BLACKSBURG – Underwhelming is better than shocking.
A year after being stunned by Old Dominion, Virginia Tech did enough to get by the Monarchs on Saturday, winning 31-17 in the Hokies’ home opener.
It was far from the emphatic burial of last season’s embarrassment that Tech fans were craving going into the weekend, but for a team that may be counting its wins at the end of the year, hoping to extend its bowl streak, at least it was a victory.
Like a year ago, ODU was a 28 ½-point underdog. But this time, it didn’t have a trio of NFL bound wide receivers to attack the Hokies’ shaky secondary.
Senior quarterback Ryan Willis threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third score and junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby had 10 tackles to lead the defense.
Monarchs wide receiver Eric Kumah, who transferred from Tech after last season, caught three passes for 24 yards and was booed each time his name was announced by the stadium PA.
Sophomore running back Lala Davis ran for 81 yards on 11 carries for ODU (1-1), and quarterback Stone Smartt ran for two scores.
Tech (1-1), which dropped its season opener at Boston College last weekend, took an early lead on freshman running back Keshawn King’s first career rushing touchdown, a 4-yard score 3:30 into the game, and never trailed. It led 17-3 at the half, never dominating but never losing its grip on this one, either.
The Monarchs cut the lead to 24-17 with 13:15 to play after back-to-back touchdown runs by Smartt.
But ODU lost the momentum – and its chance to get back in the game – when it gave up a 71-yard kickoff return to Terrius Wheatley on the kickoff following Smartt’s second score.
Three plays later, Willis hit Phi Patterson for a 13-yard touchdown that pushed Tech’s lead back to two scores at 31-17.
The Hokies disappointingly struggled again to run the football, going for 125 yards on 36 carries. They had to do it with a starting lineup dented by last weekend’s bruising loss at Boston College. Center Zach Hoyt and guard T.J. Jackson missed Saturday, pressing center John Harris and guard Doug Nester into duty for their first college starts.
For the second straight week, wide receiver Damon Hazelton (hamstring) did not play.
The Hokies also played without two defensive starters from last week, in cornerback Jovonn Quillen and defensive end TyJuan Garbutt.