Mike Langston is the founder of ODU Monarchists and an ODU alum. You can follow him on Twitter at @ODUMonarchists. You can also check out his podcast at the-monarchists.captivate.fm. Mike joined us this week for a game week Q&A.
Tell us about yourself and your podcast.
Our group, the Monarchists, is made up of about 18 folks and our significant others. I started the group as a Twitter Direct Message chat during a really bad season, so we could air our grievances with no filter and in private. That evolved into going to games together, tailgating as a group and we eventually started some social media campaigns to raise money for ODU athletics and Toys for Tots. And through those successes, we have done our best to find the next charity or ODU sport to support. So far, we’ve helped raise over $25k for ODU baseball, collected hundreds of toys and thousands of dollars for Toys for Tots, and over $30k for ODU football. We take a lot of pride in that. This past spring, Aaron Zielinksi and I decided to start a podcast to help support our fundraising efforts. And it’s taken off pretty quickly and we’ve landed interviews we didn’t think would be possible for a while. We’ve interviewed most of ODU’s coaches including Ricky Rahne and Jeff Jones, ODU’s athletic director Wood Selig, Sun Belt commissioner Keith Gill and Phil Steele. This fall we have lined up interviews with every beat reporter for ODU’s football opponents including Andy Bitter. We’re pretty excited for the future of the show and think Hokie fans will enjoy our discussion with Andy Bitter. It should be released on Tuesday (Aug. 30th) the week of the game.
Tell us about your team this year. What are your expectations for Old Dominion this season?
Last year, we were the youngest team in the country, coached by the youngest staff in the country, coming off a year where we didn’t play football due to COVID and the restrictions placed on Hampton Roads. That young team started out rough going 1-5 but showed big signs of progress from 2019. The defense was flying to the ball and finally wreaking havoc after a decade of what many referred to as NoDU football. Changing to the 4-2-5 allowed ODU to start playing “Speed D” and get the best athletes on the field to make plays. The offensive line benefited from an RPO based offense where they could pull and punish in the run game while disrupting blitz packages. We just lacked a consistent passing game early in the season, allowing teams to stack the box. After that 6th game, we made a quarterback change to Hayden Wolff, the offense got on a roll (PPG went up 9 points and ypg went up 100) and we pulled off 5 straight wins to qualify for a bowl game.
Most of that team returns. We replace our center, leading tackler and a couple starters in the secondary but pretty much everyone else returns and we’ve landed some good pieces in the portal to fill those holes. Our defensive line is the best unit and with the improved secondary, I believe our defense could be pretty good in the Sun Belt with 5 of our top 6 tacklers returning and great depth in all three levels. Offensively, we return a 1k yard back in Blake Watson, a preseason All-American at tight end in Zack Kuntz, 1k yard receiver Ali Jennings, Hayden Wolff at QB, and 4 of our 5 starting OL from a year ago. If the communication is good on the offensive line, this unit could be very good because they have P5 size/speed and another year of experience blocking in an RPO system. They’ll want to establish the run and open up passing lanes. Kuntz is a stud that can give defenses fits (Bruce Feldman had him on his freak list) at 6’8, with a 40 inch vertical and a 4.5 forty time. Ali is a speedy receiver who can take the top off of defenses. And Blake is a good all-purpose back but will need to be more active in the passing game. There’s a ton of talent in the receiver group but it will be important for a second option to become a legit outside threat opposite of Jennings. If a solid #2 deep threat emerges, this offense could be Top 3 in the Sun Belt.
ODU has a brutal schedule this season with Virginia Tech, UVA, Liberty and ECU plus a run through the best G5 division in the country. 6-6 is a realistic goal given the schedule but I wouldn’t be shocked if this team gets rolling early offensively and ends up 9-3.
What are your thoughts on playing Virginia Tech for the next 10 seasons?
This series is a great one for ODU. It provides our fans with an easy and fun road trip to make, something we didn’t have much of in CUSA. But even with the move to the more regional Sun Belt, it is still one of our easier trips to make as fans. More importantly, it provides a measuring stick for our program and how we are progressing. We still are a pretty young program, so getting to play Virginia Tech annually gives us a good idea on if we’re on the right track or not. It’s a game ODU fans circle as one they have to be at, especially in Norfolk.
How do you view the Virginia Tech program?
Virginia Tech has been the flagship program in the state for the last 20-plus years. While Fuente took some of that luster away, I think y’all made a great choice in Brent Pry and getting back to the standards Hokie fans have for the program should be coming soon.
How do you feel about Virginia Tech coming to play games in the 757?
I think it’s a net positive for both programs. Obviously, ODU gets a marquee game for our fans to get excited about and our players/recruits to play. Virginia Tech gets to visit/host the 757 recruits, allows their 757 guys a chance to play in front of family and gives an easier trip for all of their local fans to make. This year’s game being played on a Friday night in Ballard (while not ideal for recruiting purposes) will be electric. Our stadium may be small compared to Lane, but it can get pretty loud. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.
What are your expectations for the Virginia Tech game?
I expect this to be a defensive battle, a low scoring affair. It sounds cliche, but the offense that makes fewer mistakes will end up the victor. Special teams will play a big role as well. I know our staff puts a lot of emphasis on having talented players on the special teams units and it was the deciding factor in a lot of our games last year. KR Lamareon James is as fast as they come and if he can find a hole, he’s taking it to the house. I imagine with the similar background of Coach Pry’s staff and the Hokie ball history of Virginia Tech, the same could be said for y’all this year.
What’s your prediction for the game?
I think the Vegas line is about right but Virginia Tech has so many unknowns on both sides of the ball. ODU is familiar with Grant Wells and the two coaching staffs are very connected, that chess match will be fun for years to come. Both teams will lean on defense and special teams early so expect a good bit of ground and pound with sneaky explosive plays mixed in from both new offensive coordinators. Third down and red zone conversions are likely the make or break for both teams. First to twenty, wins. Hammer the under.