Minium: Blake Seiler made ODU’s soccer defense one of the best in school history

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from Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Virginia – When Blake Seiler He became Defense Coordinator of Old Dominion and took on the task of rebuilding ODU’s often porous defenses, he knew this was going to be a huge challenge.

ODU has a reputation for scoring a lot of points. But defense? That’s a different story.

The Monarchs had one of the worst defenses in Conference USA in the past, which had become a sore point among fans. In 2019, the last season the Monarchs played before this fall, ODU was ranked 118thNS from 129 Football Bowl subdivision schools and most recently in Conference USA in Overall Defense, setting a school record of 471.4 yards per game.

Seiler vowed that the monarchs would be physically healthy and tenacious from the ground up. No one, he said, would work harder than his defense.

Seiler definitely had the résumé to make it through. He was Defensive Coordinator in Kansas State before moving to West Virginia for a season. He came to ODU and accepted a pay cut because he believes in the head coach Ricky Rahne and wanted to help Rahne to set up a championship program here.

And he and paramedics Kevin Smith, Victor Irokansi, Remington Vine and Leon Wright Have been delivered.

ODU’s defense ranks 27th nationally and fourth in Conference USA in terms of rushing yards allowed and 50th national and fifth in the league in total allowed yards.

ODU has only given up 354.5 yards per game, and if that average holds it would be the lowest since the Monarchs joined FBS in 2013. It would be the second lowest in Monarch history, dating back to 2010 when ODU gave up 347.9 yards per game in its second football season.

Seiler’s boys got through in Saturday night’s 23:20 win over Louisiana Tech when ODU’s offense needed a lot of help from the defense. ODU only allowed 59 yards, the second fewest ever against an FBS team.

In the final minutes, when Louisiana Tech tied third and three at ODU 45 with a tie of 20, the Monarchs were forced to stop.

ODU defenders came under pressure on LA Tech quarterback JD Head twice, forcing two incomplete passes. ODU’s offense then won just enough yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

“We played such a great team defense,” said Rahne. “Look at how many games we played in secondary school.

“You kept trying to pick # 20 and he kept replying.

“They did a play and our boys said ‘no more’.”

Defensive coach, players celebrate a big game

Roger Cray, the senior transfer from Western Kentucky, is wearing the number 20 for ODU, and the Bulldogs actually threw a lot in his direction. He responded by leading ODU with three pass breaks.

ODU’s defense excelled despite being young and inexperienced. The Monarchs have lost several good players through the transfer portal. There are eight newcomers on ODU’s two-deep Defensive Depth Chart, including two out of three starters on the line. Only five seniors start.

Of the 24 best defensive players, 18 will return next season, which bodes well for the future.

The win was the Monarchs’ first win against an FBS opponent since 2018 and came against an LA Tech team that, like ODU, has a misleadingly poor record.

The Bulldogs (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) should have beaten Mississippi State and the nationally ranked SMU and lost a close game in the nationally ranked North Carolina State.

ODU also played a tough schedule and suffered heartbreaking defeats against Buffalo (35-34), Marshall (20-13 in extra time) and UTEP (28-21).

Five of the six teams that defeated ODU (2-6, 1-3) are likely to qualify for the Bowl. Wake Forest (8-0) is the only undefeated team in the ACC and ranks 10th this week. Liberty (7-2) flirts with the top 25.

If Buffalo (4-5) wins two of the next three, all six ODU losses will go to the teams likely to qualify for the bowl.

Overall, ODU’s opponents are 39-26. However, with a break here or there, the Monarchs could be 5-3 or 4-4.

When asked what he had learned about his team after the victory on Saturday, Rahne got a little emotional.

Roger Cray
Roger Cray had three pass breaks against LA Tech

“We have a mentally strong team, a team that will be resilient,” he said.

“We have a team that play for each other and for the right reasons.

“It’s something you wish it wasn’t rare, but it could be rare in this day and age. These guys play for each other and it was so important to see that win so that they could see it together.

“That was pretty great.”

