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No. 13 Virginia Tech returns to Lane Stadium this Saturday when they host the Old Dominion Monarchs. The Hokies are 3-0 on the season and looking to improve to 4-0 in hopes of hosting College Gameday before their 8 p.m. primetime game with No. 2 Clemson. Meanwhile, ODU is 2-1 on the season, and they want to spring the biggest upset in school history.
Head coach Bobby Wilder has done a great job at ODU, guiding them to the FCS playoffs twice before making the move to the FBS ranks. Last season, he coached the Monarchs to a 10-3 record, including a 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. There are worse places to go for your first bowl game in school history. ODU also finished in a tie for first place in the East division of Conference USA last season.
Overall, Wilder is 69-31 as Old Dominion’s head coach. As a start up program, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing as well as the Monarchs have done since they started their program in 2009.
So far, the 2017 season has been a little bit different than usual. Old Dominion is 2-1, but their usually-prolific offense has struggled. They are generally a team that puts up a lot of points, but here is how their first three games have gone…
31-17 win vs. Albany
17-7 win at Massachusetts
53-23 loss vs. North Carolina
This season is likely to be much less successful than 2016 for the Monarchs, because of injuries on offense and a dropoff at the quarterback position.
Offensive Injuries Could Derail ODU’s Season
Old Dominion is a well-coached football, but they have had some serious injury difficulties to start the season.
WR Jonathan Duhart, broken foot: 48 catches, 735 yards, nine touchdowns in 2016, Preseason All-Conference USA
RB Ray Lawry, torn hamstring: 200 carries, 1,255 yards, 11 touchdowns in 2016, Preseason All-Conference USA
RT Chad Hendricks, knee surgery: Started since he was a redshirt-freshman (currently a r-Jr.)
TE Melvin Vaughn, knee surgery: Starting tight end, 22 catches last season
The Monarchs are missing four of their best players on the offensive side of the ball, and that will crush the hopes and dreams of just about any offense.
Old Dominion is entering its fourth season in Conference USA, and as a newcomer to the FBS ranks, they don’t have the depth throughout the program to account for such losses. Their defense performed well in the first two games of the season, and it will have to perform well all season for the Monarchs to qualify for their second consecutive bowl game.
A 17-Year Old Quarterback
Steven Williams Jr. (6-foot-4, 196 pounds, Fr.) will make his first career start on Saturday against the Hokies. He is a 17-year old true-freshman who played in his first college game last week against North Carolina. He outperformed older players such as Blake LaRussa (5-foot-11, 189 pounds, r-So.) and Jordan Hoy (6-foot-1, 195 pounds, So.), and Wilder named him the starting quarterback after last weekend’s loss to North Carolina. Here’s a statistical comparison between the three…
Williams: 9-of-20 (45 percent), 139 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions
LaRussa: 28-of-48 (58.3 percent), 358 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions
Hoy: 8-of-19 (42.1 percent), 73 yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions
Wilder believes that Williams gave the team a spark in the second half of the UNC game, and he seems committed to going with the young true-freshman as his starter.
Personally, I don’t know if that is the right decision for this particular week. At the age of 17, Williams will go into Lane Stadium in his first career start. He’ll be facing Bud Foster’s defense for the first time, and he’ll be missing his top receiver, a 1,200-yard rusher, his starting tight end and his starting right tackle. Williams is left-handed, which means that starting right tackle Chad Hendricks would be protecting his blindside. That task now falls to Darius Garcia (6-foot-3, 331 pounds, r-Sr.), who is built more like an offensive guard.
If I’m Wilder, I’d want Williams to have confidence for the rest of the season. I’m not sure that throwing him to the wolves in Lane Stadium while surrounded by a banged up offense is the best way to build confidence. It will likely be a long afternoon for him. On the other hand, it will definitely be his greatest challenge of the season. Everybody else on ODU’s schedule presents much less of a challenge defensively.
Cox the Top Ball-Carrier
Since the loss of Ray Lawry in the season opener, the Monarchs heave leaned heavily on tailback Jeremy Cox (5-foot-11, 217 pounds, Jr.). He currently leads Old Dominion in rushing, and he’s also tied for the team lead in receptions. There aren’t too many guys across the country who can lay that claim.
