After back-to-back home games to start off the season, the Deacs head to Norfolk, Virginia for their first road game of the season against the Old Dominion Monarchs. The game marks just the second time Old Dominion and Wake Forest will face off against each other.
- Opponent: Old Dominion Monarchs
- Date: Saturday, September 16th, 2023
- Location: S.B. Ballard Stadium | Norfolk, VA
- Vegas Win Total O/U: 3.5
- 2022 Record: 3-9, 2-6 in Sun Belt
- Previous Matchup: Wake 42—ODU 10 (2021)
- All time vs Wake Forest: 0-1
Old Dominion has been a roller coaster ride through head coach Ricky Rahne’s 3-year tenure. In his first season, ODU cancelled football and they didn’t get to play a single game. In his second season, the Monarchs started off 1-5 with a single win over FCS Hampton before ripping off 5 straight wins to finish the season 6-6, earning ODU their second bowl berth in program history. Their hot streak appeared to be continuing into 2022, as Old Dominion kicked off the season beating Virginia Tech. That victory turned out to not be so impressive when the Hokies finished the season 3-8 with 1 ACC win and the Monarchs ended the season on a 6-game losing streak to finish 3-9 on the year.
That losing streak is probably going to continue into 2023, as the transfer portal kind of decimated the Monarchs in the off season. Starting QB Hayden Wolff decided to transfer to Western Michigan in April after a career best season with 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns through the air. Losing a starting QB is obviously a setback for any program, but it could be devastating for ODU, as Wolff’s back up Brandon Clark retired due to injuries and the third string QB DJ Mack ran out of eligibility. That leaves Old Dominion without a single QB on the roster who has thrown a pass at the FBS level. At best guess, the starting job is likely going to be a battle between redshirt sophomore Jack Shields and Fordham transfer Grant Wilson. Having to pick between 2 QBs with 0 FBS game experience is probably a situation most coaches would like to avoid, and there is a chance the battle will not be resolved by the 3rd game in the season. That should give the Wake Forest defense a pretty big advantage.
On top of losing their starting QB, the Monarchs will also be without their leaders in rushing and receiving yards. Starting running back Blake Watson, who led the team in rushing and was 2nd in receptions transferred to Memphis after putting up 1,230 total yards and 7 total touchdowns last season. Leading receiver Ali Jennings III finished the 2022 campaign with 54 receptions for 959 yards and 9 touchdowns—the Deacs will play him this season, but not until October 14th when they take on the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The Old Dominion offense was already not very good last season, averaging just 19.5 points and 340 yards per game. Take away a veteran quarterback, a pass catching running back who accounted for over 50% of their carries on the ground, and their only receiver with over 30 receptions, and that is a recipe for what will probably be a rebuilding season on the offensive side of things. The Monarchs have just 2 returning players who accounted for over 200 yards of offense last season in wide receivers Javon Harvey and Jordan Bly.
On the defensive side, the Monarchs weren’t terrible last season, allowing 26 points and 440 yards per game. Unfortunately, just like with the offense, the defense lost a lot of their best players. Defensive linemen Alonzo Ford, Chazz Williams, and Marcus Haynes, who combined for 98 tackles and 8 sacks in the trenches last season, are off to Penn State, Colorado, and the Denver Broncos respectively. Safety R’tarriun Johnson, who was second on the team with 89 tackles, and cornerback Tobias Harris, who led the team with 11 pass breakups, both ran out of eligibility. Linebacker Ryan Henry also graduated after a 51 tackle, 4 sack season. Despite losing veterans at every level of the defense, the Monarchs should be fine because they return their anchor in linebacker Jason Henderson. Henderson had a monster season in 2022, leading the entire nation in tackles with 186—almost 40 more than the next closest player. He was awarded 1st team All-Sun Belt Honors and was voted a 2nd team All-American by USA Today. Henderson should be able to cover up a lot of the weaknesses on the ODU defense simply by being one of the best defenders in college football.
ODU took a step back last season, but some of that could be contributed from moving to the tougher Sun Belt Conference from Conference USA. The Monarchs also lost a ton of talent in the transfer portal in the offseason and are probably going to struggle on offense due to inexperience. The Deacs should probably win this one by a pretty large margin to move to 3-0 on the season.