There are a whole bunch of reasons it's a good thing the Hokies didn't play ECU this weekend, but, nevertheless, I'm left with one nagging doubt.
Believe me when I tell you that I had no great desire to see Tech play the Pirates in a rainy, sleepy noon game, given the two teams' history in those circumstances. And all that's to say nothing of safety concerns during then-Hurricane Florence — though I will note, from personal experience, that the weather in Blacksburg really was pretty pleasant on Saturday.
So, what's the harm, then, in skipping the game, besides depriving Hokies faithful of one precious week of football? Well, it strikes me that the team's lost one of its precious few chances to work out the kinks before the schedule really picks up in strength.
Far be it for me to discount ECU's talents, or ODU for that matter, but it strikes me that we might not know quite as much about this team as we thought we did after the FSU game.
The Seminoles' subsequent struggles, first against Samford then Syracuse, hardly invalidate what the Hokies pulled off in Tallahassee. Willie Taggart's bunch has plenty of problems, but the Noles are still plenty talented and Doak Campbell is a tough place to play in week one.
But the fact that the Noles have had such trouble scoring against inferior competition these last two weeks certainly puts the defense's performance in a different light. I'd definitely have felt better seeing that group get a chance to show its stuff against ECU, which has had a decent offense in the early going.
Nevertheless, Tech still has Saturday to button up any additional issues before traveling to Duke for a sneaky tough night game two weeks from now.
Let's get into it.
Musical Chairs on the OL Keeps Rolling
The offensive line shuffling has been perhaps the most interesting move by the offensive staff in the early going, and it seems a good bet we'll see more against ODU.
Consider that we have a burgeoning battle at left tackle between Christian Darrisaw and Silas Dzansi (which French so ably broke down earlier), Kyle Chung moving around to play all three different spots and Zachariah Hoyt's sudden snapping issues. The unit is deep enough to remain the sort of stabilizing force the coaches touted this offseason, but that's a lot more uncertainty than I expected heading into week four.
But that's all going according to plan, says OL coach Vance Vice. At Tuesday's media session, Vice said he fully plans to keep moving around players as often as possible — and even that he wanted to do similar shuffling against the Noles, even in such a big spot. More via Norm Wood of the Daily Press:
"Obviously, we see multiple fronts and different things like that and pressures," Vice said. "We've got to get prepared for those, but keeping our plan simple allows me to play as many people as I can when they're ready and when I trust them...If one guy is not getting it exactly right, I can shuffle a guy over or him over, and it allows me to have a little bit of false depth with guys being able to play multiple positions or play all the positions on one side or the other. We practice like that."
Vice has always hinted at that sort of philosophy, particularly in spring and fall camp, and he's truly putting it into practice this year.
For what it's worth, it seems Dzansi is set to get to the start against ODU (even Darrisaw seems to have the early favor of the staff) so the battle certainly continues there. Although it does seem that injuries have played into things a little bit recently, in Hoyt's case in particular.
QB Josh Jackson said center Zachariah Hoyt was dealing with a pinkie issue against W&M, which probably contributed to his snapping issues. Hoyt changed things up a little and seems to have fixed the issue this past week. #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) September 18, 2018
This is where an extra game would've really helped Vice continue to sort things out on the line. It'd certainly be nice to know if the team has a center who can manage the exchange with Josh Jackson without any problems, even though we've seen scattered issues with both Kyle Chung and now Hoyt on that front.
Even still, Vice's tactics are working so far. Even with those snap issues (and the inexperience of some key starters), Wood points out that Tech "hasn't been called for a false-start penalty and has surrendered just three sacks."
Not too shabby. ODU will be another excellent chance to sort out the exact status of the line, I expect, before things get serious against Duke.
Walker Rests Up
Ordinarily, getting a bye week so early in the season isn't really necessary — after all, it's hard to have too many injuries when you've only played two games.
But it seems that the week off was good news for one very important starter on defense, at least.
Bud said the unexpected bye week came at a good time for DT Ricky Walker, who got nicked up in both of the #Hokies' games so far this season. Said Walker practiced Sunday and will practice today too.— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) September 18, 2018
DT Ricky Walker said he feels like what he called a sprained right foot would've been healed enough to play by last Saturday against East Carolina...if the game had taken place. #Hokies— Norm Wood (@normwood) September 18, 2018
The way Walker describes the injury, it sounds as if he'd have no trouble playing through it — and let's face it, in an ideal world, he'd only need to be in the game for the first quarter or two against ECU.
Still, it can't hurt that he wasn't playing on it and risking re-injuring it, particularly because DT is absolutely among the thinnest positions on the team at the moment.
The week off is probably good news for Vinny Mihota as well, who's doing some recovery of his own. He barely played at all against William and Mary, and I have to wonder just how he's faring these days.
Perhaps an intrepid reporter could inquire as to his status these days — or if Bud addressed this today and I missed it, I'd certainly like to know. It seems quite relevant indeed, as the meat of the schedule looms.
ODU's Real Value
Unless things really take a turn for the worse Saturday, the Monarchs don't seem set to offer a terrible amount of competition for the Hokies.
Tech is a 25-plus point favorite, depending on where you look. ODU's offense is ranked a thrilling 109th in the country in yards per game; the defense is even worse, at 119th in yards allowed. The Monarchs are still relatively new to FBS football, after all, becoming fully bowl eligible in 2015.
So why should the Hokies even bother with this one? Well, everybody in college football relies on early-season cannon fodder, but there's a more subtle reason at play.
Frankly, this series against ODU was among the savviest moves by the late Jim Weaver when it came to non-conference scheduling, and it was subsequently extended by Whit Babcock.
If you're going to play a smaller school for a long period of time, then thoughtful athletic directors will find ones with some upside, and ODU certainly fits the bill. With a hefty alumni base in the area, the game acts as a nice little reward to local Hokies — ODU has already announced a sellout for the game, no doubt due to Tech's influence.
Fuente even told reporters Monday he saw it as a "chance to prove that we do want to be a program that reaches out and says 'Thank you' to our fan base."
But, of course, it surely helps recruiting efforts too.
Fuente was dismissive of the notion Monday, pointing out that "I don't know that I've ever sat in front of a kid and he said I'm coming there because you have one game scheduled three years from now in my backyard," but it seems to me he's playing down the benefit of bringing the team to the 757.
It's not as if Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads are the most challenging locales for the coaches to recruit during the season, it sure does help to kill two birds with one stone if the Hokies can, say, invite prospects to a game without them needing leave home.
Surely it helps a little to pitch the chance to play at home to any Tidewater natives — Walker himself said he's looking forward to "actually going home to play, finally get some Tidewater air." But getting the coaches down to perhaps the most important region in the state is the real benefit, particularly if they can show off the dedication of the Hokie faithful who've arrived at Tech's first game in the region since 1986.
As far as non-conference opponents go, it surely sets ODU apart from a program like Liberty. Or, dare I say it, ECU.