Here are his season numbers…
Rushing: 53 carries, 158 yards, 3.0 ypc, zero touchdowns
Receiving: 10 catches, 100 yards, 10 ypc, zero touchdowns
There’s only one little problem with Cox’s productivity. On the whole, it’s not very impressive. Three yards per carry is not good, and he’s yet to create explosive plays for the Monarch offense. While he might be touching the football a lot, he doesn’t seem to be doing much with it.
Not all of that is Cox’s fault, of course. Old Dominion only averages 3.5 yards per carry as a team. With subpar quarterback play and so many injured starters, this is not a difficult offense to stop right now.
The Monarchs played their first football game as a reboot program in 2009. They began playing FBS football in 2013, and they joined Conference USA in 2014. They are still a very young program, and their overall talent level still isn’t where they want it to be.
Only three players on ODU’s entire roster had an offer from an ACC school.
DT Miles Fox (Lawrenceville, GA): Georgia Tech (also Iowa)
CB Jamez Brickhouse (Virginia Beach, VA): Duke and UVA (also Wisconsin)
S Christian Byrum (Virginia Beach, VA): Duke, NC State and Syracuse (also Wisconsin)
(Trivia: What do all three of those guys have in common? They were all recruited by current Virginia Tech running backs coach Zohn Burden. Burden is a well-known guy across the state. He actually recruited Andrew Motuapuaka at two different schools…Richmond and ODU.)
Wilder has done a great job with the ODU program, but a talent discrepancy is almost always on display whenever they play an ACC or Power 5 team.
2013 Maryland: 47-10 loss
2013 Pitt: 35-24 loss
2013 UNC: 80-20 loss
2014 NC State: 46-34 loss
2015 NC State: 38-14 loss
2016 NC State: 49-22 loss
2017 UNC: 53-23 loss
Average score: 49-21
Even if you throw out the ridiculous 80-point performance by UNC in 2013, Power 5 opponents are averaging 43.7 points per game against the Monarchs, and every opponent has beaten them by double digits.
The talent discrepancy shows up in the defensive stats when you compare each of ODU’s three games in 2017.
Albany (FCS): 275 yards allowed, 2.8 yards per carry
Massachusetts : 332 yards allowed, 2.2 yards per carry
UNC: 511 yards allowed, 5.2 yards per carry
The Old Dominion defense was very strong against FCS Albany and a bad UMass team, and they combined for 15 sacks in those two games. As a result, they are tied for first in the country in sacks on the season. However, they were torched by the UNC offense in all phases, and they recorded just one sack against the Tar Heels.
Youth at Linebacker
Like just about everybody else, Old Dominion plays five defensive backs in an effort to better match up with modern spread offenses. They have just two linebackers on the field at a time. Their entire group of linebackers, as a whole, is perhaps the most inexperienced group of players I’ve seen at one position since I began doing game previews for TechSideline.com back in 2005.
Here’s a screenshot of ODU’s official linebacker depth chart…
With the exception of Marvin Branch Jr. and Terez Dickson (who is fifth at his respective position), every Monarch linebacker is a redshirt-freshman or a true-freshman. Even Branch is in his first season as a starter.
Misdirection is a key to Virginia Tech’s offense, perhaps the key to Virginia Tech’s offense. In the past, inexperienced linebackers have responded poorly while facing Tech’s offense. I’m specifically thinking of the Miami game last season, in which the ‘Canes started three true-freshmen at linebacker. It seems likely that the Hokies will be able to exploit the ODU linebacker corps on Saturday.
Though they are 2-1 thus far, the advanced stats show that Old Dominion has some serious issues as a football team. Even the scores say as much. They put up fewer than 300 yards in a 31-17 win over FCS Albany, and they only beat 0-4 UMass 17-7 behind a late fourth quarter touchdown. They were then blown out by UNC by 30 at home (yes, UNC played at Old Dominion, in case you missed that above). Virginia Tech is certainly better than Albany and UMass, and they appear to be better than the Tar Heels at this stage as well.
The advanced stats indicate that the Monarchs don’t stand much of a chance against the Hokies.
S&P+ overall: No. 100
S&P+ offense: No. 99
S&P+ defense: No. 85
S&P+ special teams: No. 52
Offensive Efficiency: No. 120
Offensive Explosiveness: No. 43
Offensive Field Position: No. 84
Offensive Finishing Drives: No. 93
Defensive Efficiency: No. 57
Defensive Explosiveness: No. 73
Defensive Field Position: No. 84
Defensive Finishing Drives: No. 116
Turnover Margin: No. 106
Let’s see how that compares to Virginia Tech…
S&P+ overall: No. 25
S&P+ offense: No. 67
S&P+ defense: No. 13
S&P+ special teams: No. 47
Offensive Efficiency: No. 57
Offensive Explosiveness: No. 32
Offensive Field Position: No. 12
Offensive Finishing Drives: No. 83
Defensive Efficiency: No. 36
Defensive Explosiveness: No. 109
Defensive Field Position: No. 6
Defensive Finishing Drives: No. 17
Turnover Margin: No. 5
Outside of allowing big plays on the defensive side of the ball, Virginia Tech has been better than Old Dominion across the board. The S&P+ ratings have the Hokies beating the Monarchs by 21 points this week, while Tech is favored by anywhere from 27.5 to 29 in Vegas. That sounds about right to me.
I can’t foresee Old Dominion giving the Hokies much trouble this week. Even if Tech is caught peeking ahead a bit, when you consider the fact that the Monarchs have so many offensive injuries and they will be starting a 17-year old true-freshman quarterback, I can’t see this game being particularly close, much less see ODU winning it.
I’m sure Steven Williams will turn out to be an excellent player for the Monarchs, and probably sooner rather than later. But I don’t see him being effective in Lane Stadium against Bud Foster’s defense with no running game support and his top receiver on the shelf. I think it’s going to be a long afternoon for him.
There’s no question that Old Dominion’s players will be fired up to play this football game. All of the in-state kids will have a chip on their shoulder, because none of them were offered by the Hokies. By my count, there are 54 in-state players on ODU’s roster. Could that type of emotion play a factor? Perhaps, maybe early in the game. But I don’t think it can hold up over the course of four quarters, or even a half, before Virginia Tech’s talent takes over.
I see the Virginia Tech defense dominating the ODU offense, and while I don’t see the Hokies putting up 64 points again, I think they’ll put up enough to get a comfortable win.
Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Old Dominion 13
Will Stewart’s Take: This is an interesting matchup. I agree with Chris that ODU’s linebacker corps is likely to struggle against Tech’s misdirection. I have no clue how ODU’s defensive line is going to fare against Tech’s offensive line, but ODU has piled up 16 sacks without much blitzing, admittedly with most of them coming against inferior competition.
On the other side of the ball, I think ODU’s offensive game plan with Steven Williams at QB is going to be simple: one read, then run. It will surprise me if the Monarchs’ tepid rushing attack musters anything against Virginia Tech, but Williams breaking the pocket could be a problem. His stats against UNC were six carries for 34 yards (5.7 ypc) and one sack for a 14 yard loss. But I think that will be the game plan against VT, to try to pick up scrambling yards against Tech’s defense. So pay attention to how Tech defends the “one read and then run” attack I anticipate ODU will use.
It’s possible ODU could put up a good fight for a while, as the Tech coaches analyze what the Monarchs are doing and then adjust. But I think that ultimately, the Hokies are going to wear ODU down, probably as much (or more) mentally than physically.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Old Dominion 10
Ricky LaBlue’s Take: Virginia Tech ransacked East Carolina last weekend, and it got me to thinking — maybe Chris was right when he said the Pirates are one of the worst teams on Tech’s 2017 schedule.
Because of that, I don’t think Virginia Tech will drop 60-plus on the Monarchs, but it should be a rather comfortable win. Old Dominion is a MASH unit on offense, and I have little doubt that defensive coordinator Bud Foster will terrorize Steven Williams. That being said, the Hokies did give up 17 points to East Carolina.
In all, this will be a rather comfortable win on a rather beautiful day. Once this game is over, we can focus on the game everyone has had circled on the calendar.
Ricky’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 48, Old Dominion 17