ODU Athletics

Get the Max With Minium: Yes, I'm Shocked at the ODU Football Team's 0-3 Start

September 14, 2018
By ODU Athletics

The Old Dominion message boards lit up Thursday night like Mick Jagger’s birthday cake. So did Twitter.

Hundreds of fans ranted about ODU’s 0-3 start, the worst in school history, especially with the team’s biggest home game ever coming up next weekend against Virginia Tech.

An aside here: I’d like to caution a handful of my friends on the Internet that college football is played by kids. Many of them are teenagers. Most aren’t old enough to drink. Some are adults, yes, but to most of us, they’re still kids.

They read what you write. I’m not stomping on your First Amendment rights when I say it’s not cool to trash kids when they don’t play well, especially when they’re playing as hard as the Monarchs are playing.

Coaches, journalists and guys who write for university websites are easy targets. Have at us.

But leave the kids alone, please.

With that said, I understand the fans’ frustration, and that I’m as shocked as anyone that ODU is winless.

I watched this team in preseason practice and was convinced it would be one of ODU’s best. The defense seemed very good and the offense good enough to score enough points to win. The team has 22 seniors, the most in school history, and experienced teams nearly always play with poise.

The quarterbacking seemed solid, and there was plenty of depth almost everywhere.

The Monarchs opened the season at FBS newcomer Liberty, hosted a rebuilding FIU team reeling from a drive-by shooting of two teammates (who were wounded but OK), then traveled to Charlotte, a team they’ve never lost to and who was picked to finish last in the Conference USA East Division.

Realistically, I expected the Monarchs to start 3-0, or no worse than 2-1.

I was wrong.

ODU is winless as it prepares for the highest-ranked team the Monarchs have ever played in the No. 13 Hokies.

After losing to Charlotte, 28-25, Thursday evening in a game moved up two days because of Hurricane Florence, the Monarchs are now 0-2 in Conference USA East.

Although the 49ers dominated the time of possession and had 80 plays to ODU’s 56, this was a game the Monarchs could have won, and indeed, probably should have won.

They missed a point after touchdown and then 2 two-point conversions. Midway through the fourth quarter, Travis Fulgham found himself open in the end zone. Steven Williams threw a pass that was a little long and Fulgham got a hand on it, but could not bring it in.

Some journalists said it was a catch Fulgham should have made. But I thought it was a pass that Williams should have laid out there a little softer, since Fulgham was so wide open. The ball was only marginally catchable.

On the next play Williams tossed an interception that almost became a pick six.

Yet Williams has improved each week. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, the last a beauty of a touchdown pass to Jonathan Duhart that cut the lead to three with three minutes left.

ODU then missed an onside kick (which was a reasonable gamble given the way the defense was playing) and predictably, could not get a stop against the 49ers, who ran out the clock.

ODU has played progressively better in each game. ODU did little right in the 52-10 loss to Liberty. Against FIU, the Monarchs took a 17-0 lead, but could not hold on.

ODU was better offensively Thursday than it’s been all season, and for the first time, the defense didn’t allow an opponent 400 yards. ODU was outgained 373-338.

In spite of that improvement, one fourth of the way through the season it seems the odds of ODU winning the six games necessary to become bowl eligible are astronomical. Not impossible; just highly unlikely.

The Monarchs must win six of their last nine games, and the schedule gets much tougher the next seven games.

After hosting Tech, the Monarchs travel to East Carolina, which crushed North Carolina last weekend in Greenville, then travel to defending Conference USA champion Florida Atlantic.

They then host Marshall, picked No. 2 in the C-USA East, play at Western Kentucky and then host Middle Tennessee and North Texas, the defending West Division champion.

Six of the next seven games come against teams that played in bowl games last season.

“We’ve never experienced something like this start at Old Dominion,” coach Bobby Wilder said. “But when you get in situations like this you learn a lot about yourself. You find out a lot about a lot about your character.”

Wilder could have legitimately excused this loss to circumstances surrounding Hurricane Florence, but declined to do so. Because of the impending approach of the storm, the Monarchs hastily departed Norfolk Tuesday afternoon by bus for Charlotte.

They didn’t learn until midday Wednesday that the game would be played Thursday afternoon, two days earlier than scheduled.

They were living in a hotel, practicing at a local high school and were worried about their relatives back home. The 49ers, meanwhile, had all the comforts of home and knew they’d be in a position to take care of things before Florence came anywhere close.

Charlotte had a decided home field advantage.

The weather also impacted ODU’s first two games, and not in a good way. The Liberty game was delayed an hour by thunderstorms, but in actuality, the Monarchs spent two hours in a cramped visitors’ locker room, and then had just 45 minutes to warm up.

By then, thousands of Liberty students, including hundreds painted like clowns, were screaming at the Monarchs.

Everything felt rushed and chaotic during pre-game warmups. No wonder the Monarchs played as if they were nervous. I was nervous and was safely dressed in civilian clothes on the sideline.

ODU led FIU, 20-14, at halftime before a two-hour delay for thunderstorms. The delay didn’t appear to hurt ODU, which had already lost momentum.

What killed the Monarchs were two mixups in coverage in the defensive backfield that left two Panthers open for touchdown passes.

As for Charlotte, Wilder offered no excuses.

“We haven’t had a normal game the first three weeks,” Wilder said. “But today’s performance was all about execution or lack thereof. It certainly wasn’t about any adjustment to Hurricane Florence.

“We just could not get stops. We just could not run enough plays. When your opponent runs 80 plays and you run 56, it’s usually not this close.

“The kids played really hard. I’m really proud of them. This was a very difficult experience for them.”

There were two bright spots that bode well for the future.

Elijah “Lala” Davis, the true freshman from Lynchburg, rushed 10 times for 63 yards and two touchdowns in his first college football game. He added some pizazz to ODU’s running game that had not been there before.

Linebacker Lawrence Garner, the redshirt sophomore, had 15 tackles, his third double figure game in a row. He’s a monster tackler and if continues to play this well, he’ll be an all-league pick.

In order to avoid Florence, ODU will travel north on Friday, all the way to Staunton, Virginia, then head southeast through Charlottesville and Richmond to Norfolk. That’s likely to turn into a nine-hour bus ride.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, has the week off since ECU decided to cancel its road date with the Hokies. As if Tech, which will be favored by a ton of points, needed an extra advantage.

There’s still a lot for the Monarchs to play for, even if the hope of reaching a bowl game is remote. A victory over Tech, however unlikely, would be the biggest win in school history.

FAU embarrassed ODU at home last year, and ECU is the closest FBS team to Norfolk and in time should become an archrival for the Monarchs.

ODU has never beaten WKU and Middle Tennessee. ODU will be favored to defeat VMI on Senior Day, which is an historic game. It’s the last to be played at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium before it undergoes $65 million renovation.

Garner said the team is not discouraged.

“We have a tough team,” said. “We love each other genuinely. Things like this make you or break you. This is going to bring us together.”

Wilder said “I really love the attitude of this football team. I’ve been coaching 30 years and I’ve never seen a better attitude and more mental toughness.

“We just need to coach and play better football.”

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