We have lift off on the Brent Pry era. Brent Pry and staff have made all the right moves this offseason. Now comes the hard part. How will this staff manage a roster they inherited and turn them into a winning football team? That may be a lot to ask in year one but there is a lot of excitement amongst the fan base. Brent Pry has done a good job of embracing the parts of the program that the fans care about. Pry’s next obstacle is to try get a win on the road at ODU. Something the previous staff was not able to do.
Overall: 61st Offense: 90th Defense: 31st
Overall: 93rd Offense: 80th Defense: 107th
ODU has a good offense but one that plays to the strengths of the Hokies defense. If the Hokies are able to stop the run and pressure the quarterback, they should be in good shape. ODU has Hayden Wolff at quarterback. He is not very mobile and has a tendency to throw into traffic. This sets up like a good opportunity for Derek Jones’ cheetahs to be on the prowl. They need to look to force Wolff into mistakes in the passing game. The Hokies need to also be on the lookout for TE Zach Kuntz. He’s an NFL prospect and one of the top ten tight ends going into next year’s draft. He’s a player that the Hokies need to keep an eye on.
ODU already has some familiarity with Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Wells. They played against him while he was with Marshall last season. Wells threw for 299 yards and 2 touchdowns in that game but also threw 2 interceptions. He will need to cut down on the turnovers to keep ODU from getting any short fields. The last time the Hokies lost an opener was against Boston College on the road in 2019. That day, the offense turned the ball over five times. They need to avoid the turnover bug on Friday.
Another area the Hokies will want to watch out for is on kick and punt returns. ODU was one of the best kick and punt return units in the country last season. Former Hokies recruiting target, Lamareon James, is ODU’s kick and punt returner. He is electric with the ball in his hands. The Hokies coverage teams will need to be ready, otherwise he can house one.
A lot of the national experts out there are underrating the Hokies. Yes, the Fuente-coached Hokies have looked awful in the past few seasons. That’s true. But this is a new regime and there is still talent on this roster. Does that mean the Hokies will blow the doors off ODU? No. But there is enough to win on the road against a middle-of-the-road Sun Belt team. It won’t look pretty, but they’ll get it done.
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.
Brent Pry has a lot of work to do. The Fuente era left a lot of areas that need improvement. The first area of focus needs to be to improve the roster. There are very few all-conference players on this team. If other ACC teams had the opportunity to switch players with the Hokies, I don’t know how many would. If Tech hopes to improve on last year’s 6-7 season, this coaching staff will need to work some magic with the roster.
The previous staff was a little too conservative on offense — especially in the 4th quarter. They relied too much on “expected outcomes”. Usually, those expected outcomes were plays that didn’t go for many yards. If the new staff can take the reigns off this offense, we should see more big plays than last season. At least get the ball into the hands of your playmakers.
I don’t know a whole lot about Grant Wells but what I see from him, he looks like he should be a solid QB for the Hokies. A good arm and accurate with some mobility. He’s not a game-changing talent but there’s enough there to win you football games. I see him as another Ryan Willis / Michael Brewer-type QB. You know what you’re getting from them and it’s enough to win you football games.
In the past few years, the Hokies have also had to rely on the backup quarterback. The Hokies have a solid backup in Jason Brown. Last year, he registered wins against Florida and Auburn. Although, like Wells, he is not a game-changing talent, he is able to win you football games in a pinch. Winning games in the SEC is nice to have on your resume.
The Hokies should feel good about what they have at running back. Malachi Thomas was impressive as a true freshman. In a scheme that is set up to let running backs shine, Malachi Thomas should be able to put up even better numbers. Behind him, they should get solid play from Jalen Holston. Holston will need to prove he can be more consistent than he was last season. With Joe Rudolph coordinating the run game, this is an offense that will be friendly to running backs.
The receiving room definitely has some question marks. The only known quantity that is expected to get serious playing time is Kaleb Smith. And most of his work has come as a backup the last couple of years. If this is going to be successful group, the newcomers will need to step up and fill the void. If the Hokies can’t get production out of those newcomers, this offense might be stuck in mud all season.
The offensive line doesn’t have a lot of depth but they will have elite coaching. Joe Rudolph is one of the best offensive line coaches in college football. He is the right guy to take a young line and mold them into functional group this year. This is a position group that needs to avoid the injury bug. An injury or two on the line would dampen the ability for this offense to move the ball.
The biggest change will be the new scheme and new coaches. These coaches will let the players go out there and make plays. The previous staff put the reins on the office too much. The staff needs to let their playmakers make plays.
