Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis gave himself pep talk this week, and the tone and approach is one his teammates might want to copy heading into their home opener against Old Dominion.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and I said to myself, ‘I have two choices. I can either feel bad for myself, sulk and feel like the world is crashing down or my second choice is put it behind me and learn from it, grow from it and get ready for a team that is coming into our place that’s trying to beat us,'” Willis said this week.
Willis and the Hokies lost to the Monarchs last year and struggled in their opener this year against Boston College.
The quarterback threw three interceptions, a third of his total from last season, and also fumbled in the Hokies’ season-opening loss. The Monarchs, though, present a chance for redemption.
Last year, riding high at 3-0 and ranked No. 13, the Hokies lost quarterback Josh Jackson to injury and were stunned in a shootout, 49-35, at ODU.
Willis, who became the Hokies’ quarterback in that game, led Virginia Tech on a 75-yard drive to a touchdown pass that tied the score at 35, but the Hokies faltered thereafter.
ODU coach Bobby Wilder took a selfie with players during the celebration on the field after the victory, without question the signature victory of a 4-8 season. But sometimes, he knows, what you did last year carries over to the following season.
“It’s been a really challenging stretch for them,” Wilder said, noting that the Hokies have lost seven of their last 10 games. “I bring that up because this is a must-win game for them, not only because it’s Old Dominion, a team they’re expected to beat by 30-plus points, but because they need the win.”
Some other things to watch when Old Dominion visits Virginia Tech:
Willis was solid last season with 24 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions, but it wasn’t until the week of the opener that he was named this year’s starter. Despite his numbers, the Hokies won just three of the nine games he started and Hendon Hooker, more of a dual-threat, could be called on if Willis struggles again.
Wilder has tabbed Eric Kumah and Chris Cunningham and two others as captains for this week. Kumah was the Hokies’ No. 2 receiver last season, and he and Cunningham were among six plays to leave Justin Fuente’s program either while games were still going on or when Virginia Tech’s 6-7 season was completed.
Hokies longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster is retiring after this season, and many of his players have pledged to dedicate the season to him, but Foster wasn’t thrilled with how that translated in the opener. “I felt we played tight for some reason in the first half and pressed a bit for whatever reason,” he said. The Monarchs should present a chance for Virginia Tech to shore things up.
BUDDIES ON OPPOSITE SIDES
Old Dominion’s running game coordinator, Bryan Stinespring, was a longtime Virginia Tech assistant under Frank Beamer, including serving as offensive coordinator for several years with Foster as the defensive coordinator.
“Outstanding football coach and an even better man,” Foster said.
With top receiver Damon Hazleton sidelined, Virginia Tech turned to the future against BC as freshman Tayvion Robinson, redshirt freshman Kaleb Smith and sophomore James Mitchell all caught their first career TD passes.
By HANK KURZ Jr., AP Sports Writer
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