Not a HokieHaven.com subscriber? Get access to all our premium content FREE until the Virginia game with our Hokies2017 promotion!
USA Today Sports Images
Although Old Dominion is just a few years into its existence as a Football Bowl Subdivision program, the Monarchs are building. That's evident in the results last year (10-3, including a bowl victory), and so far this year, when the Monarchs are 201 with the lone loss coming to ACC competition.
Defensively, it all starts with a voracious pass rush. ODU has racked up 16 sacks through the first three games, tied for tops in the nation. Most impressively - especially for a young program - they're doing it without having to bring the blitz.
"I think the strength of their defense are their down linemen: they play quite a few," Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said. "Their starting four really stand out. I mean, they've got some game experience. They've got size, explosiveness, they play hard. They can play at a lot of places. That seems to be the way they've created the most pressure. They haven't needed or haven't been forced into bringing a lot of people because they're so good up front."
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's offense has done a decent job in protection, allowing quarterback Josh Jackson to be taken down just three times.
"I think Josh has done a good job of getting rid of the football sometimes when he's under duress," Fuente said. "We've tried to stay out of, the best that we can, those obvious passing downs. We have been in some of them in third down particularly two weeks ago.I think those statistics are a byproduct of a couple things. I think one is improvement up front. We continue to get better, understand what we're trying to accomplish. I think part of it is Josh doing a pretty good job handling those moments. The other part of it is trying to stay ahead of the chains."
The other side of the ball has been Virginia Tech's calling card, though. An explosive offense is just a complement to an outstanding defense that should only continue to approach last year's high standards as the year slogs on.
There will be a slightly easier-than-expected test against the Monarchs in Lane Stadium Saturday, though. Starting wide receiver Jonathan Duhart suffered a foot injury against Massachusetts in the second game of the year, and will miss the rest of the season. Running back Ray Lawry is also out long-term. Lawry's injury saw former starting receiver Jeremy Cox move to tailback and start the past two games. Right tackle Chad Hendricks is also out with injury.
To top it all off, ODU has already started two different quarterbacks this season - sophomores Blake LaRussa and Jordan Hoy - and is slated to go with a third against the Hokies. True freshman Steven Williams Jr. stands atop the Week Four depth chart.
"Those were very fine players that they lost," Fuente said of Old Dominion's walking wounded. "They've kind of had a reemergence of [slot receiver Isaiah Harper] in the kick return game, kind of the perimeter screen game. He can really run. Their brand-new quarterback coming in kind of breathed a little life into them I think offensively. I haven't seen a dramatic shift in their overall philosophy."
While the two teams will surely come out trying to beat the other Saturday, Fuente also believes it's a good thing for the top program in the state to continue playing the lesser-known schools, like Old Dominion. Supporting the state overall can only be a positive for all involved.
"I do think it's good for us to play in-state schools. If we can't do that, I think it's good for us to play regional games. The ODU game is a unique event because it's also located in the 757 area, which has been a big place for us historically, will be in the future recruiting-wise. We've got games on their campus, as well, in the future. In general terms, I'd say I like that. I like that general philosophy of trying to stay in state."