Virginia Tech Travels To Old Dominion

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Virginia Tech is busy preparing for Old Dominion. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

No. 10 Virginia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC) will head to Norfolk for an in-state matchup with Old Dominion (0-3) this Saturday at 3:30pm.  Monarch fans were excited when this series was announced, but the first meeting last year ended with a 38-0 Virginia Tech victory in Blacksburg, and ODU’s start to the 2018 season does nothing to indicate that this meeting will be any more competitive.

A Tough Start For ODU

Old Dominion has struggled on both sides of the ball through their first three games.  They have failed to gain 400 yards of offense in all three games, while their defense hasn’t been up to par, despite their experience level. 

Let’s take a quick look at their previous three games.  I’ll include the score for each game, and the total yards for each team.

Game 1: Liberty 52, ODU 10.  Liberty 591 yards, ODU 301 yards
Game 2: FIU 28, ODU 20.  FIU 489 yards, ODU 396 yards
Game 3: Charlotte 28, ODU 25.  Charlotte 373 yards, ODU 338

The Monarchs have the excuse that they are still building their program.  This is only their sixth season since they moved to FCS in 2013, after restarting their program from scratch in 2009.  However, two of those other teams have similar excuses.  Charlotte started their program from scratch and did not begin playing games until 2013.  They went 1-10 last season, to ODU’s 5-7.  Liberty has had a program for a long time, but this is only their first season playing FCS football. 

ODU started out ahead of both of those programs, but they’ve somehow fallen behind.  This isn’t a very good football team right now.  The program started out so well under Bobby Wilder, but it has since taken a step back.

2013: 8-4 (Independent)
2014: 6-6 (CUSA)
2015: 5-7 (CUSA)
2016: 10-3 (CUSA), Bahamas Bowl (W)
2017: 5-7 (CUSA)
2018: 0-3 (CUSA)

There wasn’t much confidence in the Monarchs before the season began, as they were picked sixth in Conference USA East.  Charlotte was picked seventh, but since they’ve already beaten ODU, it’s very possible that the Monarchs could be on their way to a dead-last finish this year.

By The Numbers

FootballOutsiders.com has not released advanced stats for this season as of yet, so we’ll be relying on traditional stats for this preview.  Here are ODU’s offensive and defensive numbers…

Rushing offense: No. 114 (out of 130)
Passing offense: No. 71
Total offense: No. 109

Bobby Wilder hopes that a new running back will turn the running game around.  More on that running back later.

Rushing defense: No. 104
Passing defense: No. 110
Total defense: No. 119

Through the first three games, including against recent start up program Charlotte and first-year FBS program Liberty, Old Dominion’s defense has been one of the worst in the country.

Here are Virginia Tech’s numbers in comparison…

Rushing offense: No. 41
Passing offense: No. 61
Total offense: No. 46

The Hokies haven’t been dominant, but they look improved, and for the most part they have been balanced.

Rushing defense: No. 5
Passing defense: No. 81
Total defense: No. 19

Tech’s pass defense hasn’t been great, in terms of the traditional stat, but the Hokies are young at cornerback and linebacker, and almost everywhere else on defense as well.  One concerning stat is that opponents are completing 61.5% of their passes against the Hokies.  That number was 48.6% a year ago.  That’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Virginia Tech certainly has the statistical advantage heading into this game.

Experience Level

Old Dominion is struggling despite fielding a very experienced team.  Here are some notes on their experience.

  • ODU starts seven seniors on defense
  • ODU’s defensive line features four senior starters.
  • Five seniors start on offense, including three on the offensive line.
  • ODU has 22 total seniors.

The Monarchs only start seven players who aren’t seniors or juniors.  By comparison, the Hokies are expected to start 14 players who aren’t seniors or juniors.

We can only conclude that the player evaluation by the coaching staff wasn’t as good 3-4 years ago as it was in previous classes.  At the same time, having an inexperienced quarterback is also a big step back from what the Monarchs had two years ago when they won 10 games. 

Steven Williams has been thrust into the starting role early in his career. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

The Loss of Good Quarterbacks

From 2011 to 2014, Taylor Heinicke was ODU’s quarterback.  During his career with the Monarchs, he threw for nearly 15,000 yards, with 132 touchdowns and just 39 interceptions while completing 67.7% of his passes.  Despite going undrafted, he is now the backup to Cam Newton for the Carolina Panthers.

