Breaking down the Virginia Tech-Old Dominion matchup | Football

It’s time to break down this weekend’s game.

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Old Dominion at No. 13 Virginia Tech

  • Where: Lane Stadium (66,233), Blacksburg
  • When: 2 p.m., Saturday
  • TV: None, Online on ACC Network Extra
  • Records: Old Dominion 2-1, Virginia Tech 3-0
  • Last time out: Old Dominion lost to North Carolina 53-23, Virginia Tech beat East Carolina 64-17
  • Series: First meeting
  • Line: Virginia Tech by 28

Key matchups

Virginia Tech’s offensive line vs. Old Dominion’s pass rush: Here’s a great stat right off the top. Virginia Tech has only allowed three sacks in three games. Old Dominion is tied for the national lead with 16 sacks this year, equaling Clemson’s total. Now, 15 of those sacks for the Monarchs came against Albany and UMass, who aren’t quite the titans of the sport. Only one of the 16 came in ODU’s first game against a Power 5 opponent, North Carolina, last week. But the Monarchs have some players up front who can present problems. Tackle Miles Fox and end Bunmi Rotimi both have 3.5 sacks this year and end Oshane Ximines has 3. In all, 14.5 of ODU’s 16 sacks have come from defensive linemen, so the Monarchs have been able to get pressure without bringing the house. The Hokies have held up pretty well against the pass rush, however. They’ve allowed one sack in each game, helped out by Josh Jackson‘s calm presence in the pocket and ability to throw it away on poorly developing plays. Yosuah Nijman and Wyatt Teller have been particularly good on the left side. It might be tough for ODU to put up a big sack total this week, though pressure sometimes is just as good.

Virginia Tech’s defensive backs vs. Old Dominion’s pass catchers: The Monarchs’ passing game took a hit when their top receiver, Jonathan Duhart, was lost for the year after breaking his foot. Duhart had seven catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns through two weeks and was coming off a 735-yard season. But ODU’s been a throwing program, and it’s not devoid of pass catchers. Travis Fulgham has 10 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown this season and Jeremy Cox had 10 catches for 100 yards out of the backfield. If ODU is going to move the ball any Saturday, it’s probably going to have to be through the air. The Monarchs are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. Plus, Virginia Tech is shorthanded at cornerback once again. Cornerback Adonis Alexander is being held out of his second straight game as a disciplinary measure. The Hokies have veterans ready to start anyway, with Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson a battled-tested pair of seniors, but it gets very young after that, with freshman Bryce Watts, redshirt freshman Tyree Rodgers and sophomore Jovonn Quillen likely the next guys in the game. 

Quarterback clash

Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson vs. Old Dominion’s Steven Williams: Could Hokies fans have asked for any better of a start from Jackson? The redshirt freshman was the Manning Award QB of the Week after his performance against ECU, when he threw for a Virginia Tech freshman record 372 yards and tied a school mark with five touchdown passes. He’s up to eight touchdowns this year, with 829 yards and no interceptions. As impressive as the eight touchdowns are, that last stat is probably more pleasing to head coach Justin Fuente, who puts ball security pretty high on his list of desires from a quarterback. Jackson hasn’t thrown a pick and really hasn’t put the ball in danger either. Combine that with his play-making ability so far and you’re talking about statistically one of the best starts to a Hokies quarterback career that there’s been. That doesn’t figure to change against ODU.

The Monarchs, meanwhile, turn their offense over to a 17-year-old true freshman in Williams, who is the youngest starting quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision. He relieved Blake LaRussa last week and provided a spark against UNC, going 9-for-20 for 139 yards and two touchdowns and adding 20 more yards on the ground. Now he has to make his first career start on the road at Lane Stadium against Bud Foster‘s defense versus what ODU coach Bobby Wilder has called “by far” the best team the Monarchs have played. So … good luck with all that. Williams is the high school teammate of Hokies freshman receiver Sean Savoy and was a four-year starter for Woodrow Wilson High in Washington, D.C. The lefty represents the future at ODU. That’s why Wilder made the move, wanting to get Williams up to speed a little bit before the Monarchs’ open week Sept. 30, followed by the start of Conference USA play Oct. 7 against Florida Atlantic. Better days are ahead, but it might be a long one in Blacksburg on Saturday.

Hokies in the spotlight

Cam Phillips, wide receiver: If anyone doubted whether or not Phillips could be a No. 1 receiver in this offense, he’s answered it by leading the nation with 417 receiving yards through three weeks and already tying a career-high with five touchdown catches. Although Isaiah Ford and Phillips helped change the perception of receivers at Virginia Tech the last three years, the Hokies have never quite seen receiving numbers like this in such a short span. Opponents figure to catch on eventually. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Phillips get double-teamed or bracketed or whatever coaches come up with to slow down what’s been an offensive force so far. Phillips is a problem, though. He’ll beat you underneath all day, like he did with big cushions against ECU last week. But he has the ability to go deep too, which he did in the second half against the Pirates.

