On the morning of Sept. 22, 2018, the Justin Fuente era at Virginia Tech was trucking along wonderfully. The Hokies were 21-8 with the former Memphis head coach leading the way, had won an ACC Coastal Division title in 2016, and were ranked 13th in the country at that time.
But Virginia Tech is just 4-8 since, and it started with a shocking loss at Old Dominion later that day. It was hoped that a new season would rectify the past issues, which included a tumultuous offseason, but the Hokies fell in their 2019 opener at Boston College, and Fuente’s crew is still trying to get back on track.
Now, here come the Monarchs once again. This Saturday, ODU will cross the state and come to Lane Stadium to take on the Hokies. Old Dominion won its first game of the year, beating FCS Norfolk State 24-21 on Saturday. Virginia Tech put a 35-0 beating on ODU in 2017 in what was the two schools' only other meeting.
Old Dominion at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Virginia Tech -28
When Old Dominion Has the Ball
The Monarchs were 15th in the country in passing offense last year, but with 2018 quarterback Blake LaRussa and essentially all the pass catchers gone, ODU is re-shaping its offense this fall. Only two starters return on that side of the ball, and they are both linemen.
In week one, Bobby Wilder’s team featured a balanced attack with new signal-caller Stone Smartt completing 17-of-23 passes for 158 yards and Lala Davis running for 62. The bad news is that they generated just 292 yards of total offense against Norfolk State, which gave up 345 yards per game against FCS competition in 2018. It’s unclear what the Monarchs' offense will rely upon going forward, but it will be interesting to see how they involve wide receiver Eric Kumah and tight end Chris Cunningham, two graduate transfers from Virginia Tech.
The Hokies had huge problems stopping the run last fall but did a decent job containing Boston College's ground game with star running back AJ Dillon last week. The Eagles did have 157 yards on the ground — 81 of which came from Dillon — but that was far below the 210 yards per game that Tech allowed last season. Unfortunately, Boston College quarterback Anthony Brown threw for 275 yards and a couple of scores.
So it’s unclear what Old Dominion is on offense, and it’s unclear what Virginia Tech does well on defense. But the talent disparity is huge, and the Hokies should be able to dictate play, especially up front.
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
It’s really simple for Virginia Tech: Don’t turn it over. The Hokies gave the ball away five times on Saturday and lost the turnover battle by a five to one margin. Two Tech second quarter fumbles set Boston College up in prime scoring position, and the Eagles took advantage both times. Ryan Willis’ three interceptions were drive-killers, especially the first two, which occurred deep in Boston College territory.
Suffice it to say, if Virginia Tech didn’t have turnover issues, they would be 1-0, and the only way ODU will be able to stop the Hokies this week is if Tech shoots itself in the foot again. Willis can throw, and he has talented receivers. His completions against Boston College resulted in 344 yards and four scores.
Old Dominion has just four starters back from a defense that struggled to stop both the pass and the run last fall. So while it may be a good opportunity for Tech to get some confidence going in a stagnant run game, when a play is needed, the Hokies should be able to convert through the air.
Old Dominion will not sneak up on Virginia Tech again. But it’s a sleepy noon start time on Saturday, and the Virginia Tech faithful probably won’t be pleased with their 0-1 Hokies, so a slow start by the home team would not be a surprise. After a while, though, Virginia Tech will get going. This Old Dominion team is not as good as the one that pulled off the 2018 upset, and at the end of 60 minutes, that will be evident. This Hokies-Monarchs matchup will look more like the 2017 contest than the upset from last year.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Old Dominion 3
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of hokiesports.com)