Minium: This has Been a Disheartening Season for ODU's Football Team, but Monarchs Vow to Finish Strong
By ODU Athletics
By Harry Minium
The irony is that Old Dominion has never enjoyed a more prominent national football profile than it has this season.
When the Monarchs stunned No. 13 Virginia Tech, 49-35 on Sept. 22, it was one of the most unexpected upsets ever in college football. ODU was the story of the week nationally.
Then, last weekend, ODU outscored Western Kentucky, 10-0, in the game’s final nine seconds to claim a 37-34 victory. It was perhaps the most improbable comeback ever, with the game ending on three untimed plays, and once again, ODU was in the national limelight.
But in between, in a season that began with a lot of promise, the Monarchs have self-destructed with ill-timed penalties, turnovers and blown coverage. Saturday night was like a replay of the worst of the entire season.
Middle Tennessee crushed the Monarchs, 51-17, at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium. And the final score was not indicative of the talent on both sides of the ball.
Senior Travis Fulgham caught 10 passes for a career high 215 yards.
ODU outgained the Blue Raiders in offensive yards, 520-488. Take away the mistakes, and as the stats indicate, and this should have been a close game.
But you don't win when you have five turnovers, including two pick-six interceptions, go 2 for 7 in the red zone and have an attempted punt blown up by a MTSU defensive lineman that led to another Blue Raider score.
ODU dropped to 2-7 overall, and 1-5 in Conference USA. That means the Monarchs will have their third losing record in four seasons, and won’t go to a bowl game.
As difficult as this loss was to take, ODU coach Bobby Wilder said the Monarchs will finish strong.
“My approach isn’t going to change,” he said. “We’re going to do the exact same thing we’ve always done. We’re going to show up and practice hard. We’re going to keep coaching hard. We have good football players on this team. They deserve my best effort and I deserve their best effort.
“That’s the way we’ve always been. Even going back to 2013 (ODU’s transition season to FBS), when we knew before the season there was no postseason, every game was precious.
“You’re only guaranteed 12 of them. We’ve got three left and they’re all precious. And all three deserve the best effort we can give.”
This loss is not any one player’s fault, a key turnover by quarterback Blake LaRussa in the red zone on the final play of the first half likely doomed the Monarchs.
After falling behind 17-0, ODU rallied on a 62-pass from LaRussa to Travis Fulgham and then a 24-yard field goal by Nick Rice.
Middle Tennessee led, 24-10, when ODU had a first and goal at the 2. LaRussa saw Fulgham in the end zone, but did not see strong safety Reed Blankenship, who stepped in front of Fulgham, tipped the ball to himself, and then, incredibly, returned it 105 yards for a touchdown (statistically, it only counts as 100 yards).
It was 31-10 and the game was never close again.
LaRussa passed for 333 yards and two touchdowns, but also had four turnovers.
“Blake Continues to play at a high level,” Wilder said. “He got hit more times in this game than he’s ever been hit before. A lot of their three-down blitz package, with guys all walking up to the line of scrimmage, was a challenge.
“But he hung in there and made difficult throws.”
Quarterback Blake LaRussa threw for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns, but also had 4 turnovers on a night when the Monarchs made uncharacteristic mistakes.
ODU has a much needed bye week before hosting North Texas on Nov. 10. “We’re a beat-up football team right now,” Wilder said. “That was part of the problem today. We had seven key players out. Five of them should be back for North Texas.”
Among the players out is linebacker Lawrence Garner, ODU’s leading tackler, and tailback Jeremy Cox, the team’s best running back.
ODU's assistant coaches will depart Norfolk on Sunday for six days of recruiting. ODU has 18 high school players committed to sign, according to 247Sports, and Wilder said his coaches will focus on junior college players.
“We’ll be at every junior college that has good football players in America,” he said. “We need to get some impactful players starting in January.
“We’ve got a really good class of high school players committed. We need to add a group of junior college players, particularly on defense.
“We’re looking for immediate help. We’re looking at every position on defense and offensive linemen. You can never have enough offensive linemen.”
ODU has traditionally had good recruiting success with offensive linemen in California junior colleges, but Wilder made it clear that his defense, ranked last in the league in most categories, is where his coaches will focus.
ODU loses six of its top eight defensive linemen, minus Miles Fox, who will return at tackle after redshirting this season, and three starting defensive backs.
“We need immediate help and immediate competition on defense,” Wilder said.
Senior defensive end Oshane Ximines spoke emotionally when asked about not going to a bowl game.
“We have three games left, and no matter what happened tonight or throughout the entire season, these guys in our locker room are my brothers,” he said. “Any day I get to wake up and go practice with them is a win for me.
“So I’m just focused on every single day and getting better.”
Email Minium: firstname.lastname@example.org