(Part 10 of a 14-part Conference USA preview series)
Riding the momentum of its first bowl victory in program history, Old Dominion brings Conference USA's strongest rushing attack to the table in 2017.
Old Dominion (10-3, 7-1) shook off a 5-7 2015 campaign — its first losing season since the program was reinstated in 2009 — to double its win total. Winners of their final six games, the Monarchs topped Eastern Michigan 24-20 in the Bahamas Bowl. In the process, ODU became the youngest program to achieve a double digits win total since the NCAA established Division I in 1978.
Coach Bobby Wilder, who has directed the Monarchs to a 67-30 record as their only coach of the modern era, returns for his ninth season in Norfolk.
Offensively, the Monarchs ranked fourth in scoring (35.1 points per game), first in rushing (196.8 yards per game), sixth in passing (234 ypg) and fifth in total yardage (430.8 ypg).
Seven offensive starters return, though the Monarchs lost two key components in quarterback David Washington (2,836 yards passing, 31 touchdowns, 5 interceptions) and leading receiver Zach Pascal.
Sophomores Blake LaRussa and Jordan Hoy and redshirt freshman Drayton Arnold are in the running to succeed Washington. LaRussa completed 14-of-24 passes for 140 yards in limited duty, while Hoy joins the Monarchs as a transfer from Fullerton (Calif.) Community College.
Whoever wins the QB job will have the luxury of handing off to senior Ray Lawry (200 carries, 1,255 yards, 11 TDs; 11 receptions, 134 yards, 1 TD) and junior Jeremy Cox (129-732-13; 11-118-1).
Lawry ranks seventh among active FBS running backs with 3,338 career rushing yards.
Despite the absence of Pascal (65 receptions, 946, 9 TDs), the Monarchs boast a deep and experienced group of wide receivers, led by senior Jonathan Duhart (48-735-9) and juniors Travis Fulgham (29-478-8) and Isaiah Harper (14-174-1), along with senior tight end Melvin Vaughn (22-233-1).
Junior center Nick Clarke and sophomore right guard Devin Hannan started all 13 games while helping the Monarchs set a single-season school record with 2,595 rushing yards. Additionally, ODU's 19 sacks allowed ranked second-best in the conference. Chad Hendricks shifts to right tackle after starting the final 10 games on the left side.
Six full-time starters are back from a defense which ranked second in C-USA in scoring (27.2 ppg), fifth in rushing (157.2 ypg), fourth in passing (226.5 ypg) and third in total yardage (383.6 ypg).
Old Dominion will rely on its deep defensive line and secondary to cover a thin and inexperienced crop of linebackers.
Senior Bunmi Rotimi (44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 7 sacks), shares the school record with 13.5 career sacks. Junior Oshane Ximines (42 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) is slated to start at the opposite end with juniors Miles Fox (27 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and Pat Toal Jr. (12 tackles, 2 TFL) at the tackles.
Junior Marvin Branch Jr. (14 tackles), sophomore Derek Wilder, the coach's son, and redshirt freshman Jordan Young enter camp as the projected starting linebackers.
Senior cornerback Brandon Addison (47 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 10 pass breakups), senior free safety Rob Thompson (28 tackles, 1 INT) and junior strong safety Sean Carter (60 tackles, 2 INTs) return in the secondary. Sophomore cornerback Jamez Brickhouse (18 tackles) is also expected to crack the starting lineup. Senior Justice Davila (47 tackles) provides quality depth at safety.
Brad Davis converted 10-of-12 field goals while Bailey Cate punted 57 times for a 37.8-yard average with 25 punts inside the 20. Both are sophomores.
Another sophomore, Darrell Brown, returned 14 punts for a 10.4-yard average.
2017 OLD DOMINION SCHEDULE
(All Times Central and Subject to Change)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Sept. 2 Albany 5 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Massachusetts TBA
Sept. 16 North Carolina 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Virginia Tech TBA
Oct. 7 Florida Atlantic* 5 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Marshall* 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 (Fri.) WKU* TBA
Oct. 28 at North Texas* TBA
Nov. 4 Charlotte* 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 11 at FIU* 6 p.m.
Nov. 18 Rice* 1 p.m.
Nov. 25 at Middle Tennessee* 2 p.m.