You’d like to start off the season by washing away the stains from the tears of 2022 where we didn’t even have the dignity of getting a chance to beat the Wahoos in Lane Stadium. Well, the next best thing might be grabbing a bit of revenge against a struggling ODU. Yep, they had just as bad a season in their new Sun Belt Conference first season foray as Brent Pry and company had here, EXECPT one of their three wins was the Hokies.
The Monarchs finished “tail-end-charlie” in the Sun Belt East with a record of 3-9 overall and just 2-6 in their conference. Of course, that unfortunate involvement with their win total by the Hokies also spelled serious problems for the men from Blacksburg, too. ODU was expected to be a win, even if Tech was struggling, and Tech just could not rise to the occasion. The offense put up 17 points but couldn’t manage to come up with one or two first downs to ice the game at 17-13 in the waning few minutes of the 4th quarter. Just one first down and ODU would have had no chance, even if Tech had to give up the ball. But that game wrote the script for the entire season when Tech had any chance to lead, or had a lead. The offense just couldn’t stay on the field long enough, and exposed a defense that was exhausted in the 4th quarter. It was lather rinse and repeat instructions on the shampoo bottle. Only the stuff the Hokies were using was missing the “sham”.
Game 1 of the 2023 season is exactly, to the day, one year from the disaster in Norfolk. This time, Ali Jennings is wearing Chicago Maroon and Burnt Orange. We have a markedly improved receiver corps and a much better, healthier running back room. As we have written about before, the great unknowns will be the quality of the Tech offensive line, the play of starting Quarterback Grant Wells, and the play calling of Offensive Coordinator Tyler Bowen.
The Measure of Them
The reality is that ODU is not much better this season than last and will be playing with a serious chip on its collective shoulder, too. They are going to be aware of the raucous crowd that shows up for the opening game, and it is nighttime at Lane which is extra intimidating with the fireworks and marshmallow roasters blasting. Their coaching staff is going to be getting them to concentrate on the task at hand, and not get rattled by the crowd. In fact, the coaches are going to tell them that they can take the crowd out of the game by playing lights out and over their heads, just like last year.
The Monarchs aren’t returning starting QB Hayden Wolff to the gridiron this season. He transferred to Western Michigan, and that means a new man behind center, and as we’ve said before, Ali Jennings came west for his final season of eligibility. The Monarchs look like they are starting true Junior QB Grant Wilson under center. This will be Wilson’s first chance to start. He has thrown a grand total of 10 completions in 13 attempts for a grand total of 91 yards over his prior two seasons with ODU.
This means that the film on him will be sparse, and the defense will have to be sharp. He’s a pretty big player listed at 6’3” and 217 pounds. ODU Head Coach Ricky Rahne is going to be counted on to get the most out of him by operating a standard type of read/option RPO. That means Chris Marve’s defense is going to have to be ready to keep a running QB contained, and the secondary is going to have to be ready for surprises since no one really knows how well he passes. Look for ODU to challenge the Tech defense with that pile of unknowns. Remember, ODU didn’t do much QB running last season, and Wolff actually amassed -80 yards carrying the ball.
This year, their star running back has moved on, so expect to see returning RBs Obie Sanni and Keyshawn Wicks do most of the carries, unless someone else rose in their depth chart. The ODU offense is definitely going to be challenged by the Hokie D. With most of the key players having little experience, it’s critical for the Tech defense to dominate the line of scrimmage, and force mistakes.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Monarchs did manage to keep most of their games relatively close last season, even if by the end their opportunities were fading as they waded into the top of the revamped Sun Belt Conference schedule. After upsetting Costal Carolina in mid-October, the shine came off the Monarch’s star and they dropped their remaining 6 games. It’s a reminder that you can get off to a solid start but end up fading into oblivion as injuries and talent levels wane.
The Monarchs are a cypher as we start this season, even more than the Hokies are managing to show themselves to be. The critical factor in defeating them will be the defense shutting down a potentially shaky new offense, and then something that we didn’t see last season from the Hokies.
Tech’s Offense is Officially in the Spotlight
The Hokies came so close so often last season that the three games that could have been won, and the one lost opportunity to grab a win against a struggling UVA team might have meant a decent season and a booger bowl in Brent Pry’s first season. But... but... but... There are just no two ways about it, the first thing that the Virginia Tech Hokies did not have last season was good luck. Folks, there are always one or two games every season that need just a pinch of good luck to win. Nothing seemed to fall the Hokies’ way in 2022. The injury bug creamed the running back room and plagued the offensive line. The receiver corps was suspect and even several of the better players battled injuries. Grant Wells had serious targeting issues in early games, and to fix it, Bowen went to short range one read/hot read passes on third downs that just ended up in piles of three and outs. There were flashes of what could be, but no one seemed to be able to take advantage and build on the flashes. A big play would be followed by two tanked short yardage blasts into piles of humanity, and the third down and impossible would end up short. Add to that the early chronic procedural penalties on offense and the entire environment turned toxic as mid-season passed. It wasn’t until the final three games that we saw an inkling of what could be even though there was only one win.
As the aphorism says, though. That was then and this is now. The team is back, with the critical producing players returning for a final season of redemption. The Hokies have two challenges to overcome in this game. They must perform on offense. That means everyone from coaches to the last players tagged to go in and contribute. The second challenge is that the team needs to put 2022 behind them and concentrate on winning one contest at a time.
Those challenges are pretty daunting. None of us really have successfully washed the bad taste away from 2022. It’s going to take some wins to produce enough mouth wash to clear the palette. This one is on Tyler Bowen and Brent Pry. Pry has already corrected his early error of spending too much time with the defense. He’s put his well-earned trust in DC Chris Marve, and that is an excellent outcome.
Now, did the critical changes to the offensive coaching staff make a big difference? Bowen tipped his hand a bit when he described his offense as a Power Spread. That’s like saying we’re running a stock Dodge Charger in a NASCAR race. It’s a basic Read/Option-RPO offense with basic pass patterns, too much throwing to the line of scrimmage and behind, and lots of key reading and belly plays. (That’s the cheeto for the folks remembering the old offense). It’s not the plays that Bowen teaches, it’s how he calls them, when, and at what pace. We won’t see until halftime on Saturday evening. If it isn’t working, and there are no adjustments in the second half... well, say no more. We won’t jinx it until we see it. (Personal note: If I see the lolly gagging fake no-huddle, get to the line, stop everything, and call the audible from the sideline stuff, again, I will be seriously concerned about repeat performances.)
The Deets for the Expectations and Conditions
The weather in Blacksburg is still listed as being a reasonable 80 or so degrees at kickoff with cooling to the low 70’s by the end of the game. There isn’t any rain in the forecast so far but it’s Blacksburg and you never quite know this far in advance.
The Wise Guys have the odds out early, and Tech is a 15.5 point favorite and they are pushing an O/U of 48.5 so there is a thought that Tech is going to put up a big fight and points for this one.
It’s all up to the Hokies. The crowd will show up, the question is, will the offense rise to the occasion?
Now it’s your turn:
So, how is this one going to go?
This poll is closed
ODU comes out firing, but its inexperience on offense and defense shows. Tech deals with the Monarchs on defense, and the offense still underperforms. Tech wins, but doesn’t beat the spread or the O/U.
ODU surprises the Tech special teams and defense early, Tech’s offense still doesn’t work, and the defense runs out of gas in the 4th, again. ODU beats the spread and takes the game in a final fluke drive.
The Hokies come out fired up. The defense dominates the Monarchs’ Offense from the first snap and the Tech O manages to drive the ball with some authority. Tech beats the spread by a bit, and the O/U holds up.
It is a close game. Neither team manages to dominate, and neither offense is much good. The Hokies win on a John Love FG in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter. ODU can’t respond. They beat the spread. Bet the under.
Predictions are due out on Friday or Saturday depending on the news and any announcements by the coaching staff. The Depth Chart for the ODU game has been announced so we are looking at it and will get a fresh article out on how the starting and backup situtations look. Stay tuned.