Virginia Tech (2-0, 1-0) comes off their bonus bye week still sitting pretty at No. 13 in the AP Poll. The Hokies will hit the road to the 757 for their first of six trips to Norfolk to play the Old Dominion Monarchs. It's just the third true road non-conference game since Justin Fuente took over in Blacksburg. Whoever names the other two in the comments first wins a prize.
First Down: A Cure To Rainy Day Blues
This was an unexpected off week. So much for getting into some semblance of a routine, right?
"We haven't had a normal week yet," noted Justin Fuente on Monday. "I sat right here in front of all you all and talked about how excited I was to have a normal week. And that fell apart in short order."
Fuente mentioned that the team was literally about to start special teams practice last Wednesday afternoon when the game was cancelled by East Carolina. With plans suddenly thrown to the wind, what exactly did the team do?
"This is the approach we took, because of our inexperience," said Fuente. "We took last week to focus on ourselves. Now certainly, we did some work as coaches for the next game. In terms of gameplanning [for] ODU. But we really tried to get back to fundamentals, evaluate some young guys who've played in the first couple ball games."
The upcoming matchup against the Monarchs also helped the Hokies stay focused during the bye week.
"The excitement of playing this game helps us with the ups and downs of playing and then immediately turning around and then not playing and now trying to get back into a little bit of a rhythm," explained Fuente.
Josh Jackson and Rayshard Ashby provided some personal insight into what the bye week practices looked like.
"It was a lot of crossover," said Jackson. "A lot of work against each other and I think we got better because of that."
"The coaches were preaching to us all week about getting better," added Ashby. "So it was about getting better. Had a lot of crossover work and just going through the crossover and get better and do the things to get better for this next week.
With all this crossover work, maybe Buzz can find some roster depth for basketball season.
ba dum psssss.
Also mentioned during the press conferences this week, and certainly worth a mention now, was the Hokies' health. Tech got healthy during the week off. Hokie Nation hyperventilated as Ricky Walker limped off the field in both the Florida State and William & Mary games. And I think you would be hard pressed to find a diehard Hokie that would take Walker being healthy at the expense of the East Carolina game.
"The bye week, for us, probably physically came at a good time as well, particularly for Ricky," explained Bud Foster. "And Ricky is so important for us, just all the way around. Obviously, his play on Saturday's show up. But his approach during the week, that's kind of where I've labeled him the bellcow because he's the guy who comes to work every day. You know what you're going to get from Ricky Walker. You know what he's going to demand from his teammates because that's what he's going to do every day. The bye week was awesome for him. ... he's practiced Sunday, he's going to practice today [Tuesday] and he looks sharp, and looked good and looked quick. I know with him being a senior, he's chomping at the bit to get back out and play."
"It [the bye week] was very big," explained Walker. "Not just for me but for the team. I think we needed it as far as our growth as a team. And me personally to get healthy, [it] came at a perfect time."
Walker added that he think he would've been ready to play against East Carolina if the game had gone on as scheduled. He said he sprained his foot and "rolled it up pretty good" against William & Mary.
So don't fret Hokie faithful. The bellcow is back.
Second Down: Oh Dear, Old Dominion
I know you read the title of this piece and thought to yourself that there's no way that ODU got blown out by Liberty. Admit it.
Ah. But hey, at least the Monarchs got paid 1.32 million dollars to lose by 42.
Silver linings, everyone. Need to have them.
Old Dominion moved up to FBS competition in 2014. The Monarchs became bowl eligible for the first time in 2016, winning 9 games in the regular season and adding a 24–20 victory in the Bahamas Bowl to finish with a 10-win season. 2017 was not a great follow-up season for ODU, as they went 5-7 and did not make a bowl.
Old Dominion so far this season have failed to pick up a win against Liberty, FIU, and Charlotte. To add even more drama to the team, it's being reported that multiple starting jobs are up for grabs as the Monarchs prepare for Saturday afternoon. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Old Dominion will be staying home this bowl season.
While the Hokies are expected to leave Norfolk with an easy victory on Saturday afternoon (the Hokies' opened as 28-point favorites), that doesn't mean the Hokies won't be ready to play.
Fuente had high praise for the Monarchs on Monday afternoon. Although, he seems to have high praise for every opponent the Hokies play, no matter who it is. How odd.
"When you look at their team and you start to think about those defensive ends on the defensive side of the ball, they're senior laden," explained Fuente. "They've got a bunch of senior guys with plenty of experience. I think the ends are really really good players. Number 15 on special teams is dynamic, I mean, can really really run. He returned a kickoff against North Carolina last year for a touchdown ... I think they're going to continue to improve. They're certainly dangerous."
