got work to do but give them credit. They’re good but we can get better.”
OSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead with 6:52 left in the first quarter on a 24-yard touchdown throw from Jones to Curtis Samuel and an 80-yard run by Ezekiel Elliott.
But after that, the first half became a struggle for the Buckeyes, who turned the ball over twice, which led to 10 Virginia Tech points.
An interception on a tipped ball led to a field goal and a fumble by Elliott on a punt return allowed the Hokies to take a 17-14 lead at halftime on a 1-yard pass from quarterback Michael Brewer to tight end Ryan Malleck with 15 seconds left in the first half.
A little over a minute after Miller’s touchdown catch put Ohio State up 21-17, the momentum swung even more to the Buckeyes’ side when Brewer went down with a broken collarbone after he landed hard on his left shoulder after a huge hit by Adolphus Washington.
His injury forced Virginia Tech to play the rest of the game with Brenden Motley, who had attempted three passes in his career before Monday night, at quarterback.
Turnovers also played a role for OSU in the second half. Miller’s rushing TD was set up when Jalyn Holmes forced a fumble and Eli Apple recovered it. And OSU’s fifth touchdown was preceded by an interception by Tyvis Powell.
Jones was 9 of 18 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 99 yards on 13 carrries and scored a touchdown. Elliott has 122 yards on 11 carries.
For Virginia Tech, Brewer was 11 of 16 for 156 yards and two TDs.
Ohio State totaled 572 yards, including 360 yards rushing. After allowing seven sacks in a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech last season, the Buckeyes did not give up one this season. Virginia Tech had 320 yards total offense but gained only 77 yards in the last 26 1/2 minutes of the game after Brewer had to leave the game.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.