Old Dominion Capsule
2018 Record: 4-8 overall, 2-6 Conference USA, No. 6 in the East Division
2018 Game Result: Old Dominion 49, Virginia Tech 35
Returning Offensive Starters: 4
Returning Defensive Starters: 5
The highlight of Old Dominion’s 2018 season was of course the stunning 49-35 victory over Virginia Tech. Head coach Bobby Wilder enters his 11th season at the helm for the Monarchs. Last year’s 4-8 campaign marked the second consecutive losing season for Old Dominion. The 10-win season in 2016 included the school’s first ever bowl game in the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, which finished with a 24-20 triumph over Eastern Michigan.
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Old Dominion’s victory at the hands of Virginia Tech was sandwiched between six losses, three before it to start the season, and three after. Over the final five games of the season, the Monarchs finished 3-2 with wins against Western Kentucky, North Texas, and VMI.
Old Dominion Offense
S&P+ Offense: No. 98
Total Offense: No. 40
Brian Scott controls the offense, as he has since 2009. Paramount to Scott and Wilder’s offense will be whoever they name as the starting quarterback. Blake LaRussa will not return after foregoing his senior season to attend Seminary School.
Of those quarterbacks in contention, Steven Williams provides the most experience, starting as a 17-year-old freshman in 2017 before losing the job to LaRussa four games into the season against the Hokies. Incoming JUCO transfers Stone Smartt and Messiah deWeaver figure to garner some looks. Smartt threw for 31 touchdowns and three interceptions at Riverside CC, and deWeaver, a former Michigan St. commit, led East Mississippi CC to a Junior College National Championship.
The biggest loss for the Monarchs is the departure of wide receivers Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart on the outside. The duo combined for over 2,000 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns (including 330 yards and four touchdowns against Virginia Tech), often bailing out ODU quarterbacks on 50-50 balls as Hokies fans became accustomed to in last year’s meeting. Both Fulgham and Duhart are fighting for a roster spot for the Detroit Lions.
The Monarchs clearly lost a lot of firepower from the offense, and they may be more run-oriented this year, with leading rusher Kesean Strong returning to enter the fold. Virginia Tech faithful will catch a glimpse of former Hokies Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham, who made their way to Norfolk after entering the transfer portal in the spring.
Old Dominion Defense
S&P+ Defense: No. 119
Total Defense: No. 118
David Blackwell was hired as the defensive coordinator by Wilder in January to take over for Rich Nagy, who spent the previous six years in control of the defense. It was part of the larger staff shakeup for Wilder, which included the firings of the safeties, cornerbacks, and offensive line coaches.
Blackwell was the former defensive coordinator at East Carolina for one year before coming to Norfolk. In that year, the Pirates did see improvement from the disastrous 2017 defense, allowing more than 100 fewer yards per game. Blackwell was also the defensive coordinator at Jacksonville State for four years prior.
Old Dominion loses seven starters from last year’s defense, with the biggest loss being defensive end Oshane Ximines. Ximines tallied 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2018, which earned him a third-round selection by the New York Giants in the 2019 NFL Draft. He was a menace against the Hokies with two sacks.
Linebacker Lawrence Garner returns as the leading tackler off last year’s unit, despite missing three games to injury. The junior collected 100 tackles in 2018. Geronda Hall returns as a big playmaker in the secondary for Old Dominion, having picked off Josh Jackson in the upset.
The ODU defense only returns five starters from one of the worst units in college football. Ryan Willis and Co. could potentially have a field day attacking this defense inside Lane Stadium. The Hokies put up 600 yards of total offense against the Monarchs last season.
The 2019 Matchup
Old Dominion at Virginia Tech: Saturday, September 7, Noon, ESPNU
Why This Game is Important
Old Dominion: The Monarchs will be trying to do the unthinkable in back-to-back years. With Kumah and Cunningham returning to play in Blacksburg, emotions may run high at times, but Old Dominion will be playing with house money.
Virginia Tech: Last year’s shocking loss to Old Dominion sent ripple effects through the program, as Trevon Hill was promptly kicked off the team and Ryan Willis became the starting quarterback due to Josh Jackson’s injury. This year’s matchup in Blacksburg provides an opportunity as a statement game in non-conference play for the Hokies to show that the upset in Norfolk was a fluke.