The Old Dominion Monarchs’ year was filled with a few highs and many lows in 2018. Of course, everyone remembers the Monarchs’ home win over then-No. 13 Virginia Tech (especially us here at STL), in what was probably the biggest upset of the year in college football. But, being a team that competes in Conference USA, most might not know that apart from the shocker in Week Four, this team most struggled last fall. Among their eight losses, five came by two touchdowns or more, including two embarrassments against in-state rival Liberty and eventual C-USA runner-up Middle Tennessee in which the Monarchs fell by 42 and 34 points, respectively.
Last Year: 4-8 (2-6 C-USA)
Prior to their game against the Hokies in Norfolk, conferences losses to Florida International and Charlotte, in addition to the blowout to the aforementioned Liberty team, put them in a hole quickly. Who would’ve thought, then, that with the Hokies coming to town, fresh off a win over ACC foe Florida State, the Monarchs would find their first win of 2018 (Old Dominion closed as 28.5 (!) underdogs prior to the start of the contest)? Following the upset, things would quickly turn south once again for the team, however, as they entered another three-game losing streak, this time to East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and Marshall, keeping the Monarchs winless in conference play. Victories over lowly Western Kentucky and VMI, as well as North Texas - ODU’s one other solid win from a year ago - put them on the board in the C-USA standings, before a final loss at Rice ended their season.
Last Time: N/A
Old Dominion only moved up to the FBS level in 2014, so it’s not all too unsurprising that this will be the first time the two teams from the Commonwealth go to head-to-head.
Comings and Goings
After successfully transitioning ODU out of the Championship Subdivision and into the FBS in the earlier part of this decade, Head Coach Bobby Wilder’s Monarchs have sputtered since winning the Bahamas Bowl at the end of the 2016 season. And things don’t seem to be looking any easier this year.
A lot of that is due to turnover on both sides of the ball. Defensively, ODU lost their all-everything end in Oshane Ximines, who recorded 12 sacks - two better than the rest of the team combined - in his final year as a Monarch, to April’s NFL Draft. Seniors Justin Noye, Sean Carter (safeties) and Tim Ward (defensive end) are also gone, in addition to a few others who saw significant playing time. To compensate, Wilder has brought in a new defensive coordinator in David Blackwell, who found at least moderate success with East Carolina in 2018, and a bevy of JUCOs.
At quarterback, the Monarchs are expected to go with redshirt sophomore Steven Williams - though several others are in the running - after last year’s starter Blake LaRussa announced that he would be forgoing his last year of eligibility in order to enroll in seminary school. The good news is that Williams will not be completely new to the role, having finished 2017 and starting 2018 as QB1, before losing the job to LaRussa. The bad news is that he’ll need to find new weapons on the outside, now that the team’s top three receivers, namely Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham, have left Norfolk. But, hey, at least top running back Kesean Strong is back for his senior year.
There are question marks surrounding just about every unit on this football team, but, if I have to choose, I think the most pertain to the defensive line. Given the fact that ODU gave up 216.4 rush yards per game on average in 2018, by far the worst among Conference USA teams, and can no longer rely on Ximines to shield at least some of their mistakes, this department, at least on paper, seems to be severely lacking. It’s going to to be up to the coaching staff to see if they can find some version of a formidable front as they progress throughout the fall.
This Time: Old Dominion @ UVA (9/21)
Similar to the matchup in Week Two with William & Mary, the Virginia Cavaliers simply have more talent than Old Dominion in every corner of the game. Based on that, and the fact that much of ODU’s roster has been overhauled in a matter of months, I don’t expect this to be a close one in Charlottesville.