Third Down: Road Trip Ready
When the Old Dominion series extension was announced in 2017, Tech being the away team in alternating years immediately stood out. I think the main consensus amongst Hokie message boards was that it was mostly for recruiting. The 757 is a hotbed for college football talent. Why wouldn't the Tech coaching staff take the opportunity to go play in front of those recruits?
As Lee Corso would say: "Not so fast, my friend."
"I'm excited about this game," said Fuente. "Excited to get back on the field and, you know, head to the 757 area. Got several kids obviously on our team that are from that area. It'll be good for them to get to go home and play."
"I think it's neat to kind of take our, for lack of a better term, take the band on the road here," Fuente added. "To kind of reach out to our fanbase and have the chance, you know, we played in the DC area, Northern Virginia last year. Now this year we get to play in the 757. Those people have been fantastic fans, making that 4-plus hour drive to come see us in Blacksburg. I think it's a great opportunity for us to come to them one time. That's what I'm getting at. We're excited to play in this game. We really are. Part of it's got to do with the venue and location, part of it has got to do with the opponent.
But surely, it has to do some with recruiting, right?
"I mean, I don't know, it certainly doesn't' hurt. I don't think 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'. I just don't know that's ever been the straw that put the kid over the top. I do think it's good. I think it's great for our fanbase. To me, that's the primary benefactor of this, is we get a chance to prove that we do want to be a program that reaches out and says 'thank you' to our fanbase. As far as recruiting [goes], I certainly don't think it hurts. I don't know if it's a gigantic factor in the big scheme of things."
Alright. Message received loud and clear. This game definitely has little to do with recruiting.
For the Tech players, some of them are really excited to return home and play in front of their friends and family.
Ricky Walker hails from Hampton, VA and played high school ball at Bethel High School just a few minutes down the road from Old Dominion's stadium.
"The more I sit back and think about it, the more I get excited to play," said Walker. "I'm actually going home to play. It's going to be cool. Finally get to get some Tidewater air. First time playing at ODU is going to be pretty cool for me. Family is going to be there, and I'm sure the whole stadium is going to pretty much be Hokies in there. It's a different feeling going home playing, in front of your friends and family."
"It's always good to go back home with your friends and your family," added Hezekiah Grimsley. "But it's not really a big deal to me. I mean, it's a cool deal for everybody from the 757. It should be an exciting game, I think it's sold out if I'm not mistaken. It should be a cool experience."
The Hokies will go from playing in front of 75,237 fans at Florida State in the season opener to just 20,118 fans in Foreman Field on Saturday afternoon. It won't faze Walker, but it's still an unique environment to be playing in.
"For me personally, I don't really pay attention to the crowd size and all of that, other than whenever you first run out of the tunnel," explained Walker. "After that, it's pretty much play ball, lock in, it doesn't matter who's in the crowd or in the stadium."
Fourth Down: ODU FAQ
I received some backlash from the William & Mary Four Down Friday after calling this part of the piece a "less fun version of 'Foe"Rensics'" with "information actually dealing with the game."
Guess what I'm doing again? Fight me.
What has ODU done so far this year?
Uh... lost to Liberty by 42, FIU by 8, and Charlotte by 3.
So I guess you could spin that and say that they're improving week by week? There's really not much that's positive to take out of ODU's season so far.
What should Hokie Nation expect to see?
Lots of points scored. Hopefully most of them by the Hokies.
This feels like another game where if the backups don't get lots of playing time, something will have gone wrong. I don't think that the Monarchs have the firepower to go blow for blow with the Hokies this year. Tech's defense appears to be up to the task this season, and Tech's offense is talented enough to blow past a Conference USA caliber defense.
Who should fans keep an eye on?
Elijah "La La" Davis. The 5'10", 210 pound true freshman running back out of Heritage High School in Virginia. He's set to make his first start for the Monarchs on Saturday afternoon. Davis ran for 6,690 yards in high school, including a nationwide-best 3,670 yards his senior year. Other accolades for his senior year included 61 touchdowns and the most points in a season in Virginia. Kid can run.
"I think we'll continue to see more of Elijah Davis," said Fuente. "I think he's got a bright future there. We loved him in high school, [and] he's kind of now getting in the flow of things offensively."
The Tech defense proved itself in the Florida State game against Cam Akers. This is another opportunity for them to prove their mettle against a good running back.
Do the Monarchs pull the upset?
Nope. The Hokies head out of Norfolk sitting at 3-0 on the season and a date with Duke on the docket.