For the majority of Friday night, S.B. Ballard Stadium felt like a circus. Old Dominion outplayed Virginia Tech in its 20-17 victory, and the Hokies didn’t deserve to win in their second trip to Norfolk in four years.
The game was chaotic from start to finish, full of miscues, poor decision-making and nature running its course. The latter was prevalent when a contingent of Tech assistant coaches got stuck in an elevator heading up to a booth at the end of halftime, delaying the start of the second half.
— no context college football (@nocontextcfb) September 3, 2022
That incident occurred less than 30 minutes after the Monarchs scored off a botched snap on a field goal. Enzo Anthony sent the ball over the hands of holder Peter Moore, and ODU scooped the kick and scored, a quick 10-point swing in front of a sold out crowd.
*Editor’s note: Enzo Anthony was the long snapper on the play, not Justin Pollock.
Throw in four other turnovers from the Hokies – all interceptions from Grant Wells – and 15 penalties, the most since a program-high 17 against Florida State in 2005, and it was miles from the start Brent Pry had hoped for at Virginia Tech.
*Editor’s note: Old Dominion’s stat crew was dealing with some issues during the game. They have since updated the number of penalties from 14 to 15, which is why the number changed.
“We were sloppy,” Pry told reporters after the loss. “I felt like they pressed. And attention to detail, which showed up in the last scrimmage a little bit. That’s more penalties that we’ve been having. … You don’t have five turnovers and 14 penalties. You want to make people earn it, and we didn’t do that.”
There was another mind-boggling play late in the game that showed the newness of the coaching staff. Trailing 17-13 in VT territory, Monarch quarterback Hayden Wolff found Ali Jennings at the one-yard line with 1:09 to play. Tech cornerback Dorian Strong was called for pass interference, a penalty ODU denied. All Ricky Rahne & Co. had to do was let the clock run and punch it in before it expired.
Caught up in conversation with his staff, Pry didn’t realize the clock was running due to the penalty being declined. That allowed the Monarchs to run off 28 seconds before Pry was eventually alerted and called timeout. ODU punched in the game-winning touchdown two plays later, and the Hokies could’ve used more time than just :33 remaining.
Thus are the ups and downs of a first-time head coach with a staff that hasn’t worked together previously.
Penalties didn’t help Tech’s cause either. The 15 flags equated to 106 yards, and they came in all different shapes and sizes. From delay of game and false start to offensive pass interference and illegal shift, everything was called.
Pry said those showed up in the last scrimmage before the season so it wasn’t something by which he was completely shocked. Linebacker Dax Hollifield and Wells, two captains, both mentioned the team is more disciplined than what it showed in Norfolk.
“You always expect penalties in week one, guys are antsy to play,” Wells said. “Technique might be able to get away from you in week one, but we had too many of them and there’s not really an excuse for that.”
Despite the craziness, Virginia Tech was in control for a good chunk of the game. Much of that was a result of an early 18-yard rushing touchdown by Wells, but interceptions on back-to-back possessions followed.
The first came in Tech territory on a ball he completely overthrew. Running back Keshawn King picked up a blitzing linebacker well, Wells practically gave the ODU safety the ball with no Tech receiver in the vicinity. The Monarchs settled for a field goal a few plays later.
On the second drive, the Hokies progressed to the ODU 27-yard line but cornerback Tobias Harris jumped a pass intended for Da’Wain Lofton. Though the Monarchs didn’t convert that possession, it stalled a Tech drive that was rolling.
Then came the aforementioned botched field goal. Will Ross was prepared for his first make at Virginia Tech on a 38-yarder before the ball went sailing backwards. Old Dominion turned that into seven points.
— World Champion Joey (@FTRSJoey) September 3, 2022
“You can’t give up a touchdown on special teams that way,” Pry said. “We’ve got to fix that. You can’t make that kind of mistake and battle back. … We preached all week: there was going to be adversity in this game. We knew that and we faced it and we took a lead, which was a good sign. And we just couldn’t hang on.
“When it mattered the most, we couldn’t make the plays to keep them off the scoreboard.”
Tech showed some juice in the second half and extended the lead to seven, 17-10. Running back Keshawn King played a huge role in that aspect.
He was dynamite, totaling 111 yards on the ground on 19 carries (5.8 avg.) and catching three passes for 18 yards and a score. With featured backs Malachi Thomas “week-to-week” and Jalen Holston limited due to injury, King took advantage of his opportunity.
“He played fantastic,” Wells said of King. “He showed how hard he is to tackle and when he gets out in any sort of space, he’s hard to beat.”
The Hokies were without veteran wide receiver Kaleb Smith in the second half after he pulled up on a seam route right before halftime. His presence was missed – Smith had three catches for 45 yards to that point – though Pry described his injury as “minor.” Wells frequented tight end Nick Gallo as an option soon after, and he finished with seven receptions for 49 yards.
“He tried to go and couldn’t work through it,” Pry said of Smith. “He’s been our most consistent player. Very valuable to us. But I thought we were still able to move the ball and do things. It wasn’t that.
“We were able to run it. I thought Keshawn did terrific. I thought the offensive line blocked well. We’ve just got to be able to protect the football and we’ve got to eliminate penalties.”
The offense never really picked up, however, often stalling. Meanwhile, Tech’s defense held its own against ODU. The Monarchs were just 3-of-16 on third down conversions; on the flip side, it was 5-for-16.
Hollifield (11 tackles) and safety Nasir Peoples (10) led the unit, and the group did its job as a whole. ODU totaled 245 total yards and just 80 on the ground, and Wolff was rattled: 14-for-35, 165 yards.
Simple mistakes – things that Pry described as easily fixable – did the Hokies in, though.
Wells’ third interception came in the second to last drive when the Hokies were in the driver’s seat, and that set up the ODU game-winning touchdown. He hit Holston in the hands a few yards downfield and the ball fell into the clutches of a Monarch defender. The fourth pick came when Wells was trying to make something happen on the last possession and chucked it downfield.
The loss is an embarrassing one on the national stage, especially considering what the future entails between these two programs. Virginia Tech and Old Dominion are set to meet every year through 2031, and Tech’s next return visit to Norfolk will be in 2024.
As far as where the Hokies go from here, it’s just the first game of the season, albeit an important milestone in the Pry era. He’s likely still adjusting to being the head honcho, and the communication and operations aspect will work itself out with time. But the level of sloppiness in the season-opener was well below average, which Pry understands.
“You can’t win when you do these things,” Pry said. “I think the positive is they’re corrective. And we can fix those as coaches and players. … I think we’ve got a solid football team. We’ve just got to keep investing and clean up our mistakes.”