After big win over ECU, Tech now focused on Old Dominion

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – The Virginia Tech football program quickly turned its attention away from the 64-17 blowout at East Carolina on Saturday and onto the Old Dominion Monarchs, who visit Lane Stadium for a Saturday afternoon tilt.

The Hokies, ranked No. 13 in both major polls, founded out Monday that their game with Clemson on Sept. 30 will be kicking off at 8 p.m. and shown on ABC. But head coach Justin Fuente plans on keeping his team focused on Saturday’s foe.

Or, as they say in Blacksburg, “Let’s just go 1-0 this week.”

“The key to that is we don’t wait till the fall to start talking about the mindset,” Fuente said at his news conference Monday. “As soon as they come back from Christmas break, we start talking about it in our winter workouts through our offseason program, through our summer, through two-a-days and into the season. That’s all training for that mindset – not looking forward, not looking backwards, literally focusing on the next step that’s in front of us.”

The Hokies practiced Sunday, and the staff is using Monday to game plan for the Monarchs. Tech’s staff is facing a little bit of the unknown in ODU, which plans on starting true freshman quarterback Steven Williams.

The Monarchs struggled on offense this past Saturday against North Carolina before inserting Williams into the game. ODU had just 11 yards in the first quarter, but Williams got the Monarchs in gear, throwing a couple of touchdown passes and helping the offense rack up more than 300 yards in a 53-23 loss.

“He was really effective getting in there, and he can really throw the football,” Fuente said. “They pushed the ball down the field. They were not afraid to cut it loose and let it go. Almost instantaneously, their dynamic offensively changed when he got in there. They became very explosive.”

ODU coach Bobby Wilder has a lot of respect for the Hokies – he said that he voted them No. 11 in the coaches’ poll. Fuente also harbors a lot of respect for his counterpart, who re-started the ODU program in 2007. He led the Monarch to a 10-3 record last season and a win in the Bahamas Bowl.

“I know people in this state give Bobby credit. I’m not sure he gets enough credit on a national level for the job that he’s done,” Fuente said. “To literally build that thing from scratch, he’s done a fantastic job. I’ve had the chance to meet him a couple of times when we’re out and about. He’s just a really, really good football coach and has a good football team and will provide plenty of challenges for us on both sides of the ball.”

Saturday’s game kicks off at 2 p.m.

Here are some other tidbits from Monday’s news conference:

• Fuente said he liked what he saw from Tech’s backups in the win over ECU, as the Hokie staff played almost everyone who made the trip. He singled out Khalil Ladler, who forced a second-half fumble.

“Some good, some bad,” Fuente said of his assessment. “I like the way they competed. They competed like they valued playing time, like they were hungry to get out there and play and not like they were anxious to get the game over with. I do believe in playing people that deserve to be played. Ladler would be the first one to jump out in my mind.”

Ladler finished with two tackles, including 1.5 for a loss.

• Fuente likes what he has been seeing from Dalton Keene, the true freshman tight end from Colorado who enrolled this past January and went through spring practice. Keene, who started against the Pirates, actually plays more of an H-back role – a position that demands a smart and versatile athlete.

“I’ve been pleased with how he’s handled the game plan from week to week and the adjustments that come with that position,” Fuente said. “We’ve talked a little bit about it. Center, quarterback and H-back the three most difficult spots in our offense that require the most adjustments and the most overall big-picture knowledge. It’s very rare to have a true freshman that can handle that, and he’s done a really good job because those things change from week to week.”

• The Tech-ODU game will be bittersweet for running backs coach Zohn Burden, who served on Wilder’s initial staff in Norfolk. Burden actually coached two stints at ODU and knows many of the upperclassmen on the Monarchs’ roster.

“At the end of the day, this is a great game for the state, a great game for the kids in that area that are either playing against some of those kids or playing with them at the same high school,” he said. “But once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game.”

• Speaking of Burden, he received a question Monday about Jalen Holston, the true freshman from Stockbridge, Georgia who continues to get reps here and there. Holston received 10 carries Saturday against East Carolina (for 39 yards), and Burden likes the 220-pound thumper.

“The biggest challenge was that he played in an offense that he was kind of downhill – get the ball and run straight kind of offense in high school,” Burden said. “So the biggest challenge has been to read the zone for us and find the right holes in there. He’s gotten better week in and week out, and there should be more and more confidence from his standpoint going forward.”

For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter and on Instagram @HokiesFB Instagram