Virginia Tech pulled the upset Saturday at The Horseshoe.
Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer (12) celebrates after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 35-21at Ohio Stadium. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)
(C+P) — The majority of prognostications prior to this season sided on the theory that inexperience would prevent Virginia Tech from regaining the 10-win form that Frank Beamer and the Hokies fan base is accustomed to seeing.
But a 21-year-old redshirt junior, with a bachelor’s degree in hand, has in short order given much-needed intelligence to Tech’s offense and has made his new team a more complete one.
After connecting on nearly 77 percent of his passes in a season-opening victory against William & Mary, Michael Brewer proved he was up to the much more daunting challenge of facing Ohio State in Columbus. He led the Hokies to a 35-21 victory and put an end to the Buckeyes’ 25-game regular season winning streak.
It also marked the first time in nearly 10 years that Tech won a road contest against a top-10 opponent. Under Beamer, the Hokies were just 3-23 in that type of a scenario.
In pulling off the unlikely victory, Brewer didn’t post the same numbers he did the previous Saturday, an easy 34-9 decision over an FCS opponent from nearby Williamsburg. Instead, he took OSU’s best shots—sometimes literally. He was calm amidst the pressure of 107,000-plus fans and was rarely fazed despite key turnovers that would unravel less certain quarterbacks.
“I like him,” Beamer said. “I really like him. … I think he’s a confidence builder for our whole football team.”
Brewer was 23-for-36 passing. Several of those completions were on third-down situations. Two of those conversions came with the Hokies offense backed up near their own end zone with the looming potential of handing the Buckeyes prime field position and a heap of momentum.
“They made plays when they needed to,” said Ohio State sophomore safety Vonn Bell. “We need to make plays to get off the field when we have to get to ball to the offense in those types of situations.”
Neither two interceptions, nor an Ohio State TD with 11:40 remaining in the fourth quarter which knotted the game at 21 apiece prevented Tech and its signal-caller from holding control of the contest.
“This was one of those games where we knew there was going to be a lot of ups and downs,” Brewer said. “We talked all week about how you’ve got to ride through the waves. Don’t get too high; don’t get too low, because whoever can stay level-headed and keep plugging away consistently throughout the game is going to win this game. I feel like we did a good job of that.”
Following that Buckeye score, the Hokies countered with a six-play drive similar to most of the other successful ones that they had put together that evening—combining a mixture of pass and run plays in a smartly conceived game plan from second-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and a well-managed effort by Brewer. The march ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Bucky Hodges with 8:44 left.
“The balance is amazing,” said freshman wide receiver Isaiah Ford. “We think we can perform well under pressure and now we have an offense that can balance us out and put points on the board.”
But the victory still wouldn’t have been made possible without the equally impressive efforts of the defense, which sealed the win when Donovan Riley took an ill-fated throw from T.J. Barrett with less than a minute remaining and returned the interception 63 yards to pay dirt. In all, defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s group limited Barrett to just nine completions (in 29 attempts) and yielded the OSU running backs to gain just 58 yards on the ground.
Thanks to Foster’s strong defense and Brewer having a firm grasp of the offense, the Hokies have gone from rebuilding to likely now being the favorite in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
That’s quite a statement, considering the team has played 10 true freshmen and its new star quarterback has barely gotten accustomed to Blacksburg.
Brewer spent his past college days at Texas Tech, where he was a backup in Lubbock for two seasons. Prior to that he played his high school football in the Lone Star State and even beat Johnny Manziel in the 2010 playoffs, rushing (192) and passing (248) for 440 yards in a 48-42 win for Lake Travis, en route to a state championship.
He finally got an opportunity to start for the Red Raiders heading into the 2013 campaign under new head coach Kliff Kingsbury. But a cracked vertebra in his back during summer camp all but ended those chances.
By the winter, Brewer intended to move on. It would have made perfect sense for him to transfer locally, especially to the University of Texas. After all, his father and grandfather both played under center for the Longhorns. But Kingsbury refused to release him to Texas or fellow Big 12 program Texas Christian, forcing Brewer to look elsewhere. It took former high school coach (and current Clemson offensive coordinator) Chad Morris to convince him to look at Virginia Tech.
He would arrive there in late May. He earned the starting quarterback spot shortly prior to the start of the season as the man to fill the shoes of the now-graduated Logan Thomas. And after just two games, Brewer’s talent and toughness has earned him celebrity status in Blacksburg and leadership status on a team that is continuing to mature.