Old Dominion charges toward bowl eligibility

Halfway through the season, Old Dominion's football team is in a good place.

The Monarchs went into their bye week with a 4-2 record, two games from bowl eligibility.

They're 2-0 in Conference USA and tied with FIU and Middle Tennessee for first in the East Division.

They've won three in a row, including a 36-13 victory against UMass on Saturday. They piled up a season-high 522 total yards.

The game also marked ODU's 51st consecutive home sellout since restarting football in 2009. There's also a $55 million stadium renovation in the works.

"We are in a good place," ODU head coach Bobby Wilder said on Monday. "Mentally, the players feel pretty good about themselves. The last 14 days we have been 3-0 in football. I like where our team is going."

And there's a lot to like.

Sophomore running back Jeremy Cox gained a career-high 162 yards against UMass and scored two touchdowns for the third consecutive game. Junior RB Ray Lawry returned to action and added 88 yards and a touchdown. Cox and Lawry have combined for 793 yards and 12 TDs this season. Lawry scored his 30th career touchdown against UMass, tying Thomas DeMarco's school record.

"I also really like where David Washington is," Wilder said of his senior quarterback. "In Week 1, he was trying to run over defenders, and now he’s sliding and protecting himself, which we really needed."

Washington is C-USA's fifth-leading passer with 1,250 yards with 12 TDs and only two interceptions. He's also run for 158 yards and a TD.

The defense, led by linebacker TJ Ricks and linemen Oshane Ximines and Bunmi Rotimi, is one of the top four units in the conference. The Monarchs have 19 sacks, tied with Southern Miss for most in the conference.

"I like that we are a team that can run the ball, so we are making a lot of progress on the field," said Wilder, who's led ODU to a 61–29 record in three FBS seasons. "Defensively, we are getting good pressure and haven’t been giving up a lot of big plays. We are making teams earn their points."

Good stuff.

Now comes the hard part.

Starting against Western Kentucky Oct. 22 on ASN, the Monarchs face a tough finishing stretch of six games. That includes Marshall Nov. 5 on ASN, Southern Miss Nov. 12 on ASN and FIU on Nov. 26.

They need two wins to qualify for their first bowl game and UTEP on Oct. 29 and Florida Atlantic on Nov. 19 appear to be winnable contests. But that appeared to be the case last year, when ODU only needed to beat 2-9 FAU to reach the postseason. The Monarchs lost 33-31, turning the ball over on downs in the final minute.

"It is important to remember that the teams we have beaten so far were the ones who were picked near the bottom, just like us," Wilder said. "Starting with WKU, we will be playing the teams that we weren’t picked to beat.

"All we can do is focus on the process and practice situational football. ... I do feel like we are in a much better place than we were in the beginning of the season.

And Wilder knows it's not how you start that counts, but how you finish .

Photo courtesy ODU Athletics

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