Editor’s note: The Roanoke Times is taking an early look at every game on Virginia Tech’s 2019 schedule. Check back every Tuesday and Thursday this summer for a new preview.
Old Dominion ended Virginia Tech’s 2018 season.
The Hokies didn’t immediately go into a downward spiral — they bounced back with a dramatic road win at Duke the following week — but suffering one of the biggest upsets in program history put the team in a hole it could never dig itself out of.
It didn’t help that in the fallout from the loss, the injury quarterback Josh Jackson suffered in the game was a season-ending one and leading pass-rusher Trevon Hill was dismissed from the team.
Virginia Tech will host the rematch on Sept. 7 in front of what’s sure to be a sold out crowd at Lane Stadium. A loss at home to ODU would be devastating for the program, but it won’t be easy for the Monarchs to catch lightning in a bottle twice.
Old Dominion graduated many of the impact players that spurred the upset including defensive end Oshane Ximines wide receivers Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart. Virginia Tech also won’t be as vulnerable with much more experienced defense in place.
Here’s an early look at Virginia Tech’s Week 2 opponent….
Last year vs. Virginia Tech: Old Dominion W 49-35
What happen? Virginia Tech suffered one of the biggest upsets in program history when it travelled to the 757 last season.
Tech’s defense completely collapsed giving up more passing yards than it had in a single game since 1993 with ODU backup Blake LaRussa having a career night going 30 of 49 for 495 yards with five total touchdowns.
Quarterback Josh Jackson suffered a season-ending leg injury late in the game.
“I told them, ‘I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible. When everybody told you you didn’t have any chance in that first game, and all you did was work your tails off.’ And then now we get all feeling good about ourselves and we got brought back down to earth,” coach Justin Fuente said. “We got what we deserved.”
Position(s) of strength: The back end of Old Dominion’s defense has plenty of talent with junior linebacker Lawrence Garner and pair of talented defensive backs (Joe Joe Headen and Lance Boykin) leading the way. Garner led Conference USA with 11.1 tackles per game while Headen had a team-high seven pass break-ups and Boykin had four interceptions. Depth also isn’t an issue at either position.
Ch...ch...changes: Last year’s hero against Virginia Tech won’t be under center when ODU visits Lane Stadium in 2019. Quarterback Blake LaRussa forgoed his senior season to enter to attend Seminary School.
The Monarchs had an open competition this spring with three quarterbacks — Messiah deWeaver, Stone Smartt and Jonah Fitzgerald — competing for the starting job. The competition will expand to five players in the fall with a pair of injured quarterbacks (Steven Williams and Hayden Wolff) recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. LaRussa replaced the speedy Williams in the first quarter against the Hokies last year.
The ones to watch could be deWeaver and Smartt, a pair of junior college transfers with impressive resumes. deWeaver, who started his career with Michigan State, led East Mississippi Community College to a 12-0 record and NJCAA National Championship last year while Smartt was a first-team JUCO All-American (2,754 yards and 31 touchdowns) for Riverside City.
Smartt did miss a portion of spring camp with a wrist injury.
Lingering questions: Old Dominion graduated a pair of big-bodies 1,000-yard receivers who were major factors in the team’s upset win over Virginia Tech last season. Wide receiver Travis Fulgham caught nine passes for 188 yards with a touchdown against the Hokies and Jonathan Duhart had 142 yards and three touchdowns on nine catches. Duhart led Conference USA with 74 catches while Fulgham’s 1,083 yards was the top mark in the conference.
The Monarchs also lost receiver Isaiah Harper, who was third in the team in catches (55) and yards (479).
With six freshmen receivers, the most likely candidate to replace some of ODU’s production is former Virginia Tech receiver Eric Kumah.
Kumah, who announced he was transferring in January, ended up signing with the Monarchs along with former Hokies tight end Chris Cunningham. The teammates will be eligible for the game in September after graduating from Virginia Tech in May.
While Kumah gives Old Dominion an immediate red zone threat, the Monarchs will need some youngsters to step up.
The other glaring question mark for Old Dominion is on the defensive line where it graduated six players including four starters including Oshane Ximines, one of the most talented players in school history. Ximines was drafted in the third round by the New York Giants after putting up 58 tackles (32 solo), 18.5 for a loss and 12 sacks. He dominated Virginia Tech’s front with two sacks and a quarterback hurry last year.
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