There are some good pieces on the defensive side of the ball. Including a couple of players that have not reached their potential the last few years. This new, defensive-minded staff should be able to get more from this defensive talent. If we know one thing, it’s that Brent Pry knows how to coach defense.
The defensive line doesn’t have a ton of depth but they have enough that they should be okay. They should be able to go two deep at both at end and at tackle. Should injuries pile up, things might get a little dicey. For now, this is a solid group that could get All-ACC play from their two starting defensive tackles. The defensive ends will need to get more pressure than they did last year to improve this defense. Quarterbacks last year had too much time to throw.
Linebacker is the position group that concerns me the most on defense. Too many guys that haven’t been consistent in the past. Will the new staff be able to maximize their strengths? These linebackers will need to learn and adapt to the new scheme that they were not recruited for. The Hokies will need to get more sideline-to-sideline play from this group. There has been too much inconsistent play from this position group in the past couple of years. And there are questions about speed and coverage ability in this group.
I like the defensive backs group quite a bit. This is an underrated group. Dorian Strong has the potential to reclaim his play from 2020 when he was a freshman All-American. You also have Armani Chatman and Brion Murray who have been solid. Not to mention DJ Harvey who has the potential to have a breakout season. The big unknown is what to expect from the boundary safety position. If someone steps in that role, this should be a pretty good group.
If there is an area that should improve the most with the new coaches, it should be the defense. After finishing ranked 78th in total defense last year, expect a big improvement. The Hokies should be able to rely on the defense once again.
This team might not look great right out the gate. Those first few games might include a couple of squeakers. The offense will look rough at times. The hope is that the defense is able to carry this team at the beginning of year. If the defense is also struggling, it might be a long year. You can expect an improved defense and an offense that will get better week-to-week. That four game stretch in the middle of the schedule is going to be tough. This roster isn’t ready yet to compete in tough games like those. Especially the ones on the road. All the other games on the schedule are winnable but the defense needs to keep Tech in the game. This should look like classic VT — tough defense and a ground-and-pound offense. A good foundation to build on.
Tough games (<40% chance to win)
at North Carolina, at Pittsburgh, Miami and at NC State. Getting even a single win from this group of games is a bonus for this season. It would be great if the Hokies could pull an upset in that game at home against Miami.
Toss-up games (50-50 games)
Boston College, West Virginia, at Georgia Tech, at Liberty, Virginia. You can judge this season based on these five games. They will represent the difference between 9-3 and 3-9. If the Hokies can get three wins out of this group, they should be in good shape toward bowl eligibility. Based on how the home-road games break down, the Hokies have a good chance to post a good record in these games.
Should win games (>60% to win)
at Old Dominion, at Duke. The Hokies need to stop losing these type of games. Under the previous staff, the losses against ODU and Liberty were coach killers. The Hokies have to be able to win games against G5 opponents. That should be a given at a school with a strong football history like Virginia Tech. Duke is one of the weakest ACC teams this season and the game is at Duke which has always been friendly to the Hokies.
Must win games (>90% to win)
Wofford. The Hokies need to treat this game as a tune up, and not squeak by like they have been the past couple of years.
Key games for the Hokies: at Old Dominion, West Virginia, Virginia
Upset Alert: at Old Dominion
Game by Game Predictions
at Old Dominion (Fri.)
West Virginia (Thurs.)
at North Carolina
at NC State (Thurs.)
Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (4-4 in the ACC) Expected finish: 3rd in the ACC Coastal
Hokies are back in the bowl season for the first time in two years. Between transfers, opt-outs and Covid protocols the Hokies are down to a skeleton crew. Let’s hope they have enough players to play on Wednesday. The depth at WR and CB is starting to look a bit dicey.
Overall: 62nd Offense: 74th Defense: 47th Special Team: 28th
Overall: 68th Offense: 34th Defense: 86th Special Team: 122nd
Maryland looks a lot like Virginia. A big-time passing attack led by Taulia Tagovailoa (Tua’s brother). This is not a great game for the Hokies to be without Jermaine Waller. Virginia Tech’s best chance in this game is to stop the run and try to force Tagovailoa into a couple of turnovers.
The Hokies should be able to run the ball against Maryland. They would be wise to run the ball over and over again with Blumrick, Blackshear and Malachi Thomas. Virginia Tech needs to run the ball and control the clock. They do not want to get into a shootout with Maryland. It’s the same gameplan that has worked for the Hokies late in the season. If Tech starts throwing the ball all over the field, then it’s time to worry.
