Last season was a big one for the Old Dominion University football team.

The Monarchs pulled off a monumental upset of Virginia Tech and watched defensive lineman Oshane Ximines become the first player in program history to be selected in the NFL Draft.

Our 2019 Virginia football opponent preview series continues with ODU, which has to rebuild its passing game and replace three of last season’s four starters on the defensive line.

Who will take the snaps?

After he became the second quarterback in ODU history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, Blake LaRussa shocked the college football world with his decision to forgo his senior year to attend seminary school.

Highly touted junior college transfers Messiah deWeaver and Stone Smartt and redshirt sophomore Steven Williams lead the race to replace LaRussa. Smartt threw for 2,754 yards and 31 touchdowns and led Riverside City to back-to-back California State Championships, while deWeaver led East Mississippi Community College to the 2018 NJCAA national championship.

Williams started the first four games and threw for 507 yards and two touchdowns last season before redshirting under the NCAA’s new rule. Redshirt freshman Jonah Fitzgerald – a walk-on from Roanoke – also is in the running, as is Hayden Wolff, the No. 34 ranked pro-style passer in the country coming out of Venice High School in Florida.

Rebuilding the passing gameWhoever wins the job at quarterback will be throwing to a host of new receivers. ODU has to replace its top four receivers from a year ago, and its leading returning receiver also happens to be the starting running back.

Last year’s top two receivers, Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart, are both with the Detroit Lions. Two central figures in the Monarchs’ passing game this season will be Virginia Tech graduate transfers Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham. Last fall, Kumah finished with 42 receptions for 559 yards and seven touchdowns, which ranked No. 2 among the Hokies’ receivers. Cunningham, a tight end, played in 37 career games at Tech and caught seven touchdowns.

Senior wide receivers Hasaan Patterson and Darrell Brown and sophomore tight end Donta Anthony led the passing game this spring, and running back Kesean Strong will be heavily involved again this fall after catching 21 passes last year.

Game-deciding matchup

Virginia’s backfield will face a talented group of linebackers, led by Lawrence Garner, who led Conference USA last season with 11.1 tackles a game and finished the season with a team-high 100 stops. This fall, he’s on the Bronco Nagurski and Bednarik award watch lists. Jordan Young started 11 games last season and finished third on the team with 75 tackles.

Series

This is the first meeting between Virginia and Old Dominion, which reinstated its football program in 2009.

Relevance

Having already faced William & Mary, this will be Virginia’s second of four games this season against in-state programs. Liberty will be in Charlottesville on Nov. 23, and Virginia Tech comes to Scott Stadium for the regular season finale. Virginia can score some recruiting points in the commonwealth with a convincing win, and just like against the Tribe, the Cavaliers will be heavily favored, but they can’t look past ODU.

Just ask Virginia Tech.

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