The Virginia Tech Hokies travel to Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday afternoon for a non-conference match-up with the Old Dominion Monarchs of Conference USA. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
The visitors come to Foreman Field with a 2–0 record, having not played in two weeks. Tech was initially scheduled to play East Carolina at home last Saturday, but the Pirates cancelled the game due to the oncoming effects of Hurricane Florence. The Hokies last played on Sep. 8th in a 62–17 blowout win over William & Mary. They scored seven rushing TDs and had 586 yards of total offense, one of the highest marks in school history.
Meanwhile, Old Dominion is in a bit of a rut. They are 0–3 on the season and 0–2 in C-USA play. The Monarchs opened the season on a sour note, losing 52–10 to now-FBS foe Liberty. This included giving up 28 points in the fourth quarter. They fell to FIU the following weekend at home, before suffering a setback at Charlotte last Thursday night. The 49ers won a single game in 2017. Needless to say, this isn’t the way head coach Bobby Wilder envisioned things in the program’s 5th season of FBS play.
The jury is still out on whether Tech is ready to compete with the nation’s elite teams. After a dominant 24–3 win over Florida State to open the season, fans and media heaped well-deserve praise on Bud Foster and his young defense. It was a brilliant performance, shutting down Deandre Francois, Cam Akers, and a Seminole offense loaded with talent. But after Florida State struggled with FCS Samford the following week, and was then blown out of the Carrier Dome by Syracuse, many have questioned if the victory was as impressive as the preseason polls would have indicated.
Nonetheless, the Hokies’ offensive explosion in Week 2 against William & Mary was a welcome sight. Tech had struggled in recent years to put up big numbers even against inferior competition. In 2017, Tech scored just 27 points in a home win over FCS Delaware. But this game was a different story. The 62 points scored was seventh-most in school history. The 32 first downs VT collected was fifth-most in a single game, and the 586 total yards of offense was tenth-most. Tech did not punt the ball once. Tech fans should be confident about the team’s ability to put away lesser opponents early with their offense.
Things have not gone well for Old Dominion in 2018. They lost what could have been a statement win over Liberty who, in their first game as an FBS team, racked up nearly 600 yards of offense. The next week, they blew a 17–0 lead to Florida International. They failed to score a single point in the second half of a 28–20 defeat. Last Thursday night, in a game rescheduled due to impending Hurricane Florence, the Monarchs fell by three to UNC Charlotte. This was a 49ers team that went 1–11 last season. Charlotte held the ball for over 38 minutes.
ODU has issues on both sides of the ball. They are giving up 484 yards per game, good for 118th out of 129 FBS teams. The offense is among the worst in the nation in scoring (18.3 PPG), third-down efficiency (27.5%), and completion percentage (53.5%). How they will try to run the ball against Tech’s beefy defensive line remains to be seen. If quarterback Stevie Williams isn’t accurate through the air, it could be a long day for the Monarch offense.
Players to Watch
QB Josh Jackson, VT
Jackson loves to play against “Group of 5” competition. A season ago, he led his team to a 64–17 win over East Carolina, completing 24 of 31 passes for 372 with 5 touchdowns. A week later against this very Old Dominion team, he overcame a sluggish first half to complete 20 of 30 throws with three TDs and one pick. For whatever struggles he may have against ACC foes, Jackson does not mess around with teams he knows the Hokies should beat.
WR Damon Hazelton, VT
At 6’2, Hazelton presents major match-up problems for the Monarchs’ cornerbacks. After catching the first TD of the year on an end zone fade against Florida State, Hazelton followed that up with a dazzling performance against the Tribe. He caught four passes for 107 yards and another score. ODU’s starting cornerbacks—Jamez Brickhouse and Joe Joe Headen—both stand at 5’10, and will have their hands full all game.
QB Steve Williams, ODU
Williams is an interesting story. He arrived on campus in June of 2017, and won the starting job that September at the tender age of 17 years old. Now a sophomore, he has gone through some struggles, completing just over half of his throws with a 2/2 TD/Int ratio. Williams had problems with accuracy last year as well (55.9% completion, 11 INT’s), and he is still developing into his body.
Against Tech a year ago, Williams completed just eight of 26 throws for 85 yards. Although, he stood little chance against a defense loaded with NFL talent at nearly every position. Williams’ per-reception average is good (12.4 Y/C), and he is fond of the deep ball. However, the accuracy isn’t there yet. He’ll need to go all-or-nothing with his favorite target, senior Jonathan Duhart, to have a chance at beating a Hokie defense. While VT’s D is stout, it is prone to giving up big plays.
DE Houshun Gaines, VT
Gaines has been nothing short of a monster in 2018, causing havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The redshirt junior has recorded six tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries in two games this season. Gaines, along with junior Trevon Hill and senior Ricky Walker, will present major problems for ODU’s offensive line.
LB Oshane Ximines, ODU
Ximines, a fifth-year senior, is a tackling machine. He has recorded at least 40 tackles each of the last two full seasons, plus 15 stops this year. He also has 3.5 sacks this season, boosting his career total to 24, which is second among all active NCAA Division I players. Ximines will be a challenge to a Hokie offensive line that is young at certain positions.
The Hokies enter as 28-point road favorites. The o/u is 51.
With a seating capacity of 20,118, Old Dominion’s Foreman Field at S. B. Ballard Stadium is among the cozier venues in Division I FBS. When was the last time the Hokies visited a stadium that small? You have to go all the way back to 1974, when Tech took to Cary Field (now Zable Stadium) in a 34–15 win over William & Mary. At the time, Cary Field had room for just 12,672 fans.
The Hokies’ defensive line is among the best in the country, and their secondary could make a similar claim. Old Dominion won’t be moving the ball much on offense. But Steve Williams is a threat to run, and he can make big throws. Since Virginia Tech has often struggled with running quarterbacks, and can give up chunk plays every now and then, don’t be surprised if the Monarchs give the visitors a run for their money early on. But Tech head coach Justin Fuente is 6–0 against non-Power Five competition since coming to Blacksburg; don’t expect that trend to end anytime soon.
Virginia Tech 45, Old Dominion 14