Where: Carter-Finley Stadium (Raleigh, NC)
Kickoff: 6:00 pm
This is Old Dominion’s first year as an FBS program and they’ve hitched their wagon to Conference USA. Strangely enough ODU mothballed their program back in 1940 and only resurrected it 5 years ago in 2009. ODU’s Head Coach is Bobby Wilder, who’s in his sixth year at the school (the first year was spent recruiting and building the program before playing in 2009). Like every other school today they run the spread offense with a 4-3 defense with a hybrid LB. Last year the Monarch’s went 1-4 against FBS opponents, the worst being a drumming at the hands of UNC losing 80-20, while the lone win was against Idaho. The Monarch’s do return 14 starters from last year (4 Off, 10 Def) so there is experience but as I’ll cover later, and what we know as State fans, experience doesn’t equal good.
Up-temp offense after two cups of coffee; that’s what ODU has described it as the past few years. It’s a constant high pace offense to keep defenses from switching personnel and looking at the defensive alignment for potential weak spots to exploit. For several years they have depended on this style thanks in large part to their talented Quarterback, Senior Taylor Heinicke. With the move to the FBS level, Coach Wilder is tweaking the offense to dedicate more to the run to try and off-set the likely reduction in big plays downfield due to bigger, more talented secondaries.
Expect a solid performance from Heinicke, smart decisions to prevent turnovers, high completion percentage, and reading defensive alignments to keep the chains moving while picking his moments to strike big. The increase in running will turn to several players but if Week 1 against Hampton is any indication, then expect to see a lot of Sophomore RB Gerard Johnson, who ran for 137 yards against the Pirates. One reason the Monarch’s may be focusing more on the run this season is because of the step up in competition. Another reason may be due to the youth in their receiving corps. Of their 19 receivers listed on their depth chart for the State game, 13 are in their first or second year. Only one player, R-Sr Antonio Vaughan, is an upperclassman. Heinicke spread the ball around against Hampton where Zach Pascal, Vaughan, Nick England, Melvin Vaughn, and RB Cam Boyd all caught at least 3 passes. Expect to see ODU attack State’s soft pass defense often.
ODU Players to Watch (OFFENSE)
#14 QB – Taylor Heinicke (SR) 6-1 213: Against Hampton Heinicke was 29-40-2 for 281 yds & 3 TDs. Heinicke passed for +4000 yds and 33 TDS in 2013, 10 TDs came against FBS competition. Heinicke has passed for over 11,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in his career, only 11 other players have ever done this at the Div. 1 level.
#30 RB – Gerard Johnson (SO) 5-9 194: Johnson rushed for 137 yards on 22 carries and 1 TD for a 6.23 YPC.
#31 RB – Cam Boyd (SR) 5-6 171: Rushed for 37 yds on 4 carries with 2 TDs and caught 4 passes for 18 yds against Hampton.
#5 WR – Antonio Vaughan (R-SR) 5-8 172: Against Hampton he had 5 catches for 79 yds and 1 TD (15.8 YPC). Entering the 2014 season, for his career, Vaughan has 167 catches for 2248 yds and 21 TDs (13.5 YPC).
#6 WR – Zach Pascal (R-SO) 6-2 211: Against Hampton 8 catches for 99 yds and 2 TDs. (12.4 YPC)
#7 WR – Nick England (R-SO) 6-0 185: England is a transfer from Florida International, playing his first season with ODU. Against Hampton England had 4 catches for 39 yds.
While NC State’s defense will be facing another quality, experienced QB and a balanced attack, State’s Offense won’t have the same problem. This may be just the game this offense needs to get things clicking and build some confidence. ODU returns 10 starters on defense but if those starters weren’t very good last year, especially against FBS opponents, then how much better could they be this year? In 2013, against FBS opponents, ODU gave up on average 50.4 PPG. That’s not what I would call a stout defense.
ODU’s offense may be experiencing a youth movement but the defense isn’t, at least with the their starters. The backups on the other hand are mostly in their second season. ODU’s defense also has some JUCO transfers this season to help with the transition to FBS level competition and some have cracked the starting lineup, DE Poncho Barnwell and OLB Martez Simpsom. ODU may have listed a 4-3 base D but one of their OLB is a hybrid, which allows easier transition while on the field to a nickel package, and defends against a spread offense. Free Safety Fellonte Misher is the leading tackler from 2013 where he had 95 tackles. Just as ODU’s Offensive Line is small for FBS standards, so is the Defensive Line and is their weakest point.
ODU Players to Watch (DEFENSE)
#24 FS – Fellonte Misher (JR) 6-2 207: Misher lead ODU with 95 tackles in 2013 and had 2 INTs in 2013. ODU is looking for a leader on the defensive side of the field and Misher is the obvious choice.
#25 ROVER – Andre Simmons (SR) 6-0 211: Simmons was second on the team in 2013 with 78 tackles.
#41 MLB – Richie Staton (SO) 6-1 230: Staton doesn’t start, he’s actually DJ Simon’s backup, but last year Staton was fourth on ODU with 72 tackles and lead the Monarch’s in Tackles For Loss (TFL) with 10.5 and Sacks (4).
#42 MLB – DJ Simon (SR) 6-1 222: Simon is the starting MLB but recorded only 39 tackles in 2013. He also had 6.5 TFL and led ODU with 3 INTs last year.
#96 DE Terrell Reid (R-SO) 6-2 267: Reid is a backup DE but last year he recorded 31 tackles, 6.5 TFL, an 3 sacks. Expect to see him as the biggest presence on the DL when he’s in the game.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AGAINST THE PACK
The Pack should be able to easily move the ball against the ODU defense. If it can’t things are worse than we feared and it’s going to be a long night and season. On the other side of the ball this should be a telling night for State’s defense, where ODU may not be a top notch offense in the country; they are still capable of scoring with a good QB. If the Pack defense has truly improved during the off-season then they shouldn’t have a problem out scoring ODU and essentially cover the spread. On the other hand, if the Pack’s defense is as bad as I fear it is, well let’s just say Saturday night will be good for fantasy teams and we’ll have a shootout on our hands.
WHO HAS THE ADVANTAGE
NC State 38, ODU 31