Week 1: ODU Game Preview
It’s finally week 1! Virginia Tech will kick off the season with a road game this Friday night against the ODU Monarchs. Virginia Tech fans are certainly well aware of what happened the last time the Hokies visited Norfolk. This game is no different in that it should not be overlooked. This is an ODU team that started 2021 with a 1-6 record, and finished the rest of the regular season 5-0. They eventually fell to Tulsa in the Myrtle Beach Bowl. They are also returning most of their roster, while adding some depth in the transfer portal. Optimism is always highest at the beginning of the season. And for a team that finished last year hot, they are likely coming into this game with a lot of confidence.
Returning Starters and Impact Players for ODU
Return all but 1 starter on offense (Offensive lineman)
Lost 3 of 5 starting defensive backs
Return all linebackers
Return 3 of 4 defensive line starters
Offensive impact players: WR Ali Jennings III and TE Zack Kuntz
Defensive impact player: MLB Ryan Henry
ODU Offense: Scheme- Spread
Head ODU coach Ricky Rahne, who was the offensive coordinator and TEs coach at Penn State at the same time as Head Virginia Tech coach Brent Pry, was hired before the 2020 season. Just a few weeks ago, ODU’s offensive coordinator, Dave Patenaude, left the program. No reason was given. This may put some doubt into their offense. However, Rahne was brought to ODU for his offensive prowess. In addition, they are keeping continuity at every position on offense. Wide receiver Ali Jennings III, a 2021 transfer from WVU, has scary speed and had over 1,000 yards receiving last season. Tight End Zack Kuntz, another 2021 transfer from Penn State, standing at 6’8”, is a huge threat over the middle and in the red zone. On the Sons of Saturday podcast, middle linebacker Dax Hollifield said that he had been working on being quicker in space this offseason. Kuntz will provide Dax with an early test of his quickness in coverage. To listen to the full Dax interview, click here. ODU also has a 6’5” QB in Hayden Wolff, who has the arm to get these guys the ball.
As mentioned before, Pry and Rahne are familiar with each other from their days at Penn State. That should make for an interesting chess match between two coaches who know each other’s schemes. In this instance, I would give a slight advantage to Coach Pry because he has a history of being a very effective defensive coach, especially early on. In his first season as the Penn State defensive coordinator, Coach Pry took a defense that was nowhere near the top 50, to a top 10 defense. Defenses also tend to benefit more from knowing an offense's philosophy more so than the other way around. Expect a tough battle for Tech’s defense nonetheless as ODU has some play makers.
ODU Defense: Scheme- 4-2-5
This unit lost most of its starters from a secondary that ranked 101st in passing defense. The front seven, led by linebacker Ryan Henry, boasted a rushing defense that ranked 35th in the country. However, if you look more into this, you will see that they benefited from playing some poor rushing attacks. When they did play teams with a top 50 or better run game, such as Buffalo, Liberty, and Tulsa, they gave up right around 200 yards rushing in those games. Also, because ODU’s passing defense was so bad, teams likely elected to throw more than run the ball to attack the weakest point.
What can you expect from Tech’s offense against this defense? There is some familiarity here, as Tech’s starting QB, Grant Wells, played against ODU with Marshall last season. A game in which Wells led a game tying touchdown drive, and threw the game winning touchdown in overtime. If you want to read more about his performance in that game and the rest of last season with Marshall, click here.
Based on the perceived weakness of ODU being their pass defense, one would think that Tech would use its new found QB to pick apart their secondary. This is not how I expect this game plan to go down. Virginia Tech is a power 5 program that just hired a head coach with power 5 pedigree. That head coach then went and hired Wisconsin offensive line coach, Joe Rudolph, for the same role at Virginia Tech. With a coach from a Wisconsin program that's known for its run game, expect Tech's offensive line to be good at run blocking. They are playing an in-state team that is supposed to be the inferior squad. If Virginia Tech wants to reclaim the state of Virginia in recruiting, then it starts with establishing an identity as an offense and as a program. I expect a heavy dose of ground and pound from the Hokies to send a message that Tech is no longer messing around. Tech will expose ODU’s undersized defensive front (both nose tackles weigh right around 280) and run the ball well. Along the way they'll mix in some play action deep shots with Wells' arm to keep the defense from only keying on the run. There might be a hiccup here or there because it’s the first game under a new coach. But, I still expect a good performance from Tech’s offense. Establishing that ground game will help Wells become more comfortable in the offense. Overall, I expect Virginia Tech's offense to be much more aggressive both in the mentality of the players, and the play calling of the coaches. Attitude reflects leadership. If the Hokies come out with an aggressive mindset, then it will be a good sign that the program is heading in the right direction.
ODU Special Teams
ODU’s kick defense wasn’t anything special last year, coming in at 88th. They did however have a good return game ranking 33rd. One thing to look out for is blocked kicks. ODU blocked 4 punts and 6 kicks last season. Good for a top 10 ranking in both categories. We know that Virginia Tech had good special teams last year, so it may not be something to worry about. It is still something to look out for if you’re Virginia tech special teams coordinator, Stu Holt.
Overall, ODU's defense is not all that impressive. Their offense does have some weapons though. Tech should be able to slow them down enough, as the strength of the defense is in the secondary. This is a tough road game to start with. ODU is a program that is riding high after a hot finish last season. Expect ODU to put up a good fight, but Virginia Tech's reinvigorated squad will show up to play.
Virginia Tech 31
All unit rankings via NCAA.com/stats. Images via USA Today.