- Virginia Tech vs. Old Dominion: Noon, ESPNU
- Spread: Virginia Tech -28, per VegasInsider
- Virginia Tech-Old Dominion roster cards: Click here
- Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
- Blacksburg weather: Click here
- Gameday information: Click here
- Tickets from StubHub:
Virginia Tech hosts Old Dominion in the first home game of the season this Saturday at noon. The Hokies are coming off a tough 35-28 loss on the road to Boston College, while the Monarchs used a late touchdown from tailback Lala Davis to knock off FCS opponent Norfolk State 24-21.
Old Dominion upset Virginia Tech 49-35 in Norfolk last season in a game Hokie fans would rather forget. The Monarchs finished the season just 4-8, with one of those wins coming against VMI. They lost their two best players to the NFL Draft this past May, with the following picks…
DE Oshane Ximines, Third Round, New York Giants
WR Travis Fulgham, Sixth Round, Detroit Lions
They were the first two players drafted from ODU in the history of the program, and they both had big games against the Hokies last season.
Ximines: 7 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks
Fulgham: 9 catches, 188 yards, 1 TD
Tech will be glad to see both of those guys playing on Sunday this year.
Unfortunately for the Monarchs, after Ximines and Fulgham, they didn’t have much last year, which means they’ll probably have even less this year. Athlon projects them to go 3-9 overall and finish dead last in Conference USA’s East Division. One game into the season, after struggling with a bad Norfolk State program, it seems as if that prognosis will probably be correct.
Norfolk State is a member of the MEAC, and they’ve gone 4-7 in each of the last four years under head coach Latrell Scott. Historically they are a bad program, and the fact that the Monarchs struggled with them suggests that ODU is in for another long season and that head coach Bobby Wilder’s job is in jeopardy.
The ODU Captains
You’ll recognize Old Dominion’s captains for the coin toss. Head coach Bobby Wilder told the media on Monday that former Virginia Tech players Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham will serve as his captains on Saturday.
VT transfers Chris Cunningham and Eric Kumah will be captains for this weeks game at Va Tech, #odu coach Bobby Wilder says
— Ed Miller (@edmillervp) September 2, 2019
Kumah caught four passes for 65 yards and a touchdown for the Monarchs against Norfolk State and was arguably their best offensive player. Cunningham played 28 snaps and caught one pass in a backup tight end role. Both players left Virginia Tech after the 2018 season.
Those aren’t the only familiar names that will be in Blacksburg. Former Hokies offensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring is on the Old Dominion staff. He coaches the tight ends while serving as the Monarchs’ running game coordinator.
The Old Dominion Offense
The Old Dominion offense really struggled against Norfolk State. The Monarchs averaged only 3.4 yards per carry, and they threw for only 158 yards. Overall, they had just 292 yards against a team whose mascot name I had to Google (they are the Spartans, FWIW).
ODU’s quarterback is JUCO transfer Stone Smartt (6-4, 220, Jr.), who played at Riverside City Junior College in California. He beat out Messiah DeWeaver (6-5, 232, Jr.) for the starting job during fall camp. Smartt had a solid game on the ground against Norfolk State, but in general the Monarch passing game failed to click.
Smartt Passing: 17-of-23 for 158 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT
Smartt Rushing: 13 carries, 50 yards, 3.8 ypc, 1 TD
That’s a solid completion percentage, though ODU couldn’t get much going down the field outside of one 31-yard pass to Kumah. The former Hokie receiver appears to be Old Dominion’s best offensive player. Beyond his four receptions for 65 yards and a touchdown last week, nobody else appeared to be much of a threat on the outside.
Redshirt freshman Elijah “Lala” Davis starts at tailback for the Monarchs. He played a bit early last season, but redshirted due to injury. He is a Lynchburg native whom the Hokies were very close to offering at the end of the 2018 recruiting cycle. He had 16 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown last week against Norfolk State.
Overall, the ODU rushing game averaged only 3.4 yards per carry against the Spartans. That bodes well for a Virginia Tech defense that held a powerful Boston College rushing attack to only 3.3 yards per carry in Chestnut Hill last week. The Monarch offense will be different from BC’s in style and tempo, but they shouldn’t be able to dominate the Hokies at the point of attack as they did last season.
The Old Dominion offensive line is very experienced on the left side, but it is entirely new from center to right guard.
LT Isaac Weaver (6-6, 296, r-Jr.): Third season as a starter, former Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
LG Tony Barnett (6-4, 330, r-Sr.): Third season as a full-time starter after starting part-time as a redshirt freshman.
C Diego Cervantes (6-2, 285, r-So.): Former JUCO All-American who will make his second career start on Saturday.
RG Cameron Muller (6-4, 333, r-So.): Muller played just two games last season before taking over the starting role this year.
RT Nick Saldiveri (6-6, 300, r-Fr.): Saldiveri made his first career start last week.
The right side of that line shouldn’t give the Hokies very much trouble.
An interesting note is that Steven Williams (6-4, 226, r-So.) is now a starting receiver for the Monarchs. Two years ago, Williams started at quarterback against the Hokies in Lane Stadium as a 17-year old true freshman, and at the time he was the youngest quarterback in the country. He started again against Tech last year, though he was benched after the first series for Blake LaRussa (who shredded the Hokies for 494 yards passing and 4 TDs, but left football after the 2018 season to go to seminary school). The coaching staff has since decided that Williams’ future is not at quarterback, and moved him to receiver. He caught three passes for 25 yards against Norfolk State.
