Even a committed Virginia Tech recruit in the stands was just as stunned as every other Hokie fan in attendance at S.B. Ballard Stadium during last year’s 49-35 loss to Old Dominion. True freshman Tayvion Robinson, a Virginia Beach native, was proudly wearing his Hokies gear and pumped to see his future teammates play near his hometown, but instead, he left with that same feeling of ‘what just happened?’
This year, Robinson will attempt to right the wrongs from the 2018 loss to the Monarchs in Virginia Tech’s home opener on Saturday (noon, ESPNU). Robinson has already emerged as one of Virginia Tech’s biggest weapons on the outside, hauling in six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate action last Saturday.
“It was shocking,” Robinson said of last year’s loss to ODU at Tuesday’s press conference. “Everybody has their ups and downs, and certainly that wasn’t our best time. We’ve been working all summer, all fall and we’re ready to go out.”
The upset in Norfolk was undoubtedly a monumental turning point of the season. The aftershocks of last year’s loss to Old Dominion are still being felt today for Virginia Tech.
Trevon Hill was dismissed from the team following the game, and the Hokies really haven’t had someone who can consistently get after the quarterback since. Quarterback Josh Jackson broke his fibula in the midst of the game, his last game while donning the maroon and orange. He’s now the starter at Maryland and threw for four touchdowns in the first half in the Terrapins’ season-opening win over Howard.
Still, following the humiliating defeat, Virginia Tech responded the next week and played what may have been the best game of the season, beating Duke and No. 6 overall draft choice Daniel Jones, 31-14.
“How we’ve handled adversity, I think our guys have done a great job on that,” head coach Justin Fuente said. “I think we’ll continue to preach that. I’m not trying to get corny, but things don’t always go your way in football and in life. You can’t just sit down and complain about it. You roll your sleeves up and go back to work. I think our guys understand that. I think they are anxious to go play again.”
Ryan Willis has also been the quarterback every game for the Hokies since that fateful affair in Norfolk. Following a four-turnover performance against Boston College to begin the season, the redshirt senior is anxious to take the field at Lane Stadium to not only correct last year’s woes against the Monarchs, but last week’s mistakes versus Boston College.
“I kind of looked myself in the mirror and said I have two choices,” Willis said. “I can either feel bad for myself and sulk and feel like the world’s crashing down on me, or my second choice I can put it behind me, I can flush it, I can learn and grow from it and get ready for a team who is coming into our place to [try to] beat us.”
Blake LaRussa carved up Bud Foster’s defense last year to the tune of 494 passing yards and four touchdowns. Throughout the afternoon, wide receivers Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart beat the Hokies’ young secondary time after time.
However, those three weapons will not have the chance to wreak the same misery on Virginia Tech as LaRussa is now in seminary school, while Fulgham and Duhart have graduated. Instead, Stone Smartt will be behind center as the Monarchs’ signal caller.
Smartt is a JUCO transfer from Riverside City in California where he passed for 2,754 yards, 31 touchdowns and three interceptions last year. In the season-opening 24-21 win over Norfolk State, Smartt was 17-for-23 passing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He also picked up 50 yards on the ground, including a rushing touchdown.
“The thing I’ve been impressed with about the quarterback is he’s a big, athletic kid,” Foster said of Smartt, who stands 6-foot-4, 220-pounds. “He can run, he’s good with the ball in his hands, he made some good throws. He’s got some talent around him.”
While Foster notes that Bobby Wilder’s offense hasn’t changed too much, he does expect to see more of Smartt being used in the running game on Saturday.
“Offensively they’re doing the same thing that they’ve been doing,” Foster said. “The only thing I did see is a couple quarterback runs. They did that too with the [Steven] Williams kid when he was in there a couple years ago, so they have that capability in their offense.
“I think there will be some other designed run plays for the quarterback. I can see that happening with them. I don’t think they showed much of what they’re capable of doing.”
The Hokies have largely blocked out the noise and the talk about last year’s meeting, but that result is certainly still in the back of every player’s mind. Come Saturday at noon, Virginia Tech has 60 minutes to put that loss far away in memory with an impressive performance.
“It goes through our mind a little bit… yes, there’s a little motivation from that, but it’s a new year,” linebacker Dax Hollifield said. “Last year is last year. Just have to focus on this year. It’s a whole different team.”
Virginia Tech News and Notes
- Former Hokies Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham, who both transferred to ODU, will return to Lane Stadium in grand fashion, as Bobby Wilder named the duo captains for Old Dominion on Saturday. Kumah was the Monarch’s leading receiving with 65 receiving yards in their opener, including a huge 31-yard reception on the go-ahead drive, while Cunningham caught just one pass for 12 yards.
- Rayshard Ashby was named ACC Linebacker of the Week for the work he did against Boston College in week one. Ashby was outstanding, recording 13 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
- Foster is hopeful that TyJuan Garbutt and Jovonn Quillen will be available for Saturday. He mentioned that Garbutt has been practicing in the blue jersey for limited contact while Quillen’s injury wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.
- Longtime Virginia Tech assistant coach Bryan Stinespring also returns to Blacksburg as Old Dominion’s tight ends coach and run game coordinator. Stinespring spent 26 seasons at Virginia Tech. “Outstanding football coach, even a better man,” Foster said. “He’s as competitive as any guy I know.”