Old Dominion Outlook: The Monarchs are having the season that most of us likely have expected them to have. They've easily dispatched the weak competition on their schedule (Eastern Michigan, Charlotte, Norfolk State) but have looked sorely outmatched in their losses where they've averaged a deficit of over 29 points.
Old Dominion has been resilient this season. Highly-recruited freshman Shuler Bentley was handed the reigns to start the season, seeking to follow in the footsteps of current NFL backup Taylor Heinicke. Bentley struggled in the early going, completing only 50.5% of his passes with a 6:5 TD to interception ratio.
Bentley's story at ODU is yet to be completed but while the freshman works on adjusting to the college game 6'3" wide receiver David Washington has returned back to his original position under center. Washington hasn't been a gamebreaker at quarterback but he has given the Monarchs a more efficient passing game. This allows likely all-conference running back Ray Lawry more opportunities to wear down defenses.
Lawry should surpass the 1,000 yard mark against UTSA as he checks in at 966 yards on the season. Averaging six yards per carry, Lawry has been a revelation for the Monarchs despite ODU losing their best blocking tight ends to injury at the beginning of the season. Lawry is both efficient and explosive; he's fumbled on less than 2% of his carries and is tacking on an additional six yards each time his offensive line opens up a hole for him.
Former walk-on TJ Ricks leads the way for the Monarchs on defense. With 84 tackles on the year, Ricks has done a bit of everything at the middle linebacker position as he's broken up fives passes while also controlling the run game on the ground.
Oshane Ximines is probably the best raw talent on Old Dominion's defense. The redshirt freshman stands at 6'4", 240 pounds. With 7.5 tackles for loss (five sacks and six quarterback hurries) to his name, Ximines' speed rush has proven to be problematic for ODU's opponents.
UTSA Outlook: There's no denying that UTSA's football program is in a bad spot right now. The Roadrunners added a seventh loss to their record after dropping last week's rivalry match up with North Texas, objectively one of the worst teams in the FBS. As if a 1-7 record wasn't enough pain, the findings of an Equal Opportunity complaint investigation spelled out an environment of distrust and dysfunction in the UTSA program. The Roadrunners would wrap up the week with the loss of their best commitment and the arrest of a freshman cornerback.
So yeah, the Roadrunners need a win.
Despite the despair of losing to North Texas, UTSA's offense showed some promise last week. A well-rested offensive line severely cut down on the amount of pocket pressure afforded. This helped Dalton Sturm to connect on 66% of his passes while he also ran for 73 yards. Sturm also developed a nice connection with Kerry Thomas (nine catches for 75 yards).
Given the questionable injury status of Jarveon Williams, UTSA will likely turn to freshman Jalen Rhodes to sustain the rushing attack. A highly explosive young athlete, Rhodes coughed up a costly fumble that was returned for a touchdown by UNT last week. Rhodes' ability to respond to that gaffe will likely dictate the outcome of this game for UTSA.
Defensively, ODU is a good match up for UTSA. They're solid against the run so expect a modest rushing total for Ray Lawry if middle linebacker Drew Douglas plays within himself after being ejected against UNT last week.
Quarterback David Washington favors shorter routes which is certainly music to the ears of UTSA's secondary who have struggled to get off the field on third and long. Talented sophomore Nate Gaines will also be returning to the starting lineup after a freakishly quick recovery from a knee injury.
Prediction: While this is a great match up for UTSA on paper, I'm finding it hard to trust in this young team to play to their potential. Off-field distractions are whirling around the program. That might not be a huge issue on a veteran squad but a team full of freshmen and sophomores may fail to maintain focus through the week. Until UTSA proves that they can play a full four quarters of mistake-free football it's hard to have much conviction in predicting a winning performance. I say ODU pulls away on a late coverage break down followed by a Lawry touchdown run.