Other than a few run-ins , Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente doesn’t have much history with Old Dominion’s Bobby Wilder. That doesn’t mean Fuente hasn’t noticed what Wilder has accomplished.
His admiration for Wilder is abundant . After all, Fuente didn’t start from scratch like Wilder did at ODU. But when Fuente turned Memphis’ program around prior to coming to Tech, he was pretty close to bare bones with just 52 scholarship players heading into the 2012 season – his first year coaching the Tigers.
“I know probably people in this state give Bobby credit,” Fuente said Monday. “I’m not sure he gets enough credit on the national level for the job he’s done at ODU. I mean, to really literally build that thing from scratch is really a fantastic job.”
Pleasantries aside, there are more pressing matters for the No. 13 Hokies.
Tech needs to find out what works and repair what doesn’t Saturday afternoon in Blacksburg in the first of what’s slated to be 13 meetings with ODU (2-1) through 2031 .
ODU, coming off a 53-23 home loss Saturday to North Carolina, is likely as overmatched as East Carolina was last weekend against Tech, but Clemson awaits the Hokies on Sept. 30 in a game that was announced Monday as an 8 p.m. kickoff in Lane Stadium and will broadcast by ABC.
Tech needs to be sharp . Despite a 3-0 start featuring a neutral-field win over then-No. 22 West Virginia to start the season and a 64-17 mangling of ECU on the road , the Hokies are far from flawless.
Tech had its best day this season running the ball against the Pirates, using 10 backs to amass 287 yards and three touchdowns on 62 carries. Fuente and running backs coach Zohn Burden, a Virginia Beach native and Salem High graduate who has had two stints on Wilder’s staff (defensive backs coach from 2007-2010, joining the staff two years before the program’s first season ; passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach 2012-14), agree on what sparked the running game against ECU.
“Movement on the line of scrimmage, and the running backs actually hitting the right holes and finding seams in there was very critical,” said Burden, who saw Tech produce just 81 yards on 28 carries Sept. 9 in a 27-0 home win over Delaware. “We just wanted to be better than we were in the Delaware game, and those guys answered the challenge. I think that was the biggest reason why.”
ODU hasn’t been fantastic against the run (149.3 yards per game by opponents; 76th out of 129 Football Bowl Subdivision programs in rushing defense), but it has been better than ECU, which has played a much more challenging schedule (James Madison, at West Virginia, Tech) .
While the Hokies’ offensive line showed improvement creating room at ECU, it could be asked to make sure redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson (eight touchdowns and no interceptions thrown this season) stays poised and confident against ODU’s pass rush . The Monarchs lead the nation with 16 sacks, led by defensive tackle Miles Fox and defensive end Oshane Ximines, who each have 3½ .
Jackson, who passed for 372 yards at ECU (most in a single game by a Tech freshman or redshirt freshman ) and tied a school single-game record with five touchdown passes, has shown scrambling ability . He’s also gotten comfortable with his primary target, receiver Cam Phillips, who had a single-game school-record 14 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns at ECU.
ODU’s Steven Williams, a 6-foot-4, 196-pound freshman quarterback who was a teammate last season of Hokies freshman receiver Sean Savoy at Woodrow Wilson High in Washington, D.C., will be hard-pressed to show the composure Jackson has displayed when Williams makes his first career start .
Williams was named ODU’s starter Monday by Wilder, whose team is 0-5 against Power 5 programs since the Monarchs joined Conference USA in 2014. Against UNC, Williams came in late in the second quarter for his college debut and completed 9 of 20 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
Williams is only 17, and there isn’t much college video of him to review, but he will show up on high school video Tech has of Savoy. Williams, a left-hander, completed 141 of 253 passes for 2,395 yards and 31 touchdowns last season at Woodrow Wilson, while Savoy had 949 receiving yards.
It remains to be seen whether Tech will have cornerback Adonis Alexander against ODU. Alexander, who started the Hokies’ first two games, was left off the travel squad for the ECU game because “he has not lived up to (Tech’s) expectations,” Fuente said Friday in a release from the Hokies’ athletic department.
“We will continue to evaluate that throughout the week and see kind of how it goes,” Fuente said .