2015 was a down year for the Monarchs, as they went just 5-7.  That was due to not having particularly good quarterback play that year.  However, they rebounded in 2016 behind the performance of David Washington, who threw for 2,836 yards, with 31 touchdowns and just five interceptions.  He also added 207 yards on the ground.

It’s easy to see that ODU’s success has come when they had good quarterback play.  Other factors also affect quarterback play, of course, so it’s tough to blame the quarterback single-handedly.  However, the Monarchs aren’t experienced at that position right now.

When Steven Williams, Jr. (6-4, 210, So.) made his first collegiate start against Virginia Tech last season on September 23, 2017, he was just 17 years old.  In fact, he was the youngest quarterback to start an FBS game since Texas A&M’s David Walker way back in 1973.  This year he’s more experienced, but he’s still only 18.

As expected, Williams struggled last year.  He completed just 55.9% of his passes, and he tossed 11 interceptions to six touchdowns.  This year he’s completing 51.2% of his passes through two games, while throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions.

Bobby Wilder did what was best for his 2017 ODU team when he inserted Williams as the starter.  However, he might have hurt himself in the long run.  At the conclusion of the 2018 season, his career will be half over, and he’ll still be just 19.  Williams will still be just 20 years old when his senior season begins.  The left-hander has plenty of talent, but he’s still extremely young, and his eligibility will be exhausted by the time he’s barely old enough to buy a beer.  Wilder probably should have kept the redshirt on Williams last year and developed him for the future. 

Want to know the difference between 10-3 and 5-7?  Here it is…

10-3: 59.4% passes completed, 2,836 yards, 31 TDs, 5 INTs
5-7: 55.9% passes completed, 1,528 yards, 6 TDs, 11 INTs

Bobby Wilder has done a great job resurrecting the ODU program, but he made his first mistake when he didn’t have a quarterback ready to replace David Washington.  That forced him to play a very young Steven Williams before he was ready, and here we are.

The “Lala” Davis Era

Those of you who follow recruiting closely know that the Virginia Tech coaching staff was closely monitoring Elijah “Lala” Davis (5-10, 210, Fr.) toward the end of the 2018 recruiting cycle.  Those of you who are TSL Pass subscribers might recall that we reported that at least one member of the VT staff wanted to offer Davis, and that I thought he was probably a better prospect than the two running backs the Hokies did sign in 2018.  However, in the end, the staff decided they didn’t have the numbers to take Davis.  I still wish they had taken him.  His build and his lower body strength remind me of former Tech tailback Shyrone Stith.  I think he’s a younger Steven Peoples with a higher upside.

Davis rushed for 6,690 yards in his career at Heritage High School in Lynchburg.  That includes 3,670 yards as a senior in 2017, a mark that led the entire country.  He scored 61 touchdowns as a senior, and had 229 yards in the state championship game.

Davis did not get a carry in Old Dominion’s first two games of the season, and here’s how their running game went in each of those contests…

vs. Liberty: 39 carries, 129 yards, 3.3 ypc
vs. FIU: 27 carries, 93 yards, 3.4 ypc

The lack of a running game put even more pressure on the young Steven Williams, and he’s not ready to carry an offense on his shoulders.  Bobby Wilder finally played his most talented running back last week against Charlotte, and Davis responded by running for 63 yards on 10 carries and scoring two touchdowns.  The Monarchs’ rushing totals looked a lot better, as well…

vs. Charlotte: 28 carries, 123 yards, 4.4 ypc

ODU’s yards per carry went up quite a bit with Davis serving as the primary ball carrier.  Bobby Wilder said on Monday that Davis was going to start this weekend against the Hokies, and I would expect him to get more than 10 carries in an effort to take pressure off the Monarch passing game.  I doubt he’ll rack up very many yards against the Virginia Tech defense, but this looks like the beginning of the career of a 4-year starter for ODU.

Steven Peoples picks up yardage against the ODU defense in 2017. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

The ODU Defense: Experienced, But Ineffective

We noted earlier in the article that Old Dominion features seven senior starters on defense.  That includes all four defensive linemen, and all three interior defensive backs (meaning the safeties and the nickel).