All things being equal Tech has the better team. But after opt outs, transfers and Covid absences, it seems like Maryland will have the better squad. It’s hard to imagine VT winning with their backup QB, backup WRs and backup CBs. This game will look like the 2018 Cincinnati bowl game and 2019 Kentucky bowl game. A frustrating way to end another frustrating season.
I had a better read on this team in the preseason than in my week-to-week picks. My week-to-week picks got too influenced by what a roller coaster this team was. In the preseason, I saw this as a 7-5 team. I ended up picking a 6-6 result in my week-to-week picks but I got SIX of the games wrong. I did okay in my preseason picks. I only missed on the big win against UNC and the two losses at home against Pitt and Syracuse. Maybe next year I’ll stick with my gut on my preseason picks.
This game feels like it has consequences beyond bragging rights almost every year. This year the Hokies will need to get a win to become bowl eligible. The bowl streak ended last year, so making a lower tier bowl game wouldn’t be a huge accomplishment. But it might be a nice reward for the players who have kept fighting all season.
Overall: 57th Offense: 73rd Defense: 39th Special Team: 38th
Overall: 46th Offense: 7th Defense: 92nd Special Team: 75th
Virginia has an elite passing offense. They rank 2nd in the nation in passing offense. Brennan Armstrong ranks 2nd in the nation in passing yards per game and 1st in the nation in total offense. If Virginia Tech is not at their best defending the pass, they could get lit up by this Virginia offense.
Virginia has one of the worst defenses the Hokies will face this season. They are about as bad as Duke’s defense. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they must run the ball, control the clock and keep the score low. If this turns into a shootout, the Wahoos are more likely to win. Ball control is the name of the game this week.
These rivalry games are tough to predict. As we know from previous years, throw out the records when these teams play. This game is about pride and bragging rights. Virginia is playing well on offense now that Brennan Armstrong is back. The Hokies will need to play their A-game on defense to keep the Wahoos from lighting up the scoreboard. If the Hokies can control the clock, they will be able to keep the game close. It’ll be a close game but the ‘Hoos win it late in the 4th quarter.
This week’s guest is @HoosFootball. You can follow him on Twitter and visit his website with tons of photos and historical data on UVA football at HoosFootball.com.
Tell us about your team this year. Has the season gone as you expected?
I had us at 7-4 at this point, so record-wise we’re pretty close to what I expected. But the way we’ve gotten here has been a surprise. I was concerned that our offense might lack explosiveness compared to last season after we lost Lavel Davis to a knee injury, but I thought we’d make up for that by being better on defense, particularly in the secondary. So I was wrong about pretty much everything.
What’s the status of Brennan Armstrong?
I thought the coaches might hold Armstrong out against Pitt to make sure he was ready for the Tech game, but he was a full go last week. I thought he looked great against Pitt and I’m not aware of any setbacks, so I expect the Brennan Armstrong Aerial Circus to be in full effect.
What are your thoughts on Bronco?
I thought Coach Mendenhall was a great hire in 2015 and I still think that today. He has a clear vision of what he wants his program to look like and has shown that he can win consistently at a school with high academic standards. He is also very good at identifying and developing talent when it comes to his coaching staff, as evidenced by the fact that he has several position coaches – Jason Beck, Marques Hagans, and Garett Tujague, to name a few – who are among the best in the country. And on a personal level, he has created an environment that fosters loyalty and trust within the program. That’s not to suggest there isn’t room for improvement. We need to do a better job recruiting in-state, the 757 in particular. Also, I think there is a perception that Mendenhall can be loyal to a fault when it comes to his staff. It will be interesting to see what changes, if any, he makes on the defensive side of the ball this offseason.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the rivalry?
I’m not gonna lie, losing 16 of the last 17 has been… sub-optimal. It has also made the back and forth between our fan bases stale and predictable. You mock us for only beating you once since 2003, we mock you for never winning a natty, blah blah blah. If you’re going to talk trash, at least have the courtesy to be creative and mean-spirited.
Who do you think Virginia Tech’s next coach will be?
Let me preface my response by saying the Justin Fuente era was truly magical, both on the field and on Twitter. I miss him already. I’d love it if you guys hired a dumpster fire like Hugh Freeze or Bobby Petrino, but unfortunately I don’t see that happening. I’ve been hearing Napier’s name quite a bit lately.
What is your favorite memory from the rivalry?
