Virginia Tech will play its first home game of the season Saturday afternoon at noon against Old Dominion. Everyone around Tech, and frankly around the country, knows what happened against ODU last season as the Monarchs put up 49 points against the Hokies down in Norfolk in a 49–35 upset. This game looks to be a lot different as the Monarchs will be without the services of some of their best players from last season, though. The Hokies are coming off a 35–28 loss a week ago against Boston College while ODU squeaked past Norfolk State 24–21 in their first home game of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the key storylines going into this game as the Hokies look to get revenge from last season.
Virginia Tech’s Defense vs. Old Dominion’s Offense
If there’s ever a time for the Hokie defense to get it right, it’s this week. The Monarch offense lost star receivers Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart to the NFL, and quarterback Blake LaRussa, who put up 494 yards passing and four touchdowns against the Hokies last season, left football to go to seminary school. ODU also lost running back Jeremy Cox to graduation; he had 130 yards rushing against the Hokies last season, including the touchdown to put the game out of reach at the end of the fourth quarter.
ODU got a lot younger on offense this season, and it starts at quarterback where JUCO transfer Stone Smartt will be the starter. He only threw for 158 yards last week against Norfolk State with no touchdown passes and one interception. His biggest throws were to Eric Kumah, a name that Hokie fans should recognize as he transferred there during the offseason from Tech. Kumah had four catches for 65 yards in his first game as a Monarch, and he’s going to want to do a lot better in this game against his former squad. He is one of the captains for the game, along with tight end Chris Cunningham, who also transferred to ODU from Tech.
At running back, ODU will start Elijah Davis, who had 16 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown in last week's game. He had a medical redshirt, so this will be his first game against Tech. The Hokies defensive line may be very young, but they should be able to hold ODU’s rushing attack in check, especially after only allowing 3.3 yards per carry against BC last week. Virginia Tech even held A.J. Dillon, one of the best backs in the country, to below 100 yards rushing.
Tech will also need to get the pass rush going as it was non-existent last week. The Hokies were only credited with one sack last week, and it came from Rayshard Ashby, who led the team with 13 tackles. There was hardly any pressure at all throughout the game, but against ODU with a weaker offensive line and a new starting quarterback, it should be much improved this weekend.
Ryan Willis needs a bounce-back game
It was an up-and-down week last week for quarterback Ryan Willis against Boston College. He threw for four touchdowns but also had three ugly interceptions and a lost fumble. One of the interceptions was thrown into double coverage when the receiver wasn’t open, and two others were just bad reads from Willis. Five turnovers in a game, four of them from your quarterback, isn’t going to cut it. The BC defense is one of the better defenses in the conference, but the Hokies will need more from their senior quarterback going forward if they are to improve upon last year. Getting Willis back on track should start this week when he faces a weak ODU defense. He should be able to go through his reads a lot quicker this week, which has been a struggle for him in other games as the starter.
The Monarchs have five starters in the secondary, three of them sophomores and all five of them not getting a lot of time against the Hokies from last season. It’s a very young group, and they’re going to face stiffer competition when they go up against Tech's wide receivers, which is arguably the strongest position on the team. Willis should be just fine this week as long as he doesn’t turn the ball over and can go through his progressions to find the open receiver. If he gets through it unscathed, it’s the first step to getting back to where we played last season where he had 24 touchdown passes in relief of Josh Jackson.
Everyone said that the Hokies wouldn’t lose last year and, of course, the opposite happened in a stunning upset. It’s not going to happen this year though, especially when this game is in Blacksburg. Tech has had this game circled on the calendar ever since the upset happened down at Norfolk last year, and they’re going to want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. In the end, the Hokies are going to roll comfortably in this one since the Monarchs don't have the offense to outscore them, and the defense won’t get carved up like they were last year.
Virginia Tech 49, Old Dominion 14.