Old Dominion shocked Virginia Tech on Saturday, taking down the 13th-ranked team in the nation (per AP) with a vicious 28-point fourth quarter that left every Hokies fan stunned. It was beautiful, and the fact that the Monarchs got to pull the rug out from a top-15 team on their home turf only made it sweeter.
The star of the game for ODU, statistically speaking, was junior quarterback Blake LaRussa, who threw for 495 yards and four scores and rushed for another. LaRussa was perfect and great and did everything he needed to do to upset Virginia Tech and claim the first victory of the year for the 1-3 Monarchs. But it’s neither him nor the fact of the upset that I am here to marvel over.
Old Dominion running back Jeremy Cox is a large lad; at 6 feet and 235 pounds, he’s as absolute a unit as they come in college football. For the past three seasons, he and Ray Lawry paired to make an entertaining 1-2 punch in the Monarchs backfield. Lawry, both older and faster, got the nod and subsequently about 50 percent more carries over the course of the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and damn was he fun. But a torn hamstring came for him on the second carry of the 2017 season opener, and suddenly, Cox was thrust into the unfamiliar role of being the offense’s new top back.
The 2017 season was disappointing for a program coming off a 10-win season in just its fourth year of Division I competition. The Monarchs finished 5-7, missing out on the postseason and sending Lawry off to the NFL, where he’d be cut by the Bengals. After being good for an average 5.4 yards per carry in his first two years, Cox and the running game took a dip, all the way to 4.2 yards per pop; despite racking up 18 more carries than his sophomore campaign, he rushed for 111 fewer yards as a junior.
The start to this season didn’t yield much better results for the lumbering Hope Mills, N.C. native—in the opening two games against Liberty and FIU, neither of which is known for its top-tier defense, Cox rushed 25 times for 77 yards and no scores. He picked things up in Week 3 against UNC Charlotte, but the game still ended in a loss, the third in as many weeks for Old Dominion.
Then came Virginia Tech, and along with it, Cox’s fifth 100-yard game of his career. I encourage you to turn up the sound when you watch this video, not for the pubescent touchdown calls, but to hear what it sounds like when some poor soul decided to lower their shoulder against Cox on Saturday.
In short, what Cox did to the Virginia Tech defense in the fourth quarter is exactly why you keep a guy like this around your backfield. With the game nearly in hand, the Hokies defenders, playing in the smallest stadium they’ve visited in decades, found themselves winded come the final 15 minutes. Realizing this, and realizing that they had a hunk of onyx at their disposal, the Old Dominion playcallers stuck the ball in Cox’s gut incessantly. In the fourth quarter alone, he took 10 of his total 20 carries and rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns. This, after going for just 35 yards on his previous 10 rushes.
If you’re going by game momentum and the ultimate outcome, Cox’s most important run was a go-ahead 15-yard scoring rumble punched in with 9:57 left in the game. It gave the Monarchs the lead for the first time all day and ended up leading to their first win of the year. But if you’re going by the most badass, it was clearly the display he put on when, with 1:34 in the game and Virginia Tech trailing by a touchdown and out of timeouts, Cox shrugged off another couple of would-be tacklers as he rumbled 40 yards for the exclamation point the Monarchs didn’t know they needed.
The world needs more big, burly backs like Jeremy Cox.