  • Reggie Floyd, rover: He got a quick hook last week after being a step slow on a deep ball that ended up going for a 76-yard touchdown, but his start to the season — 16 tackles in three games — has still been pretty good. Divine Deablo‘s pushing for more time, though. You might see a lot of both Saturday.
  • Andrew Motuapuaka, linebacker: He played high school ball in Virginia Beach and was recruited by Old Dominion, so this game has a little extra meaning for the senior. He’s got 26 tackles in three games, third most on the team, with three tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery so far.
  • Travon McMillian, running backIn abbreviated action, the junior was highly productive against ECU, with 72 rushing yards and a 70-yard touchdown reception on a pop pass. The 142 total yards were the second most in his career, behind the 144 (142 rushing, 2 receiving) he put up in Tech’s four-OT loss to Duke in 2015. 

Monarchs in the spotlight

Bunmi Rotimi, defensive end: Not only is Rotimi, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior, tied for the team with 3.5 sacks this year, but he has a school record 17 for his career. The son of African immigrants was a Conference USA honorable mention last year and helped spark a Monarchs defense that used to be a laughingstock when he moved from tackle to end. He has seven sacks last year, earning Conference USA honorable mention, and combines with Oshane Ximines (15.5 career sacks) to form a formidable duo of defensive ends. The pair combined for 14.5 sacks last year and have 6.5 already this year. 

  • Jeremy Cox, running back: The Monarchs’ top running back, Ray Lawry, could be out for the year with a torn hamstring. making the 5-foot-11, 217-pound Cox the starter at tailback. He’s run for 158 yards in three games, though only 3.0 yards per carry, but has 100 receiving yards too.
  • Brandon Addison, cornerback: In his third year as a starter, the senior’s a team captain after walking on following a transfer from Division II Alderson Broaddus in 2014. The 5-foot-10, 179-pounder from Suffolk had two picks last year and has five tackles and a pass breakup this year. 
  • Isaiah Harper, receiver/kick returner: He has three catches for 60 yards this year, but he also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Carolina last week, ODU’s first since 2010. If he gets an opportunity Saturday, though, it’s only because Tech kicker Joey Slye mis-hit the kickoff. Slye’s a touchback machine.

By the numbers

177.8 — Jackson’s ACC-best passer rating, which ranks 10th of Power 5 quarterbacks.

624 — Receiving yards Phillips has in his last six games to go along with six touchdown catches.

13 – Virginia Tech’s ranking in both polls, its highest since Sept. 9, 2012, when the Hokies were 13th. They subsequently lost at Pitt 35-17 the following week.

0-8 — ODU’s record all-time against Power 5 teams.

4-1 — The Monarchs’ record in their last five road games. ODU has won 11 of its last 13 overall games going back to last year.

23-17 — ODU’s record in three-plus years playing a full FBS schedule.

16-1 — Virginia Tech’s record against in-state opponents since 2004.

+5 — Virginia Tech’s ACC-best turnover margin (6 takes, 1 give).

2013 — The last time the Hokies won five straight games. They’re seeking to do that Saturday, with the streak dating back to last year’s Belk Bowl win against Arkansas.

20 — Points Slye needs to surpass Shayne Graham as Virginia Tech’s all-time leading scorer.

57 — Unanswered points the Hokies scored last week against East Carolina.

Fast fact

This is the first of 13 meetings with Old Dominion from now until 2031. To put that in perspective, that’s four more times than the Hokies will be scheduled to play Clemson, Florida State and Louisville combined in the regular season during that time frame, if you extend the ACC’s out-of-whack scheduling model.

Last word

This one shouldn’t be close. There is the worry of looking ahead to Clemson next week. Tech’s coaches have talked all week about focusing on the task at hand, so it’s not like it hasn’t been addressed. From a gambling perspective, you also wonder if the Hokies will show a whole lot offensively in a game like this as four-touchdown favorites, especially with an opponent like Clemson on tap next week. In that sense, perhaps it could feel a little bit like Delaware, when Tech didn’t show its hand or pull out all the stops to beat an overmatched team.

ODU is better than Delaware, obviously. Heck, it’s probably better than ECU, though that’s not saying much. The Hokies were in such a gear against the Pirates that they didn’t get overly complicated with their scheme to score points. They just lined up and went right through ECU, which was a defensive mess. ODU should present greater resistance than that, but this is still a team that trailed a not-so-great North Carolina squad at home last week 39-7 at halftime. The final score looked more respectable at 53-23, but make no mistake: that was a significant blowout. The Hokies are much better than UNC, ODU’s as banged up as it has been in Wilder’s nine years with the program and the Monarchs will be throwing a very young quarterback to the dogs against Foster’s defense. All signs point to Virginia Tech being able to handle this one fairly easily.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 48, Old Dominion 13

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