They sold this puppy out. For a 2 p.m. nonconference game against Old Dominion.
No, that isn’t because of the Military Appreciation Day festivities or the Virginia Tech Hall of Fame recognitions or even the novelty of an in-state opponent that will bring some of its own fans. All of those things are nice, but this is simpler than that.
People don’t need a prime-time matchup to get excited about this team. Not when it’s 3-0, ranked 13th in the country and coming off one of its largest offensive outputs in program history. The Hokies have a lot to protect, even before they face off with the defending national champions next week, and folks want to be there to experience it.
If Tech can win today as a 27.5-point favorite, it will go unbeaten in nonconference play for the first time since 2011. Coincidentally, the Hokies also were ranked 13th that year when they defeated Marshall to move to 4-0 ahead of the conference opener against — you guessed it — Clemson.
The difference this time? The Hokies already have a win over a ranked opponent, having beaten West Virginia in the opener. That 2011 squad beat Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and the Thundering Herd.
If they do move to 4-0, the Hokies have to hope at least one other thing is different, too. That 2011 team flopped against Clemson, 23-3, under the lights at Lane Stadium.
Thanks to David Teel of The Daily Press in Newport News for passing along a gem of a quote from ODU coach Bobby Wilder. Wilder actually uttered this in advance of last week’s game at North Carolina, but it applies again this week.
Knowing that Wilder is a disciple of analytics under all circumstances, making in-game decisions based on empirical probabilities rather than gut feelings, Teel asked him if he’s apt to push the envelope even further against a Power Five opponent.
“The analytics start with the Vegas line,” Wilder said, immediately becoming my hero. “I can’t believe I’m saying this as a college football coach, but they start with the line, and the more of an underdog you are, the more aggressive they want you to be. Do not be conservative when you’re an underdog because you have to do something in the course of the game to change the game.
“And it always goes back to momentum. You have to do something to create momentum. Now when you’re at home, hopefully your crowd’s into it, you create momentum, those type of things. But whether it’s a fake punt, an onside kick, or where the chart might say, hey, you’re at the 50, fourth-and-3 you go, and you say you know what, it’s fourth-and-5 we’re going. We have to do something to disrupt the flow of this game.
“Somehow you’ve got to steal a possession. Whatever the line is that you’re down, that’s how many possessions you have to steal to be successful. So if we’re a 7-point underdog, we’ve got to steal at least one (possession). … If you’re a two-touchdown underdog, you’ve got to figure out a way to steal two.”
This week? As previously noted, the Monarchs are nearly four-touchdown underdogs. Wilder will be looking to pick a lot of locks.
If the game goes as the Hokies hope it does, Saturday could provide Coleman Fox an opportunity for a late-day encore.
The 2014 Timesland Player of the Year as a senior at Salem High School, Fox got the first eight rushing attempts of his Tech career in last week’s 64-17 blowout victory at East Carolina. He gained 34 yards on them, including a 5-yard touchdown that created the final margin.
Fox, who was rated as the No. 53 running back in the country by ESPN when he left Salem, redshirted in 2015 and did not see any action last season. Tech’s crowded backfield has limited him to mop-up duty for the time being.
But he can say he’s already a quarter of the way to the collegiate touchdown total for his father, Rich, who scored four times on 136 career carries for the Hokies from 1986-89.