Rahne is a rarity among head coaches, as he admits his mistakes in advance. He says he should have taken time off right before LA Tech took a fake punt for a long win. Yes, and 20 years ago I should have expected that buying Apple stock would make me a millionaire.

His humility is an admirable trait, so let me tell you about something he did not volunteer, that happened in the second quarter and that showed how adept he is with his players.

Close end Zack Kuntz, the Penn State transfer, dropped two passports, and that’s a rarity for the safe 6-foot-8 sophomore. After making a catch in the second quarter, the ball was stolen from him by LA Tech’s Kahlil Ladler, which Kuntz then tackled.

Some coaches could have attacked Kuntz. Instead Rahne called Kuntz to the sidelines and spoke quietly to him for a minute and patted him on the shoulder.

Blake Seiler
Blake Seiler

After their conversation, Kuntz was the contact person in ODU’s transit offensive. He caught eight passes for 67 yards and one touchdown.

“I just told him to stop doing too much,” said Rahne. “He tried to get 105 yards every game. I told him, ‘Just be you. Nobody on this team wants you to be anyone but Zack. You don’t have to be a superman. ‘ “

Kuntz then got high fives and handshakes and words of encouragement from his teammates.

“This team is so close,” said Kuntz. “We are brothers.”

That was a recurring theme this season.

Almost two months ago, ODU bounced back from a 35-7 halftime deficit and behind Buffalo, 35-34, as a senior Nick Reis was called to make the extra point with just a few seconds ahead.

And it just wasn’t an additional point. Since the monarchs had been marked for excessive partying, Rice’s extra point came from 35 meters away.

A side note here – Rahne declined to criticize the referees, but I will. I don’t think the flag should have been dropped. Yes, ODU players came from the bench to celebrate. But there was no mockery. Everything was respectful. I saw that much more was not called.

Let children be children for God’s sake.

Regardless, the kick sailed inches from the right post and after a game in which they were absolutely dominant, the Monarchs suffered a crushing defeat.

“The cool thing is that nobody on the team talked to me,” said Rice. “Nobody on the team discouraged me.

“Everyone was super positive.”

He said that response “helped me make a quick transition to where I should be.”

On Saturday night, with two seconds on the clock and the score, he was asked to score a 46-yard field goal to win the game. After LA Tech tried to thwart him with time out, he calmly kicked the ball through the posts, a shoe that earned him the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Week.

A happy celebration followed. I haven’t heard an audience celebrate such a win since a 34-31 win over North Texas in 2018. Coincidentally, it was ODU’s last win against an FBS opponent.

A reporter reminded three ODU players during post-game interviews that the Monarchs were not disqualified from bowl eligibility.

True, but ODU would have to win its last four games to qualify, starting with a game at Florida International (1-7, 0-4) Saturday night.

Jordan Young
Jordan Young makes a duel against WKU

Then on November 13th there is a very difficult home game against Florida Atlantic (5-3, 3-1). ODU then plays in Middle Tennessee (4-4, 2-2), a program the Monarchs never beat before welcoming Charlotte (4-4, 2-2) on November 28th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Asked for bowl eligibility, senior linebacker in his sixth year Jordan Young smiled and replied as Rahne would have liked.

“We know it’s out there but we only take one step at a time, one game at a time,” he said.

“We have a 1-0 mentality in our program. We will move on to the next game and we are really ready for the FIU.”

All true. Rahnes 1-0 mentality has helped his players stay focused during a difficult season.

Seiler too, said Linebacker Ryan Henry, a senior from Miami who will lead the Monarchs in a duel and will play in his hometown this weekend.

“Coach Seiler is by far the most disciplined and toughest coach I’ve ever played for,” said Henry.

“He gets the best out of his players. He definitely wants to, he wants to win as badly as we do.”

“He just wants us to be the best.”

Minium has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize in 39 years with The Virginian Pilot, where he won 27 author awards. He reports on ODU Athletics for odusports.com Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @ hbminium1 or send an email to [email protected]


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