For the 1998 game, my wife (then girlfriend) and I were down in South Carolina for the wedding of one of her college friends. I think the game started around noon and the wedding was scheduled for like 3:30, but the venue was kind of a haul so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get to watch the whole game. That seemed like a blessing when we went into halftime down 29-7, but then we started chipping away at the lead. Right when we were about to leave for the wedding, Thomas Jones scored to cut Tech’s lead to 32-29. I stood up to turn off the TV, and my wife said, “Screw that, we’re watching this till the end.” Shortly thereafter, Ahmad Hawkins capped off the historic comeback, and my wife and I slid into the back row of the church about 30 seconds before the ceremony ended. Oh, and later that evening at the reception I saw the groom throw up in a urinal. The whole day was awesome and almost made up for the fact that my wife caused me to miss our 1995 win over FSU because she got us tickets to see Carrot Top.
It was the right decision to let Justin Fuente go. The timing was strange but I’m sure there were reasons for that. Maybe the job needed to be open to have serious conversations with interested coaches. The Fuente era started with a lot of promise but lost momentum and finally reached the point of no return.
Overall: 44th Offense: 67th Defense: 25th Special Team: 32nd
Overall: 32nd Offense: 22nd Defense: 47th Special Team: 50th
Miami is a good passing team. They are 16th in the nation in passing offense. Tyler Van Dyke has been good for the Hurricanes. He’s thrown for over 2,000 yards, 19 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The Hokies boast the nation’s 15th ranked passing defense. So it should be strength vs strength when Miami is on offense.
Miami’s run defense has been a bit leaky in recent weeks. The Hokies would be smart to keep the ball on the ground with Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear. Tackling has been an issue for Miami this year, so VT would be smart to test them early and often in that area.
There may be some extra juice from the players to play under former VT player JC Price. They still have the opportunity to make a bowl game and the seniors will want to close the season strong. They don’t want to be the team that got their coach fired. So while this season has been up and down, I think we see some fight from these guys in the last two regular season games.
Virginia Tech had a chance to get back in position for a bowl game but couldn’t get it done. As soon as Braxton Burmeister went out, the Hokies offense couldn’t get going. They have three more opportunities to get two wins to qualify for a bowl. Their best remaining opportunity is this Saturday at home against Duke.
Overall: 50th Offense: 70th Defense: 32nd Special Team: 37th
Overall: 97th Offense: 89th Defense: 102nd Special Team: 97th
The Duke offense moves the ball well but they struggle to score in the red zone. This is a balanced offense. They run and throw the ball well but they tend to stall the closer they get to the red zone. The Hokies need to be able to stop drives and hold the Blue Devils to field goals.
The Duke defense may be the worst defense that Virginia Tech faces this year. Virginia Tech should be able to run the ball with Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear. The question is who is going to play quarterback? Will Braxton be back? Will they go back to Kadum? Will Connor Blumrick be back from injury? If the Hokies can find a quarterback that can complete passes, they have a good chance to win.
This is a tough game to predict without knowing who will play quarterback for Virginia Tech. If the Hokies have Burmeister back, I like their chances. If he’s not back, I’m not so sure. Either way, I think Virginia Tech has more talent across the board than Duke. I’m also thinking that Virginia Tech will want to win on Senior Day. I think they find a way to get it done.
I give the Hokies a lot of credit for getting off the mat against Georgia Tech. They had a couple of crushing losses going into that game, so picking up a win on the road is no small task. It also bodes well for their chances at a bowl and their chances to pick up a couple more wins in the last 4 games.
Overall: 39th Offense: 57th Defense: 32nd Special Teams: 53rd
Overall: 68th Offense: 53rd Defense: 68th Special Teams: 50th
Boston College has been BAD on offense since they lost Phil Jurkovec. They are averaging 10 points per game in conference games this year. Yikes. That makes VT’s offense look explosive. Boston College would be smart to keep the ball on the ground against Virginia Tech’s defense. They have had some success running the ball. Trying to throw against VT’s secondary wouldn’t go well for them. Without Jurkovec, that seems like the only gameplan that might work to get any sort of offense going.
Virginia Tech needs to run the ball early and often. The Hokies can’t get cute on offense. They need to line up and run the ball right at BC’s defense. The Eagles rush defense is suspect. This isn’t the game for the Hokies to be tossing the ball all over the field. They can have a lot of success by keeping the ball on the ground and grinding out yards. Malachi Thomas and Raheem Blackshear need to play big roles in this game.
This seems like a good matchup for the Hokies. I worry a little about an empty stadium on a cold Friday night in Boston. But all things being equal, the Hokies have the better team. The key factors for the Hokies will be stopping the run and being able to establish the run game. If they can do both those things, they should be able to come out of Boston with a comfortable win.