Perfecting ‘little details’ will help new ODU QB Grant Wilson build on first start

In the final minutes of a long Saturday night beneath the emptying seats at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, Old Dominion center Xavier Black approached his team’s rookie quarterback with a postgame message.

“We’re going to fix it,” Black told Grant Wilson in the moments after the Monarchs’ 36-17 loss. “There’s going to be trust, and we’re going to turn it around.”

Wilson had been sacked five times, completing 13 of 25 passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns under intense, relentless pressure.

Statistics and opponent aside, the reviews of Wilson’s first career start were overwhelmingly positive.

A junior transfer from Fordham, Wilson had all of 13 college passes on his résumé before Saturday, all as a backup. None of them came on national TV or before a vocal crowd north of 65,000.

ODU coach Ricky Rahne said he expects Wilson to benefit from live game reps.

“A lot of times, you have a situation where there’s some things maybe you do in practice, and then when you get in the game, you forget to do them — those little details,” Rahne said Monday at his weekly news conference. “And as you play your first game, you can watch yourself on tape and be like, ‘Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that?’ Well, now you can start to remind yourself right before you go on the field to do those sort of things. That’s what can really help you take a leap, is those little details.”

Wilson’s teammates, who expressed overwhelming confidence in him after he was named the starter late last month, remain unwavering in their support.

Wilson carried 19 times for a team-high 81 yards against the Hokies.

“I’m proud of him,” All-American linebacker Jason Henderson said after the game. “There was a lot of talk about it, obviously, but I don’t think he let that get to his mind. Personally, I think he did a great job. He really held his own in the backfield. I think he did a great job running the ball, tossing the ball.”

Added Black: “Man, I thought he played his heart out. He’s a competitor. He’s a great guy.”

One detail that was easy to miss Saturday came in the third quarter, when Wilson lost his helmet and, by rule, had to retreat to the sideline. That forced backup Jack Shields into the game for a play designed for him to make a run-pass read.

Shields, a sophomore taking his first college snap in the most extreme of environments, simply handed the ball off and went back to the sideline.

“Lord knows he wanted to make a play, right?” Rahne said. “He wanted to do that. Instead, he just did his job and handed the ball off like he should’ve. I thought that was a really culturally significant play to the team: Hey, just do your job. Don’t try to make a play.”

Black, for one, was equally impressed.

“That environment, obviously, is great,” he said. “As a quarterback, you’ve got so much on your plate, so I couldn’t imagine doing that. But Jack came in and did a great job. He executed.”

So did Wilson and the rest of the offense — just not quite often enough. The Monarchs committed three second-half turnovers, including a Wilson interception, that proved to be the difference in what had been anybody’s contest.

“I thought I was prepared going into the game,” Wilson said. “But like Mike Tyson’s quote: ‘You have a plan until you’re punched in the face.’ I got hit a lot of times. Their defense was awesome. They brought a lot of pressure. They did really good things in the secondary. But we really did just shoot ourselves in the foot a lot.”

Rahne was especially pleased with the way Wilson ran the ball.

“You’ve got another weapon, which is huge,” Rahne said.

“It just makes the defense play a little bit more sound and a little bit more honest. So yeah, I think it’s critical.”

David Hall, Twitter @DavidHallVP.