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Get the Max from Minium: Some advice for ODU: Loosen up and have fun against Virginia Tech


By Harry Minium

Most football coaches despise the term “moral victory.”

I can’t blame them. College football is a simple game. You win or lose.

But if Old Dominion doesn’t upset Virginia Tech this weekend, and oddsmakers have made ODU a 28-point underdog at home Saturday, the very least the Monarchs must do is claim a moral victory.

So what is a “moral victory?” Here’s a definition from an online website:

“A sports team that is a heavy underdog loses narrowly to a superior opponent might claim a moral victory, acquitting themselves well even in defeat.”

So far, ODU has not acquitted itself well in games at its own level.

ODU is 0-3 after losing two games it probably should have won – a 28-20 defeat to FIU in which the Monarchs led 17-0; and a 28-25 heartbreaker at Charlotte, in which they failed on three conversion attempts.

Three losses in games the Monarchs expected to win has truly shaken their self-confidence, as it would any team.

So a moral victory against 2-0 Tech, ranked 13th nationally by The Associated Press and 10th by the coaches, would mean playing a competitive game. That would give ODU’s players something to latch on to.

I have a little advice for the Monarchs. Loosen up and have fun. Play with emotion and play to win. But look at this as a challenge to be embraced, not endured.

This is the biggest game ODU has ever played. You will be on national TV. There will be a full house at Foreman Field at S.B. Ballard Stadium.

Give this your best shot.

Anytime a mid-major school like ODU plays a Power 5 program, the odds are daunting. There’s not a player on ODU’s roster that the Hokies thought enough of to offer a scholarship.

Yet there have been a number of eyebrow-raising upsets and near upsets of Power 5 schools this season. Last weekend, nine mid-major schools upset Power 5 teams, including defending Conference USA West champion North Texas crushing Arkansas.

Two weekends ago, Appalachian State took Penn State into overtime.

It’s likely the Power 5 teams in some of those games took their opponents lightly. That won’t happen Saturday.

Tech recruits heavily in Tidewater, and a lot of Hokies will be playing their first college game in their hometown. And there will be a ton of Tech fans at the game.

Tech has not played in Southeastern Virginia since the 1986 Oyster Bowl.

“Our kids are genuinely excited about playing this game,” Tech coach Justin Fuente said. “It’s been a long time since Virginia Tech has played in the 757. This has been talked about for years.”

Trevon Hill, Tech’s standout defensive end from Virginia Beach, tweeted a video of downtown Norfolk with a caption that read: “Can’t wait to get back home and play in the 757 again. This game means so much to me.”

ODU is a veteran team with 22 seniors and 18 returning starters from last season. But coach Bobby Wilder saw enough after the loss to Charlotte to begin promoting younger players up the depth chart.

Three starting positions on the offensive line are up for grabs. Terez Dickerson has moved ahead Jordan Young at linebacker and Tim Ward will start in place of Daniel Appouh at defensive end.

Wilder said his primary job this week was to persuade his players to stop listening “to the noise” – the negativity on social media about the winless start - and focus on playing with consistency.

ODU is perhaps a half dozen plays away from being 2-1. Blown coverages led to two touchdown passes for FIU. And there were those three failed conversions at Charlotte.

Although sophomore quarterback Steve Williams continues to improve, he missed a couple of open receivers at Charlotte.

“Steven is starting to gain confidence in his role in the system,” Wilder said. “He threw the ball much better at Charlotte. He had a couple of deep passes that he just missed on.

“He’s getting better every game.”

Tech crushed visiting ODU 38-0 last season when Williams made his first start. The Monarchs crossed midfield once and had just 149 offensive yards.

Defensively, the Monarchs played well for two quarters. Offensively, they were without three key injured players - wide receiver Jonathan Duhart, offensive tackle Chad Hendricks and running back Ray Lawry.

They just didn’t have the offensive firepower to score against a team like Tech.

This year is different, Wilder said.

“We have the weapons to be competitive offensively, but that’s if - and it’s a big if - we can play with some consistency,” he said.

“We’ve got good players across the offense. We’ve had games where at times we’ve looked dominant. But we haven’t been consistent.

“If we play like we did last year defensively and mix in some offense, who knows?

“When you play a Power 5, you’re generally the underdog and your goal is to be in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter.”

If ODU finds itself in that position, that will be a moral victory. And at this point, that may be progress enough.