Last season 6-0, 235 tailback Jeremy Cox steamrolled the Hokies to the tune of 130 yards on the ground, while LaRussa repeatedly found receivers Travis Fulgham (Detroit Lions active roster) and Jonathan Duhart (Lions practice squad). The Monarchs don’t have a bruiser like Cox this year, nor are their receivers as good as Fulgham or Duhart, though Kumah is solid. I just don’t see ODU coming at the Hokies with quite as much talent as they did in 2018. Combine that with a seemingly improved VT defense, and we should see a much better defensive performance on Saturday by the Hokies.
The Old Dominion Defense
ODU head coach Bobby Wilder made a change at defensive coordinator in the offseason, bringing in David Blackwell from East Carolina. Before that, he served as the defensive coordinator at Jacksonville State, where he was twice a finalist for the FCS Defensive Coordinator of the Year.
The arrival of Blackwell brings a schematic change to the Monarch defense. ODU now employs a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in their starting lineup. At East Carolina last season, Blackwell moved former fifth-string running back Nate Harvey to the “Bandit” position, and he became the AAC Defensive Player of the Year. Before that, Darius Jackson at Jacksonville State was the FCS Defensive Player of the Year while playing the “Bandit” role.
Two players shared the “Bandit” role for ODU last week.
Ryan Henry (6-2, 220, Jr.): 1 TFL
Marcus Haynes (6-4, 210, r-So.: 1 TFL, 1 sack
Haynes is a name Tech fans might remember from last season. He had two tackles for loss and two sacks against the Hokies in the upset. Those happened to be his only tackles for loss and sacks all season. In the other 11 games, he made five total tackles.
With the change in scheme, you can bet that the Tech coaching staff has spent some time watching 2018 East Carolina film, plus film of ODU’s win over Norfolk State. The competition was a lower level FCS team, but the Monarch defense did appear to be better than it was a year ago when the Tech offense racked up 600 yards.
Here were the Norfolk State key numbers…
Rushing: 30 carries, 69 yards, 2.3 ypc
Passing: 19-of-29, 199 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Fumbles Lost: 1
Old Dominion held Norfolk State to 4.5 yards per play and forced three turnovers. Of course, they’ll be facing a lot more talent when they face the Hokies this week in Blacksburg.
In particular, Tech appears to hold a major edge in the passing game. Here are the players the Monarchs will start in the secondary…
CB Kaleb Ford-Dement (5-11, 180, So.): Ford-Dement played JUCO ball last year, and the Hokies will be his first FBS competition.
CB Lance Boykin (6-3, 201, So.): Started five games as a true freshman last season.
FS Calvin Brewton (6-0, 184, Sr.): Brewton is a bit light at free safety. He’s a graduate transfer from Florida State, where he rarely got on the field.
MS Joe Joe Headen (5-10, 180, Jr.): Former member of the All-Freshman CUSA team.
N: Geronda Hall (5-10, 180, r-So.): He started four games as a redshirt freshman last season.
This secondary should be improved from a year ago, but it’s still somewhat young, and four of the five players lack size. Again, Tech should have an advantage in the passing game as long as they don’t turn the ball over.
It’s too early to get a feel for ODU’s defense. They outmatched a bad FCS opponent last week. Still, they should be better than these numbers that they posted a year ago…
Defensive S&P+: No. 119
Rushing S&P+: No. 121
Passing S&P+: No. 101
The Monarchs were as bad as it gets on that side of the ball last year, and they are expected to be better this year with a new scheme. Still, how much can one defense possibly improve in one offseason? The Tech defense was bad last year, but they weren’t ODU-bad.
I just don’t see lighting striking twice. ODU beat Tech last year. They hammered them in the trenches, and their receivers dominated Tech’s corners. I don’t see the Monarchs having a bruising running back like last year, though I like Lala Davis and wish the Hokies had offered him. They certainly don’t have two NFL receivers on their roster anymore. Kumah is solid, but of course Virginia Tech has a very good scouting report on him.
Usually you can look at a box score and tell when part of a team isn’t good. When ODU fails to put up 300 yards of offense against a team the caliber of Norfolk State, then it probably means they have serious issues on that side of the ball. I don’t see this offense having a lot of success in Lane Stadium, especially with the Hokies still smarting over last year’s result.
Defensively, it’s harder to get a clear view. I think ODU is better than they were a year ago, but how much better? Good enough to hold the Hokies under 600 yards? Probably. Good enough to overcome a struggling offense and beat an ACC team on the road? That’s pretty doubtful.
Chris’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Old Dominion 10
Will Stewart’s Take: Nothing will shake your prediction confidence faster than going back and seeing that you picked VT to win last year’s game 48-10.
But I will bullheadedly take a similar tack today, anyway.
I’m not going to take a “vengeance” angle and say that the Hokies have something to prove, will come out fired up, etc. I don’t think Virginia Tech’s motivation here is to exact any sort of revenge on the team that exposed them as pretenders a year ago. I think the Hokies’ goal in this game is simply to get better. Play better at quarterback, run the ball better, get better pressure on the quarterback, and get better at not giving up big running plays.
It seems as if ODU has turned over their entire roster from a year ago. Only three defensive starters from last year’s game are back, and it’s not like ODU did a good job stopping the Hokies last year. Offensively, ODU brings back just two guys from the unit that toyed with the Hokie defense last year. Sometimes, change can be good, particularly when you only went 4-8 last year, like the Monarchs. Sometimes, change is a program flailing to get better.
I just think this game will go the way last year’s game was supposed to. Am I going to pick 48-10 again? I did on the podcast, but in rethinking it, I had a higher opinion of last year’s Hokies at that time than I do this year’s Hokies. Last year’s team was 2-0 with what we thought was a big road win at FSU, and they were ranked No. 13 in the AP Poll. This year’s team is 0-1 and not ranked. As for ODU, I don’ think they’re better than last year’s 4-8 group.
Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Old Dominion 13