That hasn’t helped them through their first three games, however.  They played much better against a Charlotte team that lacks talent, but they still allowed nearly 400 yards.  FIU put up 489 yards against them, while the Liberty Flames added 591 yards and 52 points in their first game as an FBS program. 

This is also a defense that a very young Virginia Tech offense hammered last season.  The Hokies shut out the Flames 38-0, and Tech racked up 582 yards of total offense.  Tech wasn’t running the ball particularly well early last season, but they still managed 271 yards on the ground against the Monarchs.

I watched some of the Liberty-ODU game this morning, and the Monarch defense seemed particularly susceptible to RPOs and playactions (sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two) over the middle.  That’s a little surprising, considering their experience level at safety and nickel.  Liberty quarterback Buckshot Calvert (I just wanted an excuse to include that name in this preview) was 25-of-36 for 345 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions. 

Here is ODU’s defense over the middle…

  • MLB Lawrence Garner (6-2, 230, r-So.): Third-year player, first-year starter.
  • OLB Terez Dickerson (6-4, 227, Jr.): Third-year player, first-year starter.
  • Nickel Sean Carter (6-1, 225, r-Sr.): Fourth-year starter.
  • FS Justice Davila (6-0, 205, r-Sr.): Fourth-year starter.
  • SS Justin Noye (6-1, 220, r-Sr.): Fifth-year player, first-year starter.

Three of those players are first-year starters, but that’s no excuse.  Noye is a redshirt senior, while the two linebackers are third-year players.  They don’t have a lot of in-game experience on defense, but they have enough experience as college football players.

The issue comes down to talent.  The safeties and nickel didn’t look like they moved well when I watched them against Liberty.  At this time last year, Terez Dickerson was the fifth-string outside linebacker who barely made the travel roster.  In fact, he’s a former walk-on who finally earned a scholarship before this season.  Justin Noye looked slow to me, and Sean Carter is too big to be defending slot receivers at a high level.  ODU also struggled to tackle on the outside, with cornerback Joe Joe Headen (5-10, 183, r-So.) getting run over in the open field by a smallish Liberty running back (Frankie Hixon, 5-8, 190).  

There are plenty of good athletes in the Tidewater region, but they don’t appear to have found their way to Norfolk to play defensive back.  Here are ODU’s starters in the secondary, and their hometowns…

  • CB Joe Joe Headon (5-10, 183, r-So.): Harrisburg, PA
  • CB Geronda Hall, Jr. (5-10, 170, r-Fr.): Atlanta, GA
  • Nickel: Sean Carter (6-1, 225, r-Sr.): Stafford, VA
  • FS: Justice Davila (6-0, 205, r-Sr.): Erial, NJ
  • SS: Justin Noye (6-1, 220, r-Sr.): Rochester, NY

Only one starter in the secondary is a Virginian, and he is not from the Tidewater.  Which leads me to my next subject.

Lack of 757 Impact Players

There are plenty of Virginians, and players from the 757, on Old Dominion’s roster.  However, most of them aren’t in a starting role.  Only one defensive starter for Old Dominion is from Virginia, and he is not a Tidewater native.  On the offensive side of the ball, it’s a bit better, with multiple Virginia starters.  However, only one of those guys, Isaiah Harper, is from the 757.

Some Virginia Tech fans once viewed ODU as a bit of a threat because of their location in what is perceived as a fertile recruiting location.  However, the schools have never gone head-to-head for a recruit, as the Hokies recruit at a much higher level.  Those 757 players who are playing for the Monarchs aren’t making much of an impact.  Of the 25 Tidewater players on the roster, it’s surprising that there is just one starter on offense or defense.

Perhaps the depth of talent in the Tidewater isn’t quite as good as it used to be?  Maybe, maybe not.

Final Thoughts

Old Dominion has plenty of experience.  They have 22 seniors on their roster.  Seven seniors start on defense, including four on the defensive line and three in the secondary.  Despite all that experience, the Monarchs are 0-3 on the season, and their defense has been one of the worst in the country.  That leads me to believe that there is a talent problem in Norfolk.

Excellent quarterback play has covered up a questionable defense in past seasons at Old Dominion, but now their quarterback is an 18-year old true sophomore who has been thrust into the starting lineup before he was ready. 

I just don’t see a strength on this Old Dominion team.  They can’t lean on their offense or their defense, or even a portion of either their offense or defense.  On offense, they can’t run or pass.  On defense, they can’t stop the run or the pass.  Through three games, they seem to be weak everywhere. 

Old Dominion has some rebuilding to do from a talent perspective.  Steven Williams is a talented quarterback, but because he got such an early start to his career, will he finish his eligibility before he reaches his ceiling?  I’m looking forward to watching Elijah Davis (I can’t call him Lala) run the football, but other than him, I don’t see any players on this ODU team who I wished played for Virginia Tech.

I’m looking forward to this game.  It’s a White Out for the Monarchs, which means Tech’s traveling contingent will be easily spotted in the crowd.  If the Hokies show up with a moderate pulse, this game shouldn’t be competitive.

Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, ODU 10

Will Stewart’s Take:  As noted at the top of the preview, the Hokies are favored by 28 points, and if I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Hokies to cover. You’ll see that in my prediction.

There isn’t a lot of intrigue in this game, so I’ll be looking at two things: (1) Foreman Field at S.B Ballard Stadium and (2) LaLa Davis.

Foreman Field seats just 20,118 people, per Wikipedia.  I don’t know where that number comes from, because ODU’s official Foreman Field page, which doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite a while, doesn’t list a capacity figure. The stadium is small and antiquated, though it’s going to undergo a $65 million renovation soon.

I’m looking forward to seeing the stadium in its current configuration, then coming back in a few years to see what they’ve done.

I’m also looking forward to seeing LaLa Davis, a guy I wanted the Hokies to sign and add to the roster. I hope he doesn’t do too well, of course, but will I come away with that “one who got away” feeling?

Beyond that, I’ll be focusing on how well-prepared the Hokies are to play. Virginia Tech came out of the gate strong against both Florida State and William & Mary, and if the Hokies want to maximize the potential of their young team this season, they’ll need to continue to start fast.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 48, Old Dominion 10

(I swear, I do not look at Chris’s prediction before I make my own!)

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14 Responses You are logged in as Test

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  2. Chris, double check your references above to “FCS” football as it relates to ODU, Charlotte, and Liberty. I believe the dates your provided are when these schools moved to FBS football, not FCS.

    Tests to make sure we are reading these?

    Go Hokies!

  3. Rushing defense: No. 104
    Passing defense: No. 110
    Total defense: No. 119

    I find it hard to believe that defense will hold the Hokies under 50

    1. True if starters (or even 2 deep) played whole game but dont expect that will happen. Young player mistakes, a turnover or two NOT going our way, and we don’t hang as many as we did against the Tribe. Hope you are right!

  4. In a game that was never played in ’98, the Hokies were nearly 5 TD favorites so anything can and does (rarely) happen but I’ll go with the expected as well. VT 48 ODU 7. Thanks to Taylor Heinke my Monarch neighbors were increasingly posturing how they would be replacing VT as the dominant FB program in the state due to location….until last year. Reality has been setting in and the Monarch flags are less evident than before. Feel pretty comfortable it will stay that way.

    BTW, I think you meant “since they moved to FBS in 2013” rather than to FCS.

  5. If the Hokies are to begin to climb back up the ladder to the Vick days, they MUST go into the Notre Dame game undefeated and beat them. It starts Saturday with ODU. Go Hokies!!!!

  6. A couple of other thoughts. Did Davis have the ability to go to a better school than ODU? How many P5 offers did he have? If VT had taken him, would he be a name in a future article about the lack of P5 offers? The lack of staring experience in the ODU defense doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of in-game experience right? And i guess the last thought goes back to your comment here and in the message boards about the lack of VA state starters at ODU and connecting it to the lack of talent/depth in VA. Does it really? Wouldn’t most of the top 15-30 players likely go to better schools than ODU? The 2017 class shows people going to MD, Indiana, WV, Tennessee,…P5 schools.

  7. The passing completion stat was because of those passes that FSU, for example, threw in front of the cushion right?

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