Old Dominion Has Never Played On Such A Big Stage

Our friend Harry Minium, who now works with Old Dominion University, has graciously shared insight on the Monarchs’ football program. ODU comes to Scott Stadium on Saturday night to take on No. 21 Virginia in TV prime time. Harry once covered UVA for the Virginian-Pilot during a long and distinguished career for the Norfolk newspaper.

By Harry Minium

Old Dominion head football coach Bobby Wilder (Photo: odusports.com)

Never has Old Dominion’s football team played on such a huge stage as it will Saturday night at the University of Virginia.

Yes, ODU played on a Friday night in 2014 on Fox Sports 1 against Middle Tennessee and on ESPN2 in the 2016 Bahamas Bowl. ODU’s NCAA playoff game against Georgia Southern in 2011 also drew good ratings.

But the eyes of College Football Nation are focused on ESPN’s two primary networks on Saturday night, and the ‘Hoos and Monarchs kick off at 7 p.m., the most prime slot available on ESPN2. Saturday night games on ESPN draw millions of viewers and I think that will happen this week in part because of who ODU is playing.

UVA is the fresh face in college football, a heretofore moribund program that now finds itself ranked 21st nationally. UVA had losing seasons in 9 of its previous 10 seasons prior to 2018, when the Hoos went 8-5.

Coming on the heels of UVA’s national basketball championship, the media finds the Hoos’ football team to be a good story.

And with good reason. Did you catch UVA students rushing the field after the Cavs eked out a victory over Florida State, a team which by FSU standards is a bad team?

Thousands did and they shouted with joy not just because they won a close game, but because the ‘Hoos finally, after all these years, have a winning program.

There is so much energy around this program that UVA is a team a lot of people want to see.

It also says much about ODU’s program and the potential audience in Hampton Roads that ESPN picked this game for prime time. ESPN has to believe that ODU is good enough to make it close, and that the Monarchs will have a goodly portion of fans watching on TV and in person.

This is ODU’s first game at UVA, and is the only Division I program in the state ODU has yet to play. Next season, the Cavaliers come to Norfolk in a game that will surely be a tough ticket.

UVA began the weekend as a 28-point favorite and was a 30 1/2-point favorite by late Tuesday. Regardless of the line, this is close to a must-win for the Cavs. Next week they have perhaps their biggest game of the year at Notre Dame. They don’t want a hangover that could result from an upset loss to a Group of 5 opponent.

This is not a game ODU has to win or is expected to win. ODU will never be favored when it plays an ACC team because they recruit at different levels.

But that doesn’t mean the Monarchs can’t win. Even during a season in which the Monarchs have just 9 seniors, they outplayed Virginia Tech during the second-half of a 31-17 defeat. Only a series of mistakes you’d expect from a young team allowed the Hokies to escape with a victory.

ODU brought only a small contingent to Blacksburg, but will have more fans in Scott Stadium. More than 1,100 tickets tickets were sold or distributed to ODU fans, and the Monarch marching band is also coming.

So are hundreds of others who bought tickets directly from UVA, which offered a huge discount, or from ticket wholesalers. How many will be there is difficult to say, but ODU fans will make themselves heard.

Virginia is clearly the better team and ODU will need the Cavaliers to make mistakes, and for the ball to bounce its way, to pull off an upset.

But need I remind that this game comes 364 days since ODU’s 49-35 upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech in Norfolk?

ODU should be a better team than the one that lost at Lane Stadium almost two weeks ago. They had a much-need bye week, which means they’ve had two weeks to work on their passing game, third-down defense and other deficiencies coach Bobby Wilder says needs to be fixed.

Wilder doesn’t go out of his way to say good things about opposing coaches unless he means it, and it says much about his respect for UVA that he was effusive in his praise of Cavs’ Bronco Mendenhall.

“You’ve got to give Bronco a lot of credit because he changed who they were,” Wilder said. “Their identity is completely different than the way U.Va. used to be as a football team. They’re really built in his mold.

“They do a lot on defense, there’s a lot of blitz, but they’re really sound. They’ve got arguably the best cornerback in America, and they play really good football. “

“Offensively, they’ve become more of a running team. Their quarterback throws it well, but he’s one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the country. I mean, he does some really special things with the ball. It’s different, but it is going to be a good experience for our players.”

He was speaking of UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins, who at times looked like Michael Vick against Florida State, and cornerback Bryce Hall, who led the nation in pass breakups last season.

Wilder said Mendenhall did an awesome job of bringing the Cavs back from a heartbreaking, overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the regular-season finale. UVA was clearly the better team, but made a ton of mistakes and handed possession of the Commonwealth Cup back to the Hokies for the 15th year in a row.

“You watched that game and you knew how heartbreaking it was,” Wilder said.

Wilder spend some time with Mendenhall at the Senior Bowl and talked about what happened after the Tech loss.

“I asked him about his approach because they went to a bowl game after that and just destroyed South Carolina 28-0,” he said. “He said after Virginia Tech, they immediately went right back into preseason mode. They practiced hard, and said they weren’t going to have any hangover from the Tech loss.

“What a great job of coaching to get your team back after a game where you feel like you’re going to break the streak and you don’t. I’ve got a lot of respect for Bronco, he’s an amazing coach and person.

“This’ll be a major challenge, but it is exciting to go play a UVA, program I have tremendous respect for, especially Bronco and what he and his staff have done.”

Story link: http://www.odusports.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=31100&ATCLID=211811933


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