“Let’s just go 1-0 this week.” Those words from head coach Justin Fuente ring especially true this week as the Virginia Tech Hokies have a textbook trap game against in-state rival Old Dominion this Saturday at Lane Stadium. The Hokies will have the eyes of the college football world on them on Sept. 30 as defending national champion Clemson visits in a rematch of the 2016 ACC Championship Game. For now, it’s all about having a laser-beam focus on the Monarchs for Virginia Tech as they look to move to 4–0 and build off a 64-17 win over East Carolina in Greenville last Saturday.
Old Dominion should be sky high for this showdown with the Hokies despite a 53-23 loss at home to North Carolina to fall to 2-1 on the young season. The Monarchs struggled early against the Tar Heels offensively as North Carolina led 39-7 at the half. Freshman quarterback Steven Williams did give a nice spark to the offense, completing 9-of-20 passes for 139 yards with two touchdown passes. This game against Virginia Tech will be the first time that Old Dominion has gone up against one of the two flagship FBS schools in the state of Virginia. Motivation won’t be a problem for the Monarchs on Saturday; the key is going to be finding a way to catch the Hokies looking ahead to Clemson and keeping the game competitive into the second half.
Old Dominion at Virginia Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network Extra
Spread: Virginia Tech -28.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Virginia Tech running game
Travon McMillan ran for 72 yards on 11 carries against East Carolina, averaging 6.5 yards per carry last Saturday. Look for McMillan to go well north of 100 yards against Old Dominion as the Hokies will look to pound the rock and try to wear down the undersized Monarchs defense. North Carolina ran for 254 yards on 49 carries against Old Dominion, and you can expect Virginia Tech to have at least that level of success running the ball on Saturday. The physicality of the offensive line must set the tone and open huge holes for McMillan and the rest of the running backs.
2. Steven Williams against Bud Foster’s defense
This is going to be a baptism by fire for Williams, as Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has a track record of making life miserable for inexperienced quarterbacks. Williams is going to have to be smart with the football and take what the defense gives him early to avoid turning the football over. Screen passes to running back Jeremy Cox and deep balls to wide receiver Travis Fulgham will happen early and often to keep the Hokies on their heels a little bit.
3. Josh Jackson and Cam Phillips
Jackson completed 24-of-31 passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns against East Carolina and will need to build off that performance against a vulnerable Old Dominion defensive unit. A great way to attack the Monarchs defense in the passing game will be to target Cam Phillips and an emerging wide receiver corps. Phillips is off to a fantastic start in 2017 with 417 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions. Jackson will look to extend plays with his legs and should be able to create two or three first downs on designed quarterback runs. If Jackson can play disciplined football, not turn the ball over and keep the Hokies in rhythm with their up-tempo offense, then a 40-plus-point performance should be the result against this Old Dominion defense.
Against an in-state opponent, Hokie fans should expect a complete effort on both sides of the ball, even if the coaching staff goes with a more a vanilla play-calling approach to avoid revealing too much to Clemson on film. For the Monarchs, this a perfect scenario — they have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain with a strong showing against Virginia Tech. Look for the Monarchs to keep the game interesting into the second quarter, with the Hokies pulling away for a comfortable win with plenty of explosive plays along the way.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 48, Old Dominion 17
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.