NORFOLK — It was a scheduling coup of the highest order for Old Dominion to land a home-and-home series with Virginia Tech that now stretches until 2031.
The arrangement makes ODU the envy of Conference USA.
But there was also a deft piece of scheduling that likely won’t be fully appreciated until about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, after the Monarchs have played the 13th-ranked Hokies at Lane Stadium.
ODU will head into an open week. Coming after consecutive games against Power 5 competition, the timing couldn’t be better.
Coach Bobby Wilder has already set aside four days of training room treatment and stretching for his players who, after facing North Carolina last week, could be feeling the effects of battling the biggest and most physical opponents on the schedule, back to back.
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It’s why Wilder and senior associate athletic director Bruce Stewart lobbied C-USA to work in the open week just before the start of league play on Oct. 7.
The Monarchs (2-1) are already beaten up heading into a game in which they are 28-point underdogs. Receiver Jonathan Duhart and running back Ray Lawry, a pair of preseason All-CUSA picks and arguably their best offensive weapons, have been lost for the season. Right tackle Chad Hendricks and receiver/tight end Melvin Vaughn are also out this week, although both are expected to return for the start of conference play against Florida Atlantic.
Defensive ends Bunmi Rotomi (knee) and Daniel Appouh (finger) became the latest to join the list of football wounded. Each is expected to miss at least two weeks.
ODU is also smarting from a 53-23 loss to UNC in which it didn’t make a first down in the first quarter and trailed 39-7 at halftime.
MANNING QB OF THE WEEK @joshiejack17 claims #ManningAward via @SugarBowlNOLA
— VT Football (@VT_Football) September 22, 2017
Still, the Monarchs are hoping to build on their play in the second half, when Wilder turned the reins over to 17-year-old true freshman quarterback Steven Williams. He threw for 139 yards and two TDs and provided a shot of energy.
“We opened up the offense a little bit,” receiver Isaiah Harper said. “We saw some things, some bright lights.”
Those lights will be need to be blinding for the Monarchs to pull off an upset. Virginia Tech (3-0) is easily the best team ODU has ever faced.
“For us to have an opportunity to be successful this week, we will need to do everything at a high level,” Wilder said.
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The Monarchs might settle for doing things better than last week. On offense, that means getting off to a better start.
“We can’t go out there and not get a first down,” Wilder said.
On defense, ODU will have to be more disciplined.
“The big theme for this week with our guys is just do your job,” Wilder said.
In the big picture of the season so far, the Monarchs have mostly done just that. If they complete the non-conference portion of the schedule and arrive at their bye week 2-2, that’s where they were expected to be.
VT Bound #AimHigh pic.twitter.com/xW35TtwI71
— Monarch Recruiting (@Monarch_Recruit) September 22, 2017
Meanwhile, ODU gets a chance to play on a vastly larger stage and measure itself against the state’s dominant program. It’s a game players have been looking forward to for months, cornerback Brandon Addison, a graduate of Western Branch High, said before the season.
“A lot of us are from Virginia and we didn’t get recruited by Tech. That’s a big thing. I actually grew up a Tech fan. Playing at Lane stadium, ‘Enter Sandman’ coming out, that’s going to be exciting for me.”
Actually, Wilder said the team will likely be in the locker room when Tech’s iconic intro is played. Not that that will lessen the anticipation of playing there.
“You’re going somewhere where they love football. Virginia Tech fans, they love their team. When you’re 18 and 19, that’s still pretty exciting.”
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Harper, a Grassfield High grad, said he grew up watching the Hokies on TV and played against several current Tech players in high school.
“Just that environment, that’ll be the biggest place that I’ve ever played,” he said.
Other players said they’ll try to treat as just another game, even while acknowledging that’s it not.
Wide receiver Noah Ellison, a redshirt freshman from New Jersey, said he thinks facing North Carolina has prepared the Monarchs for what they’ll face Saturday.
We’re dialed in & focused on ONE thing!
Let’s go 1-0 this week & #BeatODU #Hokies pic.twitter.com/sodjuA39lN
— VT Football (@VT_Football) September 20, 2017
“I feel like we’re in a good place right now for Tech,” he said.
For his part, Wilder also said he’s excited to play the game. He believes his team, win or lose, will be better for the experience.
“Most likely, this’ll be the only 13th-ranked team in the nation we’ll get to play this year,” he said. “To get to play against team of that caliber, you find out a lot about yourself.”
As long as the takeaways from the game don’t include more injuries, the Monarchs can look forward to some well-deserved rest before turning the page and preparing for the remainder of the season.
This article is written by